Welcome back to Magnetic North, a veritable smorgasbord for the birds and beasts of the field. At least the ones who hang out along the ribbon of highway hugging Lake Superior.
Highway 61 is definitely the critter equivalent of those ubiquitous Mid-western all-you-can eat restaurants, only without the chocolate pudding plunked in the middle of the salad bar.
And oddly enough to my thinking, this particular road gets really bountiful right now, close to our human Thanksgiving.
Fact is, that even though white-tailed deer get hit by cars and blown to smithereens by semis the year ‘round, rutting season seems to bring out the death wish in the herd.
Even so, in 22 years of driving up here, I have hit only one deer, and then she simply kicked a dent in my bumper and ran off. Other than that I have killed only one partridge on the highway. This may well be my year for deer, though. For I find myself on 61 for hours at a time, several days and nights a week, visiting my husband, Paul, at the Veterans Home in Silver Bay. And believe me when I tell you that on the way to and from, I encounter many, MANY deer.
Some bound into my headlights. Some betray their presence in the ditch by the reflection of my headlights in their eyes. And others just stand in the road, deciding whether or not to die. This last bunch is the worst. Often, the animal looks at my approaching car and appears to run off the road. I say “appears” because usually, the dummy changes her mind - thinking perhaps, “Nah, winter is SO not fun!” - and runs back into my path.
Having had this happen once too often, the second that I spot a deer, whether in the ditch or the blacktop, I start honking like a New York cabbie. It’s worked…so far, at least.
Never content to spare only myself, if I do have a near miss, I then flick my headlights at oncoming vehicles. Someone once told me that flicking headlights on and off repeatedly is a well-known sign to others that deer are ahead. Sadly, a number of oncoming drivers misinterpret my flashing lights. These often give me yet another well-known sign, the hand and finger kind. Ah well, no good deed goes unpunished....
However, when all fails and deer does meet vehicle on 61, the end result is not only death and increased auto insurance rates. For scavengers, it is answered prayer.
Last week, I passed such a roadkill/banquet in progress just as I pulled onto 61 from my road. A majestic bald eagle presided over the banquet of ribs, innards and all the trimmings. He appeared to be the reluctant host to a flock of shiny black ravens.
These were gyrating about, tearing off tidbits, flapping their wings with joy and generally having one whale of a time. The food fight in Animal House comes to mind.
The eagle, on the other hand, held himself erect, as if offended, if not slightly sickened, by the very presence of the ravens, let alone their boorish antics.
And why should he not be? Sharing the deer with a bunch of pipqsueaks was enough to spoil the great bird’s day. But all the unnecessary folderal? Really?
It looked me like the human equivalent of being invited to a friend’s home for Thanksgiving and finding oneself at the children’s table. The very young and tired and cranky children’s table!
A more congenial scene greeted me on the narrow band of 61 in Tofte. Most of this stretch is nearly without any shoulder at all. So the smashed-up deer carcass resting on the lakeside edge of pavement could only be enjoyed by revelers if they sat partially in the ditch, facing the passing vehicles. This afforded a view of their heads. Which lined up like this: raven, raven, raven, fox, raven, raven, raven.
The birds were nearly as jumpy as the ones I saw earlier, but the fox had the happy look of one who’d just made it into the popular clique. It was one of those scenes that made me desperate to take a picture. But I will always remember exactly how it looked in my mind’s eye.
I must say that as much as I love seeing the nature turning death into life again, the reality of it all dampens my envy of the beasts; a state of mind that afflicts me always. Imagine how wonderful it would be to fly off the ground and hover weightless on updrafts of air. Or to run and jump like a deer. Or just curl up like a fox, warm as toast in my gorgeous coat, my bushy tail curled around my nose.
But then, I see the bunch of them eating. Eating cold, stringy meat. Studded with hair and gravel. My behind in a ditch, cars whizzing by. And the whole romantic image dies, another victim of reality.
And so, I’ll have to content myself with the human equivalent of the critters’ shore lunch. The unexpected gesture of having my meal tab picked up by a friend. The holiday invite. Or the wild raspberries hanging warm and juicy on bushes in my woods, just for me and me alone. Not a bad life. Not really, even without wings... or a fabulous bushy tail.
Airdate: November 8, 2012