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Sunday, 16 April 2023


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Deer. A few decades ago (interesting how personal time units used for reference shift from weeks and months as infants, to years for a huge chunk of our lives, and then shifting to decades…), I lived around Lynchburg VA. Born, raised, and having spent virtually all of my 67 years in California, primarily in urban settings, deer were not an issue when driving, save for driving on remote mountain roads.

One early summer Virginia morning, I was tooling down an empty country road, enjoying the relative cool before the heat and humidity would suffocate me, when out of nowhere (ok, tall bushes and trees right next to this bucolic road), a couple of deer leaped right in front of me! Somehow, I managed to both avoid hitting the deer as well as stay on the road. It was a startlement to be sure.

Here in our residential area of Sacramento, we don’t see deer too often but wild turkey abound. They wander around, sticking to side streets, slightly annoyed at traffic, and given to some level of unpredictable meandering (though no animal beats the squirrel for unpredictable road behavior).

Keep your eyes on the road, your hand upon the wheel, as Jim Morrison sang.

Might be a Cooper’s Hawk. We have lots of both here and the Cooper’s have the red tails. Confusing I know. The Cooper’s are more likely to be flying between trees.


This is not my story but I have permission to tell it.

Long long ago I (not me Zyni, story I) was a child being driven in car on roads near to home, late in the evening. A loud thump, much braking: we had hit one of the many deer which thrived there. Well, what to do? Not leave it in the road to be crushed but, well, deer is venison and we (story we) knew gamekeepers who knew people who could turn dead deer into venison. So, get out of car, pick up deer after much effort and place in back of estate car (I think estate car is what in US is called station wagon?). Set off to house to find nice gamekeeper, looking forward to some nice venison.

Seconds pass.

Suddenly a thing becomes clear, especially to I and siblings in back seat: deer is not dead, is not in fact even badly injured, just was perhaps concussed. Now is awake, and suddenly car is full of large annoyed wild animal looming and snorting at children in back seat. Large wild animal which very much would like not to be in back of estate car please, at once now. Large wild animal with horns.

What to do? Sensible choice is made: stop. Walk around car before animal can harm children too badly (perhaps one or two children are wounded, perhaps mortally, is not serious). Open boot. Deer decides children are not as nutritious as it had hoped, catapults itself from car, vanishes into undergrowth, does not look back.

Fifty years on, the children (other than the mortally wounded ones, although perhaps even they also) still remember this event. Perhaps the deer's children also do.

You’d be much more likely to pay attention to the road, and to ALL potential hazards, had you ever been a (competent) motorcyclist.

I often arise before dawn to drive out to a nearby lake for sunrise photography. The elk are on the move at that time of day so it is critical to keep your eyes roaming from one side of the road to the other.

A few months ago I was doing this drive in the fog. The headlights from a car approaching from the other direction created a beautiful silhouette of a large elk in the road. No way to get a photograph but the image will stay with me for a long time.

Red-tailed hawks tend to soar high and keep their eyes out for field mice, thus they prefer open country. Cooper's hawks are smaller and fly among the trees; they prey upon small birds, so watch your feeder.
The deer have always been a problem for drivers in the Finger Lakes. Most of my friends who live there have a story or two...
It might seem to be a rural/suburban issue, yet there were deer and foxes in the urban area of Alexandria, VA, where I lived for some years.

Both my wife and I had deer jumping in front of us and being hit. In both cases, the deer got up and ran on. The advice is to never swerve for them, not only because you may get hurt but also because the insurance company will hold you responsible for the damage unless you can prove there was a deer involved. Sad, but true.

Moose-car collisions are sufficiently common here in Alaska that the official report of collision form that must be submitted to the state includes as a separate type-of-collision category "moose" in addition to the usual types of collisions, e.g., intersection, head-on, etc.

Hitting a 1,200+ pound moose is usually fatal for the moose, mostly due to broken legs, and commonly results in severe injuries to the occupants of vehicles, especially smaller cars.

