A total of 46,120 deer have been killed on Maine’s roadways from 2001 through 2014. And despite the fact that the deer population decreased significantly a few years ago, the total number of collisions in 2014 was the highest number in that entire 14 year period: 4,414. In that time period there were 6 fatalities, 75 incapacitating injuries, 614 other injuries, and 860 possible injuries, from collisions with deer.
In 1986, I wrote the following story that brings these statistics to life.
She was crossing the road nearly every night to paw up three foot deep snow under the apple tree on our front lawn, trying to stave off the ravages of a tough winter with some of those red delicious apples lying frozen in their snowy grave. She was as beautiful as only a deer can be, fat and pregnant with twins.
One snowy Saturday night as I was driving the baby sitter to our house, the doe was standing on the right side of the road as I crossed the bridge over Hopkins Stream beside our house. Turning quickly she bounded into the center of the road and stopped, frozen by my headlights.
As I jammed the brake to the floor, we caught a patch of ice and skidded to the right. Working the steering wheel and brake pedal feverishly, I took our vehicle through a series of left, right, left, right skids. When we finally stopped, the doe was still standing, about three feet in front of us. A miracle had spared her life, and the agony which would have stayed with me for a long time if I hit her.
To make her life easier, I started placing apples out under the tree on top of the snow. She would gobble up the entire pile, then dig for more. Moving up our driveway with those graceful and dainty steps, she often threw caution to the wintry wind and paraded around as we admired her from the kitchen window.
One early morning as I stumbled out through the cold sub-zero dawn to collect the newspaper from its roadside delivery box, the huge red wet stain on the road beside the delivery box told a sad tale. I took in a deep gulp of that cold morning air and it stuck in my chest like a sharp knife.
The blood stain was six feet in length, filled with those soft brown hairs which could only have come from our doe. Pieces of a truck’s grill were scattered along both sides of the road for nearly 50 feet.
As she bounded across the road for our apple treats, the driver must have hit her broadside. I nearly cried right there in the road as I knelt beside the stain which my dog was now eagerly examining. That doe was a member of our family with a connection to us that we could feel as she stared up at us standing behind the kitchen window. And now she – and her twins – were dead.
Oh, I know it happens – a lot. I’ve had over ten near-misses of my own – once when I passed between two deer standing in the road with only inches to spare on either side – but every deer killed by a motor vehicle, every handsome buck or pregnant doe run down by dogs or coyotes, everyone taken by a poacher – grieves each and every one of us. More so when it happens in front of your home.
The blood stains washed away in the January rains. But that doe’s memory remains and I stand sometimes at the kitchen window, seeing her ghost ephemeral on the evening air. A beautiful creature.
This year we had the biggest crop of apples on our scattering of trees around our house that we’ve had in the 37 years we’ve lived here. We harvested lots of apples, gave some to friends, neighbors, and the local food bank, and Linda made tons of apple sauce. And the apples that we didn’t harvest got gobbled up by a bunch of deer, including a large spike horn that we enjoyed watching several evenings a week from our kitchen window. There are no apples left on the trees or the ground, so all “my” deer made it safely through the apple-eating season.
PHOTO by Pam Wells