Dead Deer

Water has always played a special part in my life.  I lived in embryonic fluid during my earlier days. The only hobby that I’ve consistently enjoyed throughout the years is standing in, on, or near a body of water while trying to catch a fish.  No wait, two hobbies involving water.  Standing in, on, or near a body of water while trying to catch a glimpse of a bikini.  I use water to make my coffee every morning.

In this neck of the woods, the odds of seeing a dead deer lying painfully-lifeless alongside of the road are pretty darn good.  Especially during the transition of temperatures between the seasons, as the herds head up or down the elevations searching for a reliable source of food.  And the odds are especially good during mating season, a little hidden life lesson for you.  If you go looking for love in all the wrong places, you might just get yourself run over by a speeding vehicle.  Or alimony.

I went fishing over at the publicly visible stretch of rapids out front of Moog’s house one afternoon.  Been there a hundred times.  The easiest entry for wading is naturally a quarter-mile walk from the well-worn parking spots along the gravelled road, back across the steel bridge, and down the far bank.

The water near the bank is several feet deep, but after a quick little plunge, there’s easy wading on a bottom of small rock that leads to an ideal casting spot at the tail-end of the rapids.  I held onto a small tree branch as I ungracefully slid down the muddied bank and prepared to take the first scrotum shrinking step into the cold water.  Mid-step, appearing from the river’s bottom like the image of an evil spirit in a mirror during a horror movie, was one very dead deer.  My little first step became an adrenaline-powered ten-foot leap forward.  An unverified standing long jump world record. Curse words powered my shaking knees out to the safety of the ideal casting spot, to begin my freakin’ relaxing day of fishing.

There’s something about water that’s so magical, so mystical.  Maybe I’m just a dreamer, but whenever I’m standing on the beach of an ocean and look off into the distance, and past the bikinis, my imagination goes wild with the images of what creatures might lie in the belly of the vast ocean waters. Something’s down there, it’s the unknown that’s the exciting part.

Me and the girlfriend were touring around the Key West Aquarium one day, playing tourist, equipped with our cameras and hangovers.  There inside the small building were the typical walls of display aquarium tanks containing a variety of fish species. But there’s a different feel in those humid halls of Key West compared to your big city aquariums, say like in Detroit.  Something in the air.  Something in the water.  There were several interactive ‘petting’ pools in the middle of the complex where you could get an up-close and personal experience with the horseshoe crabs and small nurse sharks.  Nurse sharks are named for their ‘baby nursing’ sounds as they suck down their food.  Or the back of your hand, a nervously exciting sensation.  At 2 PM, we followed the crowd outside to see the scheduled program involving a few fish that couldn’t quite fit inside the building.

What the hell does this have to do with my dead-deer phobia?  Well, eventually it’s about the thrilling shock of what comes out of the dark depths of the waters.  The emcee of the “Shark Feeding Show” stood poolside with a pole tangling a half of a red snapper over the water’s surface.  The unique shadow of a sawfish emerged from the dark, its saw-like rostrum (bill/beak) then ripping and tearing at the appetizer teaser.  The trainer kept insisting that if we’d hold tight for a moment, there was another creature hidden deep down below. As we waited patiently with beer-did breathe, he did his best to get a rise from the unseen beast, dragging a fresh hunk of raw fish across the water’s surface.  The sawfish had first appeared as a defined silhouette, but now, just below our oohs and aahs, slowly rose an enormous shadow, easily the size of the family’s minivan.  It was a lemon shark, at least 10-feet long.

Speaking of nature watching, one of my ex-sister-in-laws (my life coach has a roster available) spent her Christmas vacation, during her Senior Year in college, scuba diving Tarpon Springs in the Crystal River down in Florida. Cave diving and manatee watching.  She called our house on Christmas Eve with a non-traditional Season’s Greeting.  She was in-between decompression chamber sessions, necessary after her partner’s air tank regulator had malfunctioned while they were scuba diving in a cave, buddy-breathing while they ascended too rapidly and both had developed a near-fatal case of the bends.

Just goes to show you.  You just never know what’s going to pop up and greet you when you’re out in the wild, wonderful waters of Mother Nature.

Ten or twelve years ago, I had encountered two submerged deer during an early springtime full of fishing.  Fortunately, these two hunks of rotting flesh covered with fur had been spotted from a distance, so there were no embarrassing incontinence situations.  Then as the days of Summer crept along, the thought of a dead waterlogged animal, with its tongue sticking-out, slowly faded from my mind.  For about three months anyway.

