Sunday, June 12, 2011


When headed home on the Island Highway after dinner with a friend in Duncan last night, we hit a deer. Since moving to Vancouver Island at the end of 2006 we'd dreaded this moment. This area has a heavy deer population - in Nanaimo they wander freely - and so incidents of this kind are very common. We know several people who have experienced collisions with deer, so despite what may seem the slim odds of it occurring we have to a degree been expecting it to at some point. Now that it has I guess it is fair to say we feel "blooded." We have become heavy-hearted members of a most unfortunate, but far from exclusive club.

The incident came as a great shock. Having enjoyed a lovely evening with a friend we had not seen in over two months, we were cruising quietly along, listening to disc 2 of The Beatles' 1967-1970 when we smashed into a deer on the driver's side of the car. It came from out of nowhere. Susan screamed and we wobbled a bit, but she kept her composure, managing to pull over onto the hard shoulder about 500 metres down the highway. Recalling it now there is no clear image of the collision; in the blink of an eye something large hit the car and then disappeared. I didn't even know it was definitely a deer, but had to assume so. Before coming to a halt Susan kept her eyes on the rear view mirror, later saying she saw no sign of a body or any traffic behind us swerving to avoid something. It is for these reasons that we have no idea of the fate of the animal. It is agonizing, especially as animal lovers, to contemplate the various possible scenarios, but is something we absolutely must put behind us and get out of our minds.

Once we had pulled over, just south of Ladysmith, I immediately called 911 to ask for advice. Susan was shaking, breathing deeply and on the verge of tears, but holding it together like the remarkably strong woman she usually is during stressful situations. (In our ten years together, we've had quite a few.) After giving them the details, the police advised that as long as our vehicle was drivable we could proceed home, but also that we should not "remove any blood" from the point of impact, as an insurance assessor would need to inspect the damage exactly as it looked post-collision. Ten minutes up the highway we pulled into a closed gas station and, fearing some horrific scene, I got out to inspect the damage.

When travelling by Greyhound bus around Australia in 1996 I experienced two collisions with kangaroos that are difficult to erase from my memory. Sat at the front of the bus each time (as you can book the same seats for every separate journey), I recoiled in horror when, just like the deer, the kangaroos appeared from nowhere, almost as if they had dropped from the heavens, and literally exploded all over the front of the bus. These incidents occurred in the middle of the night when most passengers, including my girlfriend, were fast asleep. I have problems sleeping on buses so would contemplate my navel, watch the night scenery slip by, or read until fatigue simply took over. Australian Greyhounds have 100 KPH cruise control and from the unruffled reactions of both drivers, who didn't miss a beat as they turned on the windshield wipers to get rid of the blood and gore, I can only assume such incidents are extremely common. The only comfort I can draw from this is that I know the kangaroos suffered no pain, that they were alive one second, dead the next.

Thankfully, it was not such a grisly scene this time, but there was certainly damage. There was no blood, but clumps of fur were trapped where the hood meets the chassis and, oddly, smeared along the left hand side of the car. The hood is dented; the left hand panel is detached and sagging; the headlight and front signal light casings are smashed in. It's a bit of a mess, but could have been so much worse. Nonetheless, as our car is a 1993 Honda Civic with 410,000 km on the clock, and these repairs in Susan's estimation could be around $3,000, we fear that the insurance company will consider it a write-off and award a nominal amount towards a new car. That's not a scenario we are financially prepared for.

We consider ourselves very fortunate. Many have been killed by spinning off the road, colliding with another vehicle or vehicles, or into the central reservation after hitting a deer. This fact was starkly borne out when reporting the accident to the ICBC (Insurance Corporation of British Columbia) helpline when arriving home, still pretty shaken up. "You are very lucky," the woman told Susan, "as in most instances the deer comes over the hood and straight through the windshield."

There is a twist to this tale which continues to spook me and may well for some time. Lost in no particular thought as the gorgeousness of While My Guitar Gently Weeps filled the car, I took note of a 'deer crossing' sign, just like you see at the top of this posting, then began thinking about the effect it had on our friend Jan when she hit a deer, her first and only, having lived here for thirty years. She was in shock for a couple of weeks, unable to dislodge the accident from her mind. Then I thought of when, just a few weeks ago, how we were travelling back from up-island along the lovely Oceanside route when Susan saw a deer hit in her rear view mirror, then had to pull over to gather herself. "That is my greatest fear on these roads," she said back then, something I have heard her say so many times. Mere moments after these thoughts came to me last night, we crashed into that deer or, more accurately, he came blindly hurtling towards us, frightened by our headlights and instinctively following its fight-or-flight reflex. Not that I really believe in such cosmic forces, but you will surely forgive me when I say when revisiting those memories it feels like I willed the collision into existence.

What an horrendous experience. I wouldn't wish this upon anyone. It would surely rattle all but the most cold-hearted or sadistic. But, oh well, we move on in this life, and at least we survived to tell the tale.    

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