OPINION: A deer in the headlights

Cameron Gorman headshot

Cameron Gorman

These days, I can say something I never thought I would as a freshman in college: I’m a commuter student. As much as I once shuddered to think about living in my parent’s home throughout my time in school, I’ve come to realize it’s not at all something to feel odd about. You save money (especially after spending the summer in the city), get home-cooked meals and get to see a whole lot more of your family than you used to. For better or worse, of course.

There is one thing, though, that is the most obvious “negative” on the pros and cons list of the commuter lifestyle. It’s obvious. You have to drive to and from school. 

Rain or shine, there you are, waiting for the engine to warm up. Sure, it does cost gas money, and driving the same way home and to school each day can get a bit repetitive. But for me, it’s not so bad.

Maybe it’s because I only recently got my license, but I find the act of driving back and forth to be kind of nice. It’s almost a forced reprieve from the day-in day-out of thinking and working. You can listen to a podcast, play your music in the safety of the driver’s seat or even just focus on the blessed half-silence.

After all, it’s not very often in our lives, anymore, that we are allowed a period of doing only one task. You don’t have to respond to text messages or emails. There’s nothing else to do but move down the road, just you and your thoughts.

Perhaps that’s what makes it so unsettling when, suddenly and on occasion, something rushes out into the path of the car. A squirrel, or a jaywalker, or a flock of birds suddenly lifting from the black road like a spattering of leaves. It shocks me sometimes for a moment, and I have to remind myself not to stop suddenly. If I could, I would stop to let moths cross the street.Thankfully, I haven’t ever been the cause of one of the sad, wet bodies of animals on the sides of the road. But nothing is more startling to me than the deer.

There have been several times now when I have shared the way with them. They step out of the forest, gingerly, picking up their slender legs. They do not often run across the road, but rather stand at the edges, staring at you, as if they are waiting for the signal to cross. I always stop and try to let them go first. After all, I am intruding on their land.

Sometimes they do, and sometimes something, maybe some slowly-developing evolutionary fear of the dangers of drivers, makes them pause at the edge of the grass and wait, or stare from the middle of the asphalt. I stare back, most of the time. It reminds me of other moments I have come into their forests, their places, and met them.

In the middle of a hiking trail, as a younger me, suddenly facing a herd of them rushing through the woods in front of me. As if I had come face to face with a river. In the dark street of my neighborhood, as I turned around one night during a long, silent walk. We both stood still, regarding each other, in the road of the development. I wondered what had brought us both together, if anything, that night. I have seen them in yards, in roads, between trees and in overgrown golf courses.

And, yes, from my driver’s seat, peering into the treeline. The deer slope passed, slowly and in groups, waiting for each other before making the trek out into what they must know is a perilous crossing. It is a strange moment, as our eyes meet. How awful that they must wait to cross here. How beautiful they are. I think, for a moment, that I wish they had a forest to stretch through forever. But how I would miss this, then, these small moments of togetherness. These small reminders of with whom we share the ground.

Sometimes, I wait for a few moments and worry as the deer slow to a standstill. I want to wait, but the driver on the other side of the road inches forward, and I reluctantly lean the heel of my hand down to press against the horn. Shattered silence. The deer move, disappearing into the forest. I press my foot on the pedal. And I move, too.

Cameron Gorman is a columnist. Contact her at [email protected].