Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Close Encounters

Everyone has a fear -- some rational, some irrational. Ever since we moved to East Amherst, New York back in the mid-80's, I've been afraid of hitting a deer. The roads I drove on each morning to get to work had many deer, and frequent collisions. I think I remember someone saying that one stretch of that road had more deer-kills per mile than anywhere else in the state.

The fear embraces all negative aspects of such an accident -- from killing an innocent wild creature, to the damage to my car, to actual fear of bodily injury. Accounts I read in the papers described deaths from deer-car collisions where the body of the deer came through the windscreen, or a driver was impaled by an antler, etc.

This fear had an upgrade in the late 80's when I made a trip to Kapaskasing, Ontario during the dead of winter. Yes, a deer would be bad, but a moose -- that would almost certainly be worse. The fear was stoked by a moose I saw that wondered into a vehicle test track one cold morning. I was driving, trying to keep the car at a steady 35 mph on the icy track, while dodging this seemingly lost and confused animal.

The phobia took a sabbatical for a few years, until three years ago when we moved out to rural Nebraska. I kept seeing dead deer on the side of the road -- a certain sign that my peril had increased greatly. Then another new high -- I came motoring around our lake development one night, only to find cows in the road. Cows would be even worse than a moose, and they appeared to be even stupider! And I was driving this tiny little Lexus SC430 convertible -- yikes!

Now a couple more years have passed, and I was beginning to think I had this whole deer-car thing figured out. I traded in the Lexus for a gigantic Chevy Suburban, I rarely drive in that dangerous 6pm - 9pm time frame, and I know exactly what a deer's eyes look like reflected in the hi -beams.

None of that prepared me for this evening. Tonight I almost hit a horse. No kidding, a horse. Admittedly a little lighter than a cow, but the center of gravity is oh-so-much closer to windshield height, even in the 'burban.

I'm still not exactly clear how it happened. I was driving along a gravel road, thankfully at only 40mph. There was a horse paddock on my left -- I'd seen it and the beautiful animals kept there a thousand times before. Along a portion of the paddock were some ratty old pine trees. Like a flash a grey horse shot out from between two of the pines right in front of me. I reacted instantly, slamming my foot on the brake pad, the anti-locks engaging as I skidded to a stop. My heart was pounding, and I felt a surge of warmth flow through my body from my stomach radiating outward. I started to sweat.

The horse took one brief look at me from no more than twenty feet away, and bounded off into a recently cut cornfield. Paula, who saw the whole thing in her Buick a quarter of a mile behind me, called the sheriff's office.

Suddenly, deer don't seem so scary, anymore.

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