Today a buck deer sporting headgear of a height and breadth sufficient to cradle your average Packers fan showed up outside my office. I had stepped out to test the air and startled a doe on the lawn. It is courting season for the local ungulates, and I figured there might be a buck about, so I approached the wooded verge and there about 40 yards deep in the birches spotted a mobile hat rack of a size that causes my neighbors to huddle over their cellphones during intermission of the school concert as everyone compares snapshots uploaded directly from their game cameras.
In this case I have no photos, so you’ll just have to take my word for it, and it’s fine if you don’t, because as big as he was I’ve seen bigger, and you can take that down to the café and multiply it by three. Plus who trusts digital images in these our manipulated and conspiratorial times? I’m satisfied with the image in my mind. Also, 10 minutes from here, it is not unusual to spot bucks of similar stature posing beneath the city limits sign, grazing in suburbia, or trying to sneak between the Kwik Trip and the car wash.
Still, I retain just enough rural Wisconsin DNA to react to the sight of a big buck — be it in the woods or over the hood — with an innate thrill. Some of it is undeniably predatorial. I was raised in a hunting culture, all culminating in that stretch of days some call Holy Week, when school, schedules, and all but the most essential chores, were suspended from dawn to dusk while we tromped the swamps, sat in trees, and hoped against hope we might happen into The Big One, which would give us bragging rights for a few days when school resumed. Nowadays pursuit of the Big One is based less on hope than technology, but then so is Christmas shopping.
But it is the sense of hope — cousin in this case to wonder, and certainly linked to my rural youth — that extends the thrill of seeing a big buck beyond the idea of “taking” it. When as a boy I bumbled ‘round the forest, it was rare to see a deer, let alone a buck, and even rarer to see a big buck. This is due to a combination of factors, not the least among them the fact that I was not exactly the stealthiest knucklehead afoot, and unable to sit still for long. Nonetheless, when I’d sight an antler of any size, it was exciting, and to this day the sight triggers the same nerve path.
This nerve also hits me in the arms. This too is traceable to the days of my youth, when Dad swerved the headlights toward any pair of glowing eyes in hopes of seeing a pair of antlers perched above them. To this day if we are off the four-lane, the sight of illuminated deer eyes causes me to involuntarily yank the wheel and point the high beams at whatever’s out there lest it be ol’ Mossy Rack. My family (my wife in particular, who was raised without this obsession) makes unhappy noises when I do this. Perhaps the whiplash has given them a pain in the neck. Perhaps the pain in the neck is perched in the driver’s seat, ogling ungulates.