Plot Twists from Animal Encounters, Park 2 – Deer

Plot twists. Every editor and reader wants them. How do we think up all these plot twists? Life. Experiences. Experiencing the unusual, the unexpected.

I’ve lived in many places where deer have also lived. Here in Michigan, there are three to five of the critters which pass through our yard now and again.  If I don’t actually see them, I often see their hoofprints in the snow or mud (or nibbled down veggies, hostas, and other plants).

One spring when we lived in the Black Hills of South Dakota, we had a herd of about forty deer make their residence in our fenced-in backyard. We were the only people in the neighborhood without a dog. We were the deer Haven of Rest. I remember one morning running out our door and off our porch waving my arms and screaming. I expected the deer to scatter. As a herd, they turned their heads and stared at me. Knowing any one of them could crush my skull with one little kick, I turned and ran back to the porch waving my arms and screaming. Each afternoon after they’d left, I’d go out and scoop up the numerous piles of “raisins” and dig them into our garden. That particular summer my garden totally flourished.

I love catching sight of deer in the wild. However, with all our modern roadways and speedy vehicles, traveling along interstates or backroads have often included daily roadkill sightings of the large beasts. Once while driving through the hills of Pennsylvania, we came to a stretch of about twenty miles where there were fourteen dead deer along the road. Fourteen. After a while I closed my eyes and prayed for hunting season to come quickly for swifter deaths for these majestic creatures to thin the herds.

Thankfully, I’ve never run into a deer while driving, nor has anyone else in our family. But one time a deer ran into me.

I was heading to work (teaching elementary school) in the dark pre-dawn hours, the only car going down a 4-lane road in Rapid City. I was in the left lane, traveling about 45 mph when in my peripheral vision I saw eyes immediately outside my driver’s window. A running deer. One moment it was running perpendicular to the car and inches from my window, the next it had turned sideways. But it couldn’t stop its forward momentum. The deer slammed its full body against our little Sidekick car, shoving it into the shoulder of the far right lane. I stopped as soon as I could, certain there would be a dead deer in the center of the road, but the deer had vanished. When I got to school I climbed out of my car to find myself shaking rather badly. I checked the side of the car expecting to see it crushed in. There wasn’t a mark, and my logical mind has no idea why not. I was thankful to be alive, for this story could have ended much differently. But I shall never forget those huge, wide brown eyes about a foot away from my own.

So when you’re writing your stories, include the unusual, the unexpected, and you shall have your plot twist.

Plot Twists from Animal Encounters, part 1 – NY

Lately I’ve been recalling several wild animal encounters our family has had over the years. I started writing some of them down. I’m only to 10K so far, so not sure it would be enough to make a book. But I thought I’d share one of the encounters here. It made me realize how wild animal encounters are similar to plot twists in our books: they are unexpected.

In the late 1980s and early 1990’s, we lived in Cheektowaga, NY. We were a fifteen-minute drive west to a bridge to Canada, and a half-an-hour drive north to Niagara Falls.

There was a lovely eatery in Tonawanda called Mississippi Muds. It overlooked the Niagara River. We went there a few times for their fabulous ice cream. The entire other side of the road was dedicated to a riverwalk park with several playground areas scattered throughout. Next to the path on the river side, the bank was piled with large rocks to keep the water back and keep the land from slipping into the river. Bikers, runners, strollers, fishermen…the path and park was well used.

We’d gone to Mississippi Muds for an after supper dessert treat. We decided to walk the pathway at sunset while we ate our ice cream. We walked the path in the growing dusk. As it got darker, people began leaving the parkway. We kept on walking, appreciating the time as a family and the fact that there were less and less people to avoid. After a while, we were the only people on the path.

One of the boys spotted a black creature along the rocks which they had been earlier leaping from one to another upon. It looked like a small dog or large cat. We naturally stayed away from it and kept walking, telling the boys to stay on the path now. We came to a small arched bridge going over a narrow runoff leading into the river. We stood on the top of the arch and looked around us in the gathering dark. It felt great to have the park entirely to ourselves. Then I looked down and found we were not alone.

The bank edges and the water below us was alive with movement. It took only a few seconds to realize the movement was not running water, but scrambling animals. The gully was alive with rats, big black rats.

We turned and started jogging the mile or two back to our car. We no longer stuck to the path, for more and more rats appeared from the rocky barrier next to it. We ran parallel to the path, about twenty feet inland, jumping through the playground areas, keeping ever alert and minding our distance from the nighttime creatures of the Niagara River. They were not small dogs. They were not large cats. They were very, very, very big rats.