I love late autumn. Everything is lush with color. Rolled hay waits to be collected in farmers’ fields, and the scent of burning leaves brings back childhood memories on my grandparents’ farm. It is a time when we prepare for winter. Before snow falls, deer forage along the wood line. Wes and I have already spotted a few dozen in groups of threes and fours. They are beautiful animals, but deer crossing a highway can be deadly.
Just after midnight, a week or so ago, Wes made a very rare phone call. He reported to dispatch that he would not make his delivery time. We were driving along Rt. 84 headed for Messina, which is located between New York state and the Canadian border. It is one of our favorite Friday-night runs. We start the trip looking forward to a breakfast of homemade raisin toast and eggs at a local diner on an Indian reservation. The next-door gift store sells Native American crafts. We never leave empty-handed.
Besides missing the delivery time, we almost missed breakfast. A deer walked out of the woods, stood for a moment in the hammer lane, turned back towards the forest and then surprisingly changed directions. It darted across the zipper lane and into Wes’ front fender. The animal went under the back wheels and out of sight. Wes came to a panicked stop. He pulled over onto the shoulder and jumped out of the cab with a flashlight. I lost sight of him in my side mirror.
It was pitch black out, and my heart raced as the minutes passed. When Wes climbed back into the cab, he said he found her body wrapped around a guardrail. Her eyes stared up at him. The impact of her body cracked the fender and demolished the rear quarter fender. Wes said he bent back the quarter fender as much as he could by hand, but we needed to drive to the nearest truckstop, the Maybrook TA.
The mechanic at the truckstop let Wes borrow some tools to make the necessary repairs. I stood in the enormous parking lot sipping hot coffee while he worked. When he had finished what he could, he walked back to the all-night garage. I said I would wait by the truck. While I stood there, a truck backed into a parking spot directly across from me. Its headlights hit me in the eyes. I felt frozen, somehow caught in their glare. Suddenly, I darted, just like the deer, and ran right into Wes who had been standing only a few feet away from me.
“Are you spooked or something, dear? You look like you just saw a ghost,” Wes said.
“Just jumpy after a long night and too many cups of coffee,” I replied as we both climbed back into the cab.
We had not driven more than 10 miles when we spotted a four-wheeler with a severely damaged hood. It too had struck a deer. Wes told me the company’s safety department had instructed him during his training that it was less dangerous to hit a deer than to avoid one. It made sense.
We pulled into the diner’s parking lot in Messina just in time to catch the last two plates of eggs and raisin toast. Our waitress had already heard two other stories of deer collisions that morning.
I tried to explain what had happened in the parking lot, that I knew a little about how that deer must have felt. With a slight smirk, Wes simply said, “Deer, I mean dear, should I leave a few bucks for the tip.”
Susan Dyer, a freelance writer for more than 20 years, has been sharing the cab and the open road for a year now with her partner Wes Schilling – an owner-operator for more than 25 years.