It’s another one of those dark days, ending with one of those sad winter rainstorms, when I encounter the buck right outside my front door.
I’d just been thinking that it sure doesn’t snow much down here on the river anymore. It rains; a cold, harsh rain that soaks straight through my joy and dooms my brain with worrisome thoughts about climate change and the inevitable demise of our species. My first thought of the buck is that he symbolizes the last wild animal on our ruined planet, a helpless victim of global warming and human inertia. My iconic visitor is an elegant eight-pointed beauty, resting rather calmly, antlers alert, in a patch of marsh between my house and the Animas which borders my property.
But something is wrong. At first, I assume he is simply trying to burrow under the cottonwoods away from this unkind weather. But, as the black night engulfs the valley, I take a closer look. His head slumps unnaturally onto to the ground; his body collapses slowly into the cold wet earth. This animal is hurt. Maybe dying. I couldn’t tell if he was starved or sick. Was he struck by a vehicle?
Now I’m focused: What is my responsibility to this wild creature?
I cannot kill him. Even if I knew how to shoot a gun (which I don’t), I do not feel confident taking the life of such a massive beast. I was a vegetarian for 20 years, for goodness sake. Maybe I should leave him to die in peace? What then? Leave him to rot in this muddy field? Rent a backhoe and haul him to the dump? I consider asking Facebook but quickly ignore that impulse: my plea for help would sound either too redneck (and what would my yoga community think?) or not redneck enough (can’t handle a deer in the yard?)
I knew I could call the Department of Wildlife, but I was trained at a young age to NEVER DIAL 911 (Hunter S. Thompson was a family friend).
Panic begins to nibble around my brain, and I know I’ve got to make a choice. I’ve always taken pride in my Colorado roots: I’ve raised chickens, ridden plenty of horses, and can ski some sicky gnar gnar backcountry couloirs. But this is a whole different level, and I’m ashamed to say I’m not much of a mountain woman tonight.
Desperate, I phone a childhood friend, who puts me in contact with Conner (named changed for anonymity) whom I’ve never met. Within minutes, a Dodge Ram pickup burns into my driveway. On the driver’s window, a sticker reads: Liberalism is a mental disorder; on the bumper, VOTE TRUMP. I observe the unease in my body as he parks the car, gets out, takes off his not-for-fashion cowboy hat and greets me. Can I trust this guy? Seriously? I sure didn’t trust him in November – how can I be confident about a person who voted for that narcissistic swine who believes climate change is a hoax?!
I swallow my bubbling anger and lead him to the buck. As we approach, it tries to run but stumbles back to the ground. Mystery solved: This one must have been struck on the highway, and now he’s got broken legs and maybe even broken hips. Conner knows what needs to be done. I’m not so sure. Who are we to decide when an animal is suffering enough to take its life into our own hands? Who are we to say this damage is fatal?
I look Conner in the eyes and feel a sliver of solidarity. My Gravity Brain urges me to trust, in this moment, this man’s judgment. We may have been firing offensive posts to each other on Facebook a few months back, but right now, we are two citizens who want to do the right thing. And we need to do it now.
He goes back to his truck and returns with what turns out to be a 16-caliber pistol. The shot goes off like a firecracker; hundreds of huddling ducks on the pond explode off the water and disperse through the gloomy sky. When it’s over, we stand over the regal body. I notice Conner’s eyes are watering, perhaps from the adrenaline surge.
“I’m so sorry. I’ve never had to do that like that before,” he says, clearly spooked. We hug. “I just didn’t want him to suffer,” he responds. It turns out, hunters are not really executioners – who knew?
Maybe this is equanimity, I think, as we shiver over the buck. Maybe this is what it means to stand in the middle of it all and witness the helplessness of a wild animal, the discomfort around a stranger, the disappointment around my lack of mountain smarts – without repressing or exaggerating the experience too much. My tendency to process and package experience – say, into a column – is difficult to delay.
As Conner hauls off the body to take home and butcher, an insight from Buddhist writer Gil Fronsdal comes to me, and I look it up later: “While some may think of equanimity as dry neutrality or cool aloofness,” he writes, “mature equanimity produces a radiance and warmth of being.” So true. I’ve never been so grateful for a gun-loving Trump-supporting neighbor.
Conner will be back to give me the antlers he was able to salvage from the buck. Maybe then, I’ll invite him in for a smoothie and broach the subject of politics.
It’s true, Obama, what you said in your farewell speech last week: I am tired of arguing with strangers on the Internet. I think it’s time to try talking with one of them in real life.
Katie Clancy is a movement educator, dancer, and freelance journalist living in Durango. She dedicates her time to supporting healthy spines and structural alignment through the therapeutic traditions of Pilates, yoga, bodywork, and dance; she is also a member of 20Moons Dance Theatre. Find her here: www.altaer.org; firstname.lastname@example.org.