You would come back from this ride and someone would ask how the ride was and you’d say, “this buck almost jumped into us,” and maybe you’d get asked a few questions and you’d try to explain it, what it all meant, how it felt. But you never can. I was trying to here.
Today on the lunch ride, nine of us, tempo just under about midway between easy and panting, late-fall full sunshine, nobody dressed too warm and complaining, nobody too cold and complaining about that, either, and the flat that Andrew had earlier no big deal to anyone though it was on the best stretch of the route to just let your bike go, and we’re at this moment taking the rolling part of Limeport Pike like we’re bobbing in waves, floating, moving without having to think much about it or even, really, being too aware of doing so, and nobody is talking too much or too little and out of the blanched crop field or brush field or whatever pastoral wonder it is over there off to our right (and it is beautiful, how it is falling away to nothing this time of year), making a big crashing and looking unreal as it comes is a buck.
I make it to be a ten- or twelve-pointer, and close enough to 300 pounds to go ahead and say so and not feel like a liar. Andrew, upfront on the right, has his head down and doesn’t see it coming. Howard, beside him, might, but we don’t know. We’re not really looking at him. We’re looking at the buck. It keeps coming, and time slows, and time speeds up, and I can see that the bony knob on the back bend of its front foreleg is going bare but also at the same time the buck is just a blur.
We’re braking now, not all of us but as a pack, which means that some of us run up between bikes and some of us skid and some of us swing right or left. The buck keeps coming.
I can hear its hooves clatter when it clears the ditch and hits the road, and it throws its eyesight at us in the weird sideways stare such animals as it and horses and goats can do, the trick of vision where they don’t turn their heads but fix you in their focus even though they’re not looking at you. Such primality sometimes unnerves me — being caught that way, prey to a wild eye, and, powerless to escape it, we can only wait to be released — and this is one of those times. I kind of get lost in that.
The buck is gone by the time I find my way back to the ride. We’re rolling along the rolling road again, and making jokes, and each giving our version of what happened, and after a few minutes we start talking about the climb that’s coming and the descent after that, and the crazy time the buck almost hit us is already past, and already also permanent, a part of the lunch ride now for however long there will end up being a lunch ride around here. We climb, and I take it easy on the descent, maybe hitting 35 on what is a reliable 50-miles-per if you work it at all, and in the basin before the next climb someone who rolls up by me says, “All I kept thinking was, what if a deer jumps into the road.”
I’d been haunted by the buck, too. I was wondering what it saw when it looked at us. And I was hoping it had a way to say something of the episode if it wanted, that the crazy time the cyclists almost hit him could somehow be permanent or whatever passes for such among him and his kind or in all of nature, that we might be a part of his wandering and his history and his legacy for as long as there are deer here, as long as there are stunning fall days, as long as there are beasts and humans brought together however transiently or infinitely on these roads.
Originally published in The Selection, November 15, 2013