Deer in the Headlights

Red Hot Chili Peppers played on the radio, but what really kept the man awake was the lightning that would streak across the sky every few minutes. He was driving through Colorado around midnight. It wasn’t raining on him yet. He would glance up from the road to stare at the clouds covering the top half of the mountains off in the distance, the source of the light show. He checked his Google Maps and frowned. He wouldn’t be in Denver until 1 a.m. He shook his head and turned the music a little louder. Breaking his gaze from the monotonous highway he scanned the buildings in the upcoming town. After seeing the medical center on his right he flipped on his signal and got off the highway at the next possible exit.

52 deer. This is more deer than I had ever seen in my life, and I just saw all of this in the period of a few hours. When locals talk about Colorado the first thing they mention is never the deer. Sydney White, one of the many who call Colorado home, talked about olympic athletes coming to train because of the high altitude and how massive patios are as commonplace as pools are in California. But no one mentioned the deer. The deer were a part of life for them, but to someone who spent his whole life in Southern California spotting just one deer would be a topic of conversation at the dinner table. I never imagined more than ten deer existing together in one place.

After finding a spot in the hospital parking lot, not under a light so he wouldn’t draw unneeded attention toward himself, the man got out of his car and walked toward the hospital. There was an urgency in his pace, it was stiff, but quick. He approached the automatic door, but nothing happened. The hospital was closed. He threw up his arms and turned around to walk back toward the car. Once he got there he started to survey the greenery around him but after a quick glance up to a security camera he opened the car door and climbed inside. He dug around the objects littering the backseat and finally found an empty plastic water bottle. He unscrewed the cap, it would have to do.

My host for my stay in Colorado, Dana Calhoun, wanted to make sure I had a memorable time while also showing me all of her favorite things to do around Colorado. We took a beautiful hike at Castle Rock, explored Denver, saw Red Rocks Amphitheater, and so much more, but what really stuck with me was the deer. There was something so bold and shameless about these deer. They didn’t care if you rode a bike within five feet of them like I did. They didn’t care that people were trying to golf on the course they decided had some nice flowers to eat. They were both out of place and exactly where they belonged.

The young man slowly got back in his car after disposing of the now full again water bottle. There wasn’t anywhere to change into comfier clothes so he grabbed the blanket he kept in the back, leaned the seat back as far as it would go and fell asleep.

Several hours later a gentle thunk woke the man up. He sat up, his disheveled hair falling in his face, and locked eyes with the woman dressed in scrubs closing the door to her car. Her eyebrows shot up and she walked away quickly. When the man finally unfroze from shock, he got out of his car to see if the nurse who parked next to him had left a mark when her door bumped his.

It was a little past 6:30 a.m. when the man turned on his car and drove to get breakfast. After eating he made the last hour drive to his destination: Parker, CO. He found a public park and dug around in the backseat. Pulling out an already partially full backpack, he stuffed it with a new change of clothes, a hat, and toiletries. People around were watching this routine. A woman on the beach hadn’t stopped staring since he parked his car, a family who had parked a few spots away kept their kids a little closer. Unbothered, the man locked his car and made his way to the closest coffee shop.

Dana’s cousin, Darren Kirk, told us about how he read about a woman who had died early that morning. She was driving to work and hit a deer. The deer wasn’t what killed her though, it was when she got out of her car to look at the damage that another car hit her. Some would call this karma, others stupidity for the woman leaving the safety of her car. I think if she had just taken the time to see the deer and understand it’s situation all of this could have been avoided. The term “deer in the headlights” describes how a deer freezes in the middle of the roadinstead of getting out of the way when a car approaches it with its headlights on. The reason for this is because a deer has considerably more rods than cones in its eyes. This helps it see better with just the moonlight at night, but when it suddenly gets exposed to a bright light, the deer gets stuck in place as its super sensitive rods attempt to take everything in.

Deer in the Headlights

A computer served as a good way for the man to pretend to belong in the coffee shop. He scratched his beard, at least a few days past an acceptable 5 o’ clock shadow length, and brushed back his oily hair as he waited for his coffee. When he grabbed his drink from the counter, the man asked if there was a bathroom he could use. The barista said it was out the door and down the passageway between the buildings on the right. The man nodded, grabbed his backpack when no one was looking, and made his way to the bathroom. Changing in the stall was easy, but when he got to the sink and pulled out his electric razor and trimmer attachment he hesitated. A quick look around proved he was alone, so he went for it. He was about halfway through when the door to the bathroom opened and an older asian man stepped in.

“Hey, how’s it going?” the man said, without missing a beat or pausing in his shaving.

The asian man made eye contact with him in the mirror and his face showed surprise.

“Oh, sorry,” he said after quickly closing the door.

The man stopped shaving for a second, let out an expletive, and finished as quickly as he could. He ran the water for a few seconds while cleaning up the hairs around the sink before gathering his things, throwing on his hat, and walking out of the bathroom. As he was turning the corner out of the passageway he heard fast footsteps and glanced back in time to see a man in a suit throwing the door open to the bathroom and entering. The man chuckled to himself knowing the suited man was probably looking for him. He entered the coffee shop and settled down in his seat to enjoy his drink.

“How about we go deer hunting?” Dana suggested as we were planning what to do in the later afternoon.

I was taken aback by my vegetarian friend suggesting hunting, but expressed my own interest. She laughed at my evident confusion and said that’s what her family called it when they went out to see how many deer they could find. She asked how many deer I wanted to see in the half hour hunt. I said 20 and her mom, Linda, laughed at me. We would see way more than that, she said, make it a challenge. Thirty, I said confidently. More I was told. Thirty-eight was the number we landed on. Content with the assignment, Dana, myself, Linda’s boyfriend Chuck, and Linda piled into her 1968 Ford Mustang and set off to see the deer.

The deer where Dana lived were so plentiful they were seen as a nuisance, eating all the flowers in gardens. But when the neighborhood proposed an actual deer hunt, with bows and arrows, no one was on board with the idea. While they were a nuisance, the people couldn’t bring themselves to kill the deer. They just learned how to live life around them and value the beauty the deer bring over the inconvenience they cause.

The man finished his coffee and decided enough time had passed to go to his final destination. He parked his car covered in dirt and more duct tape than should exist on a front bumper and grabbed his belongings. As I carried my bags up the driveway Dana met me outside.

Written By: Noah Harrel