I was fishing near Mt. Jackson one day, downstream from the covered bridge.  As every good fisherman knows, the best fishing is found in the most difficult areas to reach.  So, I kept wading downstream, through chest-high, mud-bottomed stretches of river that took me further and further from my truck.  Then something dawned on me.

Isn’t this where they found that young woman last year, who had been murdered by her fellow gang members after ratting them out?  I was pretty sure that she had been discovered partially submerged along THAT bank, so me and my shorts and wading boots went to THE OTHER bank.  Quickly.  And then continued to fish.  The banks in this section of the river are steep and covered with thick vegetation, making a departure near-impossible.  So, I continued downstream, curious about the quality of fishing down near the next set of rapids.  And then I’d stop for the day.  That was the plan.  That’d be the smart thing to do.

All the terrible thoughts stemming from that last scenario started to disappear as my mind began to concentrate once again on simply fishing.  Of course, my senses were still working overtime, reacting to every sound, movement, and flash under the water, but the scene returned to being just me standing alone in the middle of a big river.

Slowly retrieving a weighted streamer fly was the strategy attempted to get the lure near the bottom of the stream where the fish seemed to be hanging out.  Then, something of size impacted the small of my back, propelled by the speed of the river’s current.  “Aaaaahhhh!!!” I screamed like a little girl seeing a big spider, as involuntary animal instincts convulsed my body away from the unseen danger.  I then manned-up and turned to face my fears.  Dead deer?  Dead gang member?  Nope, it was a five-foot floating hunk of 4×4 lumber covered in slimy algae.  After my heart rate, blood pressure, and vocal range returned to a normal level, I left the river and went home to relax after my day of relaxation.

You’d think with the amount of time that I spend in the water, I’d eventually be startled by something pleasant, not inanimate or decomposing.  Like a Darryl Hannah-mermaid of the Shenandoah River.  Or a cameo role in a Blue Lagoon remake.  But nooo!!!

There’s an all-girls summer camp west of town, set in a beautiful mountainous area, a safe haven for privileged girls from the city.  Sort of like a “Dirty Dancing” movie set, except for the lack of choreographed entertainment, indoor plumbing, and electricity.  My Mom and Aunt B spent their childhood summers out there, not because they were privileged children, but because my grandmother was a good friend of the camp’s directors.  I spent many a day at the camp as well, but that’s a story for a different day.  A story that doesn’t involve cross-dressing or criminal charges for trespassing.

Again, where’s the dead deer?

The camp is an important landmark for trout fishermen.  If you’re heading out-of-town traveling south, you take a right at Larkin’s and follow the road that shadows Stoney Creek.  After about 4 or 5 miles, once you pass Rodney & Theresa’s, you’ll see a nice old pick-up for sale sitting in a big front yard on your right.  Go about another ½ a mile, then take a left up the only road that crosses the creek.  That’s what’s called Back-Country GPS.

Stoney Creek is one of many that’s stocked with trout throughout the year by the Virginia Fish & Game Department.  I had parked the truck at the entrance to the camp and fished my way down a ¼ mile or so with minimal success.  Got back into the truck and backtracked towards town, stopping at the next pull-off spot to fish some more.  Assuming that I was scaring the fish downstream, I relocated me and the truck one more time, this time at the one small dam on this section of the creek.  The water near the dam was 8-feet or so deep and the darkening of dusk was well underway.  What could go wrong?

I hadn’t fished this hotspot too often in the past because it’s usually crowded with fishermen.  Fisherpersons.  But Holy cow, on this night, I had the whole hole to myself and I was going to take full advantage of this rare opportunity, regardless of the lack of visibility.  The sun setting on a late summer evening had the temperature dropping, which prompted the hatch of swarms of insects; setting off a feeding frenzy among the trout as they slurped bugs from the water’s surface.  This was a fly fisherman’s Garden of Eden.

I began false-casting a dry fly in the direction of water whose surface was being churned by feeding trout, stripping out more and line to increase the length of my cast.  I moved downstream a bit to make for an easier cast and began again the presentation of the fly.  A few smaller fish were landed, but a larger fish caught my attention with its loud splashing nearer the dam.  I carefully waded further into the depths of the pool, the bath-temperature water nearly reaching my armpits.  Like a scene from “A River Runs Through It” (my part played by Brad Pitt, not Norman), I softly landed my dry fly on the dinner plate of Grand Pa Trout and held my breath, anticipating the explosion of water.  I had heard a mosquito buzzing about and then felt a sting on my forearm.  I quickly glanced down to my left and saw…A Dead Deer!!!…” SON OF A..!!!  The seas parted as I sprinted upstream.

The dead deer wasn’t bothered.  He wasn’t going anywhere.

Have a nice summer.

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