In the run up to the blizzard that clobbered New England a few weeks ago, experts delighted in comparing the coming storm to the "big one" of '78. Now more "monster" storms are in the forecast, and the news is once again dominated with weather chatter.
All this storm talk reminds me of an epic winter event back in February of 1955, when I was 12 years old. It was epic for me, anyway, as it was the first time in my life that I thought about how far I'd go to stand behind my word.
The day started like any other: school, followed by a snack, followed by an adventure down to the "flats" with my best friend, Stevie Brown. The "flats," as we called them, were a wide wooded area behind Stevie's house. They were bisected by a wide road that led to Miller's River, a fast-paced waterway that ran through our mill town.
The previous few days had been warmer than normal for February in our area, and the river had begun to thaw. Huge ice formations pushed out of the water, transforming the banks into a magical, otherworldly scene. Although our parents forbade us from climbing on the "glaciers," fearing we'd get hurt or fall into the river, the temptation was impossible for two kids to resist.
As Stevie and I climbed the ice formations, playing king of the hill and other games, we spotted a female deer 50 or so feet away. We immediately stopped our antics when we saw that she was in trouble. Her left front leg was stuck in between two pieces of ice, and she had a little cut by her ankle. Deer have delicate ankles, and her sixth sense told her she had to gently extricate herself. But as we approached, she started to panic and reared her hind legs, which only put her in a more precarious position.
"Don't get too close," I said to Stevie. "She might break her leg. Then she'll suffer and someone will have to shoot her. I've seen it on television. We need help."
Stevie said he was going to go ask his mother what to do. I wasn't so sure about that, since we weren't supposed to be down by the river, let alone glacier hopping. I stood there thinking of alternatives, but after another moment of watching the deer struggle I said, "All right, tell Lila (Stevie's mother was special -- she was the only adult I got to call by her first name). I'll wait here."
So I sat for a while with the deer, talking to her in a soft voice. "It's okay, we're going to get you some help. It's okay. As long as I'm here, no one is going to hurt you."
Eventually, the deer calmed down; she seemed to trust me, or at least realize that I wasn't dangerous. I could tell she was breathing normally. I almost sensed that she knew I was trying to help her.
Well, Lila called the police, and one of the local cops came out and assessed the situation. Then he drew his gun from his holster. I'd never felt such a panic.
"What are you going to do?" I cried.
"Shoot her," he said, as if only writing her a loitering ticket.
"Are you crazy! You're not shooting her!" I screamed.
I got up and moved to within 15 feet of the deer, positioning myself between the officer and his target. Oddly, the deer didn't panic with all the commotion. Emboldened, I repeated myself, "If you shoot this deer, you're going to have to shoot me first. I promised her that I wouldn't let anyone harm her."
I expected harsh words, a lecture, or at least the threat of telling my parents that I'd defied the law. To my amazement, the officer looked at me for a moment and then nodded his head respectfully. "Well, okay then," he said. "Have it your way, son. But she's only going to die out here." And with that, he holstered his weapon and headed up the embankment.
I continued to approach the deer; I was now only five feet away. She started tugging her leg, even more slowly than before. I looked on, but I didn't say anything. I knew she didn't want me to get any closer. Within minutes, she was free! We gasped with relief when her hoof emerged from the river ice. Gingerly, she padded over the ice, making her way onto solid ground. Stevie and I were quiet, just watching. She went up the hill about twenty yards and turned toward us. "Bobby!" Stevie exclaimed. "She's looking at you! She's saying 'thank you!'"
As the deer disappeared into the woods, we began to worry about the really scary part of this adventure: facing the music at home. First of all, we were down at the river where we weren't supposed to be. Second, we disobeyed, even challenged, a police officer. Both would have been grounds for a major scolding followed by a long period of confinement to quarters after school. But Lila didn't say a word about our being down at the river. She didn't tell my mother. The police officer didn't tell my mother either (and in a small town, news about misdeeds and miscreants travel quickly).
In retrospect, the officer's silence was a way of acknowledging that a young man had demonstrated a commitment to upholding his word. Perhaps the universe shined favorably upon me, too, for helping a fellow denizen of the planet. To this day I wonder, did I rescue the deer, or did the deer rescue me?
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