It’s quite common to see deer while driving around East Hampton. Every time I drive by the open field on Apaquogue Road there are at least 40 standing there, grazing like cattle. They have practically been domesticated, and thus we are immune to their presence.
We smirk as they munch on our neighbors’ flowers and vegetable gardens. But most of the time, we simply see them as part of the landscape and move on.
Last weekend I biked back from a friend’s house late at night. The air was cool, and town was quiet. I used a flashlight to navigate the dark roads to my grandmother’s house. I rode down Crossways and took a left onto Georgica. Enjoying the silence and solidarity of the night ride, I cruised along on my zippy single-speed bicycle.
Only the bright circle of light ahead illuminated my path. There was utter peace, something one rarely experiences in East Hampton in the summertime.
I’ve hit deer while driving in a car before. Most people who live in East Hampton have too, at some point in their lives. It’s a terrifying experience. The brakes slam and the car swerves. It’s not uncommon for people to veer into trees or bushes trying to avoid a collision with a deer. If it’s a small deer it might get caught underneath the car. But if it’s a big buck its antlers might fly through your windshield. The collisions, and even close encounters with deer while driving my beat-up 2002 Mercury station wagon, have left me breathing heavily in fear.
But I’ve never even come close to a deer while riding my bike. That night, the calm of my ride was quickly interrupted.
A large doe, probably 180 pounds, leapt across the road in front of me. I heard its hooves before I saw its body. It clicked and clacked on the pavement as it emerged from the shadows. I had been spinning along at 20 miles an hour, which made slowing on my pedal-brake bicycle difficult. I held my breath and braced for impact.
All I heard was the deep heaving breath of the deer. It inhaled and exhaled as a bull would, ready to charge. The tempo of its clicking hooves sped up and it scooted just ahead of my front wheel, narrowly escaping collision.
It stood at the road’s edge, still breathing heavily, and looked at me as I coasted away.
Was that deer as scared as I was? From the protection of an S.U.V., you don’t hear the clicking of the deer’s hooves, or its belabored breathing. You can’t understand the animal. But on that bicycle that night, I understood that a deer is not the domesticated creature we perceive it to be. The deer is still very much a wild animal.
Angie Duke is a summer intern at The Star.