Co-Incidents

Co-Incidents

I’m writing from a universe of boxes, crates, and objects I hadn’t realized we owned. There’s much to be said about the process of looking at my life in retrospect as I pack or discard the detritus that has travelled with me for more than fifty years. Much to be said, but not today.

Cogitation has barely returned as I’ve been lost in conjecture and projection for months, imagining the life I might lead on the opposite coast, in a new house, among strangers. In this life, however, the one in which I am actually living, two events arrived with enough emotional pull to carry me momentarily into the present. 

More than one born-again intentional thinker has advised me (relentlessly and with grating sanctimony) that the only reality is the one we create in our mind. Ok, sure, but there is an outside through which this mind lumps along and things occur out there without identifying themselves as significant or ephemeral. In the course of a day, events rub up against each other, and while recycling or doing errands, some hop into the forefront and others recede into the mist, never to be heard from again.The incidents that stick hang out together; they are co-incidents.

Coincidentally, then, on the same day, a three-legged deer was trapped in our pasture and I was stuck in a long line with a one-legged man.

About deer: Real deer were hypothetical creatures for much of my life. I’m pretty certain that outside of film and tv, the only deer I encountered were decorative, which made sense, I thought, in that their place in the food chain put them at risk every day of their highly vigilant lives. Their job, for the most part, was to make sure I didn’t see them. In the abstract, deer were shy, graceful citizens of a leafy word in which I had no part to play. Virtual unicorns.

In southern Oregon, however, deer are not only plentiful but intrusive. I first thought the yellow signs showing deer leaping were suggesting photo opportunities, but in fact they do indicate the trails the deer prefer to travel, all of which put them in the path of vehicles at high speed. In more densely populated areas, they just show up – on the lawn, in the garage, on the sidewalk, and in Ashland, on the steps of the library. Friends have cautioned me to keep an eye out for deer when walking the dogs, as they have been known to attack humans and pets. It was to laugh.  A deer attack, you say? Perhaps the doves are getting feisty this season as well?

Deer are the most dangerous animals on the continent, killing more humans than any other animal, more dangerous, for example, than sharks.

(CUE CELLOS: BUM BUM!)

 Of course, most of those deaths occur as vehicles traveling at speed meet a hefty deer leaping into their path or dawdling on the center line, but this description of the deer’s occasional spurts of animus gives cause for concern -”They can charge, kick, or stomp at anyone they perceive as a threat.”

No stompings here, and we love the change of seasons as fawns appear, clunk across our pasture in awkward adolescent play, grow more confident in their herd and more timid as we throw open a door before they have finished noshing on the apples that have fallen on the ground. We see a few sprout fuzzy antlers and a few who have been injured.

We don’t know how the three-legged deer lost its leg. It’s a yearling and may have frozen in someone’s headlights. It remains a part of the herd, showing up from time to time in the orchard or, less gracefully, on our long driveway, caught between our car and the road at the far end. The fencing is fairly low there, so even the smallest are able to clear it when nudged.

I’ve seen three-legged dogs and cats, and I’ve seen them prosper; they’ve carried on with their daily rounds without complaint, their lives seemingly ordinary. I hold my breath each time our three-legged deer begins her approach, knowing that a failed attempt will bring panic and injury. Last week our herd sprang gently across the horizon, the three-legged deer bringing up the rear, ignoring the lowest fence in order to explore the corner nearest the house, a brambly corner. The fence is high there, and blackberry thorns add several inches to the barrier. 

The herd leapt, leaving one deer behind. She paced along the fence line as we watched from inside the house. When it became clear that she was well and truly stuck, I walked around the house, entering the fenced area quietly. She saw me, froze, then scurried to the farthest and lowest edge and jumped.

Later that morning I stopped in at the pharmacy. Here in the mildly less terrifying stage of pandemic, the totally inevitable economic free fall has taken a peculiar turn. Everybody’s hiring and nobody is available to hire. The mail is slow, fries are cold by the time they reach the counter, and the pharmacy in our small town has a single employee to accept and fill every prescription while puncturing customers who would like to avoid the next wave of Covid and the “ordinary” flu. 

I’m retired and a spiritual giant, so standing around the pharmacy is not tough duty, but it’s clearly riling up a passel of my neighbors. The parking lot was full when I pulled in. I expected a longer line and a longer wait in line than usual; I didn’t slip off to my happy place, but I was reasonably serene.The woman in front of me, however, came undone when she learned no vaccine was on hand, and the voice behind me informed me that once again the government had conspired to rob, cheat, and maim ordinary freedom loving people of high character.

The pitch of his lecture was rising as I turned to face him, determined to meet confrontation with composure. Most of the elements of provocation were in place. Red face, bulging eyes, “2024 Revenge Tour” T shirt, camo Trump hat. The only things missing were a mask (required for admission to the pharmacy) and one leg.

A flap of denim was pinned to his hip. He leaned on a cane, his single foot in a running shoe, raising the obvious but unvoiced question about what had happened to the other shoes over the years. The rant wore down as I continued to listen, ending with the complaint that the vaccine was a dangerous hoax; some guy, he told me, had received the vaccine and developed Bell’s Palsy the next morning.

I suggested that it had saved lives; he disagreed, and reminded me that the government was tireless in its attempt to steal liberty from ordinary people. He filled me in on the motorcycle accident that had severed his leg at the hip and described the effects of cancer on his bowels. He was heading into surgery again the next day and needed the total flush kit waiting at the pharmacy. 

Noting the signs indicating that Covid testing had been suspended that week, he grunted, “Don’t know why they have to drive that thing into your brain. It’s just the flu. Snot should be enough.”

Not having much to say about that, I wished him well on his upcoming visit to the hospital, an expression I thought relatively benign, but he came back quickly with his hope that he could catch Covid on this trip in order to see what it might be like.

Co-incidents. Two encounters I had not imagined when I awoke, and two that appear worlds apart at first glance. They aren’t actually. It had been easy to summon empathy for a hobbling deer; it was considerably more difficult to withhold contempt in encountering a man whose views are not mine. We are in perilous times, and lies abound; every day brings another outrage and another insight into the dark manipulation of people such as the man about to go under the knife again. Kindness came quickly to mind as the deer struggled; kindness was not my first response to a stranger’s mangled explication of our lives and times. 

I keep an eye out for the deer each morning and delight in its membership in the small herd that trots by from time to time. Delight is not the first word that comes to mind when imagining another hour in conversation with a hobbled mind, but neither is contempt.

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