You're unintentionally maligning sharks here! Your number would be correct for 10 times the number of shark *bites* not deaths. In 2022 there was 1 fatal shark attack in USA. There were 5 worldwide. As an ocean and shark lover I thought this needed to be cleared up!


[Fixed now! Thanks for the correction Nick. --Mike]

One night many years ago in rural Texas I was driving a Chevy Impala full of family members when I came up over a hill and saw a large hog on the road ahead. I started to brake and the car started to slide and I saw a car coming toward us in the opposite lane.

I quickly decided it was better the hog than us and pushed the accelerator to the floor, killing the hog and moving the Chevy's radiator back almost into the engine.

The State Trooper who came out to assist us said if the hog had been a prize winner people would have come out from all over to claim ownership and seek damages but as it was we would not likely ever know who it belonged to.

I bought Traffic from one of the local real (actual bricks & mortar) bookshops back when it first came out – so, sorry, no kickback. It's an excellent book. Mind you, one of my earlier incarnations worked in the transport industry for 20 years, so I'm probably a little biased.

Just bought Traffic based on your recommendation! Sounds right up my alley.

You might find this book interesting - it’s about the built world and the impact of “design assumptions” (described as “data”) on the humans who have to live in it: Invisible Women: Data Bias in a World Designed for Men by Caroline Criado Perez. I found it very informative and with broader implications even beyond the impact on women. Recommended.

Dusk is rough. My eyes adjust a good bit slower than the changing light. I try to avoid dusk driving when I can. Deer fear...

I guess I now must tell at least one of my deer stories. I’ve killed two of what I call “giant wood rats,” both of them with my trusty Dodge Dakota that I drove for more than 300,000 miles.

The worst story happened before dawn on a rural two-lane road in western Nebraska. (Is that doubly redundant?) I saw what I assumed was a dead animal in the road. I moved to straddle it. Just as I reached the sleeping deer it woke up and stood up. Took out the radiator. Before dawn. On a rural road in western Nebraska. On Sunday morning. Three thousand dollars in damage.

Of course, the truck was not drivable. But I did have cell service. AAA was trying to find a tow truck in Omaha. I told them I didn’t think that was going to work, since I was about 350 miles from there.

Eventually they found someone to get me and haul me to Alliance, Nebraska. That’s where I was headed, with plans to photograph Carhenge at dawn. I was stranded there for 3 days while a local garage got parts and got the truck drivable, though far from fully repaired. I did manage to rent a car and got out to Carhenge. The photo worked out very well and has been one of my most popular photos.

But I’m still in favor of exterminating most of those giant wood rats.

If people drove with more care then there would be vastly fewer collisions, whether into wildlife, other vehicles, humans or inanimate objects. All of these are almost always clearly visible to the driver but far too often they're either driving too fast, distracted and/or impaired by alcohol, prescription or other drugs.

The long history of marketing vehicles based on their top speed, horsepower and size while ignoring that the road is not your personal racetrack is causes millions of deaths and injuries every year.

The slower you go the more you will see and take in the world around you. Cycling is far better than driving but walking (and stopping to *really* look and listen) is when you'll notice things for the first time that you will have passed many times before, maybe even every day for years.

The deer are more numerous and braver.

A friend here in the near-Atlanta suburbs was walking through her neighborhood and found her path blocked by a group of deer. She tried to shoo them away, but she said the big one refused to move and just showed her the "middle hoof".

Oh, I've had that book as an ePub on my iPad for years. Loved it -- if I remember right.

I can certainly vouch for the dangers of hitting deer in Michigan and West Virginia. Two weeks ago while driving from Toronto to Miami we counted 5 dead deer all of them in West Virginia I79/77. Five years ago driving from Toronto to Chicago at this time of year I counted 13, all but one in Michigan I69. In my 50 years of driving in Ontario (which is also notorious for deer accidents) I have only seen one, which happened to a car right in front of us. Had to swerve at 70mph to miss the car and stopped on the shoulder. I was shaking and my wife was crying.

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