I had a very random experience on my drive from San Francisco to Seattle to pick up my group for the Canadian Cross Country trip. I was driving on a scenic rural road through the countryside when I drove over an irrigation canal, a large one with steep sloping cement sides going down to the water. I just happened to look out over the canal as I drove past and I caught a brief glimpse of what looked like a deer in the canal, clinging to the side. In the blink of an eye I was past it, and I was pretty sure my eyes were playing tricks on me, but on the small chance that there really was a deer stuck in the water and still alive, I couldn’t just keep driving and let the thing die.
So I pulled the van over, turned around, and drove back to reassure myself that there was no deer. I hopped out of the van and walked over to the chain-link fence beside the canal and, sure enough, there was a deer in the water. Its feet appeared to be stuck in a grate on the side of the canal. Only its head and big ears were up out of the water, calmly contemplating its options. All the other cars were speeding by without noticing, not even curious as to what I was doing there on the side of the road looking through a fence decorated with a big sign that read “NO TRESPASSING!”
So I climbed up and hopped over the tall fence, then noticed another sign that said “Stay Out and Stay Alive.” I hoped that the sign was referring to the canal and not velociraptors that roamed this fenced-in area looking for fresh meat. I walked down the canal to where the deer was and saw that it was watching me, still alive but shivering. It was close enough to the side that I thought I might be able to reach out and grab it, so I started to walk down the steep embankment, unsure if I could do so without falling right into the water myself. Just as I moved towards it, the deer started to flail around and was able to extricate itself from the grate and swim away from me, with nowhere to go. The sides of the canal were too steep, there was no way that its little hooves would be able to get any traction on the side. It was clearly a very young deer, still with spots on its fur. I couldn’t just leave the thing, I wouldn’t be able to live with myself. If there was someone else to help me it would have made the whole situation a lot easier, but as I looked back at the road and waved my arms at the cars speeding by, no one noticed or stopped. I remained determined. Either that deer was coming out of there or we were both going down.
I hopped back over the fence and got a rope out of the van in the hopes that I could somehow lasso the deer, but after attempting a few futile throws, it was clear that the canal was too big (about 10 meters across). The deer kept swimming to the opposite side from where I was. It kept trying to get out, but of course couldn’t do anything but paw and flail at the sides of the canal. I knew I would probably have to just jump in and swim after it, but I wasn’t so sure that I could get myself back out, as the sides were super steep and slippery. I also wasn’t so sure I could outswim the deer. I didn’t expect it to be an especially fast swimmer, but then again I had never tried to outswim one before.
As I walked back and forth along the top of the canal I spotted a ladder leading down to the water a short ways away. So I walked slowly along the canal talking softly to the deer, trying to guide it ahead of me closer to the ladder which I hoped to use to climb out. I stripped off my shirt and shoes, then decided that there was no one around besides me and the deer and the deer probably wouldn’t be offended by a little nudity, so I stripped off my pants as well, leaving only my boxers on. I looped the rope over shoulders and stood there like a mostly naked and much too white Indiana Jones for several minutes until the deer finally swam close to the ladder, at which point I seized my chance and crept quickly down the embankment and slipped quietly into the water.
The deer let me get surprisingly close before it realized what was happening and pushed off the wall and tried to swim away from me. I still had the rope draped across my shoulders and it started to slip down my torso and get tangled around my legs, which definitely worried me. It occurred to me that if I were to drown there, once my body was recovered it would be one of the most mysterious things that could possibly happen. I was there all by myself, no witnesses, the deer would be long gone and all that would be found would be my body tangled up in rope. People would scratch their heads for years wondering why a somewhat normal guy would decide to pull over, hop a fence, tangle himself up in a rope and jump in a canal.
Anyway, the little trouble-maker was a quick swimmer, but I was able to catch up to it and grab its hind leg and drag it back to the side, where I wrapped it up in one arm and used my other to climb awkwardly up the ladder out of the water. The little guy let out an extremely loud cry that sounded like the baying of a sheep, although extremely loud and right in my ear. Its legs were flailing all over and kicking me, so as soon as I reached the top of the canal wall I set the thing down on the ground, victorious.
But not quite. Quick as lightening, the thing did one big flying leap back into the canal. I don’t even remember making the decision to chase after it, I only recall flying through the air, splashing down into the water, and once again chasing after it to grab its leg and haul it back to the ladder. Up and out we went, and once to the top I didn’t set it down but held it up off the ground in my arms, letting it stop shivering and not giving it anything to kick off of and bound out of my arms. We stood there for at least 10 minutes, me dripping in my underwear, the deer slowly softening its cries and no longer shivering. It struck me that if anyone were to look over from the highway, which was only a hundred meters or so away, it would have been a pretty strange sight, this random guy standing there in his underwear, holding a young deer in what looked like a compromising position. But just as I had so quickly passed by, they would have been left wondering “Did I really see what I think I just saw?”
Eventually I got tired and decided to try to sit down and curl the thing up in my lap, but as soon as its powerful little legs were in range of the ground, it blasted out of my arms and this time bounded off into the grass and shrubs. It looked perfectly healthy and fit, so I figured that was about as much as I could do for it. I gathered up my clothes and walked back to the van. No one so much as gave me a second look as I climbed back up and over the dinosaur-cage fence one last time, past all the “No Trespassing” signs, and back to the van. It cost me an hour of time, but I’d like to think that somewhere down the road if I ever find myself in a dangerous predicament, a random deer will show up and help me out. Or at the very least, if I hit a deer with my car, I can shrug my shoulders and say “Oh well, I guess now we’re back to even.”
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Russell Tour Leader
I’ve been leading tours for TrekAmerica for three years now, after growing up all around Western America in places such as Utah, Idaho, California, and Alaska. I graduated from the University of Washington with a degree in History and promptly moved to Hawaii where I began leading adventure snorkeling and diving tours. I spend as much time as possible in the Southwest and the Rocky Mountains; climbing, hiking, motorcycling, and canyoneering. When I’m not leading tours I’m often traveling abroad in Southeast Asia, Nepal, India, and Western Europe.