At one point while tracking on the island, we stopped in the long open muskeg we’d followed. A thin layer of snow had fallen on the autumn surface of the opening and deer tracks flowed across it like water, through the gaps between its sparse trees, around the kettles, the paths of least resistance. Dell shared an Almond Joy and we waited.
The original use of the word deer or deor did not refer to the modern known species but all animals, especially wild ones, as distinguished from humans. It is curious, this distinction, how the category of blood pumping life forms, and then even insects, starfish and slugs, all go over there, animal, and we stand over here so alone. What of this distinction and how does that compartment spill into everything else? A man I once knew took me to a bar and told me I was like a wild animal, that sometimes I could be pulled in, lured, and for a moment trust someone. Then I’d run back, untouchable, into the trees. I felt his attraction to me, and the power it came with; how a glance could shape-shift a moment, my pinky finger grazing his resting hand. I remembered reading about wolf pups and young caribou playing together, enacting roles of predator and prey without blood.
A buck in rut has a particular smell that originates at the deer's hock, on the inside of the leg in an area above the tarsal gland. Deer rub their tarsal glands together then piss all over them. Urine mixes with lipids from the sebaceous glands adhered to the patch of longer hair in the vicinity, the whole process emitting a rather convincing stench. Rub-urination heightens in males during mating season but all deer do it, to recognize each other as individuals, to give information related to their sex, their social and reproductive status.
For the hunter there is this excitement over the coaxing of a deer into the meadow, out of the trees into the range of his rifle. That excitement isn't always love, but it is consistently want; I was always getting that mixed up. That man at the bar was right. There is a privilege to seeing what’s inside a wild animal, but too often insight is merely the byproduct of death. I never lost sight of the trail into the woods but, if I was in the crosshairs of a scope, only sometimes did I follow it back.
On the island, Dell had made the call of a doe and the buck came completely suckered, pouncing upon us from out of the ravine, stupid with lust, looking at me. I felt our betrayal in the crack of Dell’s rifle, for the trust of hope to which he responded and now lay flat on the ground for. But a wild animal understands high stakes, and the risk of death and division is nothing next to the hope of multiplying. Brought to us by Dell’s mimicked cry of a cow, maybe this is why the bull moose didn't run after he fired the first bullet and missed, but instead turned his body and gave him a better shot. And then there is the possibility of an animal offering itself to the being standing there pathetically thinking himself equalized by a gun: death as a form of blessing, as a choice.
After the deer fell on the island, we moved to him and saw his chest continue to heave. I saw his nostrils flaring then pulling in hard, crumpling the downy black muzzle of his nose, in rhythm, until another bullet settled things.
And this is what’s inside a deer, same as you or me, blood thick and red, pulsing through the flesh. There is something in the body conditioned to the landscape and its strength, not just depending on it, but existing as though not separate. This is why, even after we pulled him through the woods and down to the beach, after the hide was removed completely with our skinning knives, after we’d broken off the lower limbs, after we’d sawed off the head above the neck and piled the intestines in the grass, after we put the heart in a ziplock bag, after we washed our hands and arms of blood in the tide and took a drink of water, there was still, in the large muscle groups of quartered flesh, visible contractions exactly patterned to the rhythm of his heart.