Kinds of harm

by Tovar on January 23, 2010 · 37 comments

The doe stepped into the road, then trotted across and bounded into the woods as I slowed the car. Cath and I both relaxed. We weren’t going fast, but that had been close.

Then the second doe was there, very close, pausing at the edge of the road. I caught the flash of movement at the periphery of the headlights as she leapt forward. I went hard left. But she came fast. Cath and I heard the bodily thud as she careened off the passenger side.

I stopped and backed up. The doe was lying in the road. Done for, I thought. Then she raised her head. Oh, no. A sick feeling rose up inside. Done for, but not dead. I’d never hit a deer before. And I was going to have to finish this one off, which would be illegal—or drive the half-mile back home, call a game warden, and make the doe wait for mercy at the official hand of the law.

When Cath and I got out of the car, the doe stood up. Then, recognizing us as bipeds, she trotted off and disappeared into the woods. Looking at the dented fender over the wheel, we realized it was more a case of deer-hitting-car than car-hitting-deer.

As we drove off, we talked about it. We agreed that we’d been lucky. It could have been far worse: for us, the doe, and the car.

Three hours later, I followed the doe’s tracks by flashlight, figuring she’d stop nearby if she was seriously hurt. I found only tracks; no sign of a fresh bed. Imagining her chances were good, I prayed she’d make it with nothing more than bruises and a newfound respect for headlights.

But the incident still troubled me.

It wasn’t news to me, of course, that animals get maimed and killed by cars. As a volunteer firefighter, I’d been on accident scenes. I’d led wardens to mortally wounded deer and heard the gun’s sharp report. Nor was it news that we maim and kill in all kinds of other ways, incurring a massive debt in animal lives and, worse, in habitat. But it’s easy to forget these things, to put them comfortably out of mind. And I’d always found such harm—regrettable, but unintended—easier to accept than premeditated killing.

The doe challenged me to reconsider that.

Just five weeks before she leapt at our car, I’d put a bullet through another deer’s heart. The buck had collapsed in moments; no time for shock to turn into pain. As deer kills always do, that one had shaken me with its reverberations.

But the doe, and the sick feeling that rose up as I saw her lying there in the road, made me ask: Do I really find it easier to accept the inadvertent, often-messy, often-unseen ravages I inflict on my fellow creatures?

The answer, I find, is no. Assuming it’s done quickly, I’m more at peace with intentional harm. With the kill I’ve prepared for and chosen.

© 2010 Tovar Cerulli

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