As I drove along the highway en route to the gym for my morning workout, I thought about the last e-mail message I had read before retiring the previous night: a former runner and high school classmate, “The Shark,” now dead at 55 from injuries sustained in a freak motorcycle accident over the July 4th holiday weekend. A vehicle pulled out in front of him as he tooled down a local highway. The driver didn’t see the oncoming bike—until it was too late.
Shortly after I crossed the bridge heading north, I noticed a slight movement in the shadows beneath the trees. My eyes picked out the silhouette of a young white-tail deer, head erect, oversized ears panning the landscape to monitor the morning sounds. I eased my foot off the accelerator and coasted by the doe, close enough to see her nose twitch. I imagined that she was waiting to cross the road on her way down to a morning watering at the river.
Minutes later I pulled into the parking lot at the gym and stepped out into the cool morning air. Off to the east the sky lay littered with purple clouds edged in red; the sun was just breaking over the mountains. A wood thrush piped an eerie call from the woods as I crossed the macadam to the front entrance of the facility that housed the pool in which I would spend the next two hours.
I took up swimming as an exercise regimen sixteen years ago when I turned forty, after my knees had given out from two decades of distance running. A workout in the pool, much easier on the joints, allows me to keep my cardiovascular system in reasonably good condition without punishing my hips and knees.
When I was a miler back in high school, “The Shark” was a sprinter. Short, compact and powerfully built, he logged a number of records in the shorter distances and relays. While I worried about keeping my grades up and brooded over lost loves, “The Shark” grinned through those turbulent adolescent years seemingly without a care in the world. The writer of his obituary captured his disposition in a few short lines: “always pursing the light side of life…full of laughter and love…he uniquely left his mark on everyone he met.”
I swam my allotted yardage, showered up and headed back home for breakfast. The early morning clouds had broken up, leaving a faultless blue dome overhead. I got in line at the yield sign and headed south with the thread of morning commuters.
As I came up over a slight rise, I caught sight of flashing red and blue lights by the side of the road up ahead. A patrol car was parked behind an old pickup truck that had an extension ladder strapped to the roof. A man in a plaid work shirt kneeled by the front of the vehicle, inspecting the twisted front bumper. A uniformed policeman stood next to him, writing on a small tablet in his hand.
I glanced to the right, and there on the shoulder by the curb lay the doe, stretched out on her side with one foreleg bent, cinnamon coat gleaming in the bright sunlight, the white belly already swollen, a trickle of bright red blood oozing from the left nostril.
She had bolted at the last minute, I imagined. Most likely the driver of the pickup hadn’t seen her—until it was too late.