Last Tuesday night while driving through a section Maryland where suburban sprawl hasn’t completely spoiled the countryside I spotted a small herd of deer – herd sounds so large, it was really just a group of three or four – hanging about on the side of the road. When I came to a full stop I locked eyes with a beautiful doe hanging in the amber light of the moon. One of her buddies looked my way but the others seemed completely uninterested in my existence. I took a picture with my aged iPhone, though the limited lighting and lack of flash resulted in hardly anything at all:
With the helpful polarization option on InstaGram however, this is what I got:
I call it, “Ghost Deer” (not to be confused with the ghost deer of the Seneca Army Depot)
The picture is a little spooky. When I consider that the evening before I watched a deer get hit by a car, the picture seems a little more spooky. And if I acknowledge that approximately 5 minutes after I took this photo I witnessed another deer take her final breaths, the photograph is whole lot spookier.
The evening prior I watched two deer dart across the highway. I noticed them, apparently, at the same time as the driver who hit the slow one. “Wow, look at those ….oh NO!” and the doe was wrapping up her violent and awkward tumble to the far right lane. The driver of the offending car seemed fine, the offended doe less so. Much less so. I hoped that she was able to shake it off and vault triumphantly into the brush. Maybe she did. And while I’m doling out maybes, maybe she is the very deer I photographed the next evening. And maybe, just maybe, what she was thinking that next evening while we locked eyes was, “See? I’m totally fine. “Deer” means “resilient” in Latin.” I don’t remember much from my two years of Latin, but I’m pretty sure the deer has it wrong. I’m also pretty sure that Latin is not the only thing in this story that’s dead.
Back to Tuesday night. I took the photo, bid farewell to the herd, and drove away. Five minutes later, as I prepared to turn into campus I noticed an emergency truck, lights silently flashing, blocking the turning lane. I pulled around and saw the driver standing in the headlights. I wish that I had looked at his face: did he show any hint of compassion or wonder or frustration? But I was too busy registering what he was looking at: a beautiful doe stretched out in the turning lane, her head resting uncomfortably on the curb. She was alive, but not for long: the position of her body, the bloody trail, her big, beautiful dark and ever darkening eyes made that clear. I moved on, pulled into campus, retreated to my room and prepared for bed. A few moments later I heard the gun shot.
Three deer encounters on two evenings. One creepy photo. Two dead animals. What did it mean? I recounted the events to Katherine. She was unconvinced that I had photographed an actual ghost deer (if there’s an app for that it’s not on my ancient iPhone 3GS), she offered, however, that perhaps my seeing so many deer (and so many female deer) in so short a time was a sign, a portent. So I looked into it and thanks to Google I found much on the symbology of deer.
From the site (that has nothing to do with picking up women at bars), Whats-Your-Sign.Com:
“The deer is linked to the arts, specifically poetry and music in ancient Celtic animal lore due to its graceful form.”
“The deer (particularly the doe, females) has the capacity for infinite generosity. Their heart rhythms pulse in soft waves of kindness. Match that graciousness by offering your trust to her. She will reward you by leading you to the most powerful spiritual medicine you can fathom.”
As set forth by Spirit Animals and Animal Totems,
“The meanings associated with deer combine both soft, gentle qualities with strength and determination:
- Ability to move through life and obstacles with grace
- Being in touch with inner child, innocence
- Being sensitive and intuitive
- Vigilance, ability to change directions quickly
- Magical ability to regenerate, being in touch with life’s mysteries”
Beautiful. Not at all surprising, but beautiful.
Does any of this information elucidate my two evening deer-extravaganza? Was the universe conspiring to show me deer, to make me consider the deer? I’m not sure exactly what I believe, but I’m pretty certain the Universe is too busy to send me a personal message. I do know that these encounters affected me, stayed with me, gave me pause, compelled me to think on them and to write this entry. Maybe that means the deer is my animal totem.
According to a brief yet informative video at Whats-Your-Sign.Com an animal totem expresses an “affinity, affiliation or connection to an animal,” and offers “messages of pure intent … pure information, guidance.” Further, according to the video, the best way to connect to and strengthen one’s bond with their animal totem is “through observation, contemplation and meditation.” I observed, I contemplated … arguably I’ve meditated on this animal and have even meditated on “what is my animal totem?”((1)) Does that mean the deer is my totem animal? I have the artist thing and the Irish heritage thing and the inner child thing but one would hardly call my form graceful. Physically I’m much more badger-like ((ibid)). But I am striving for grace at least in behavior. As for my generosity, it is too, too far from infinite, but I am working to change that. Is that enough? Is that what this is all about? Is the deer my animal totem?
I don’t know. I’ll keep thinking on it, I’ll keep noticing. I do hope that I see more deer while I’m staying in Maryland. And, if the Universe is listening, I would very much prefer to encounter them whilst all parties involved are alive and happy and not in the middle of the road waiting for death. Which begs a final question: if the Universe feels that the deer is my animal totem, why does it insist on me seeing them die?
((1)) A couple of days before meeting the deer my friend Andrus was trying to assign me a spirit animal. She was formerly of the belief that my spirit animal is a badger but is presently unsure. The badger is strongly affiliated with focus, tenacity and persistence – and as it has taken me a week to get this far in drafting this post, the badger may not be the right fit.