Afternoon of the Fawn
My Strangest Encounter with a Person, Place, or Thing in the West Return to contest page »
A disturbing discovery along the Cross Mountain Trail in Colorado.
One afternoon in the last decade I was hiking above Lizard Head Pass. The Cross Mountain trail took me up to the intersection with the trail along Black Face, where I met a group of hikers making the loop back down to the pass. Some time later, after topping out at the Bilk Basin overlook, I'd returned roughly to the same spot only to stop cold, with the unsettled feeling of being watched. Next to the trail, about ten yards below me, sprawled a fawn, eyes open wide and facing uphill.
Drawing closer I saw the tracks of those hikers I'd met earlier, walking around the body. To these I added my own, circling the phenomenon in curiosity. If I laid hands on it I am sure it would have felt warm, it look that fresh. What had killed it, thirst? Water was everywhere, including Slate Creek roaring far below. Starvation? It look hale and hearty. Ungulate fever? I could not tell the signs of ungulate fever to save my life. Perhaps most astonishing of all was how this creature, having spent the better part of its life on the margins of human vision, had crawled out at the last, as if to say: *I was here.*
The mystery hounded me back down to my car, and hasn't been easy to forget since. Every time I talk about it I expect someone, based on my description, to give a clear explanation for the death of this fawn. But no one ever has, and what if they did. It would only feed the illusion that I know anything about the movements of this intricate network of relations we so knowingly, if lovingly call the "environment." There was no communication that day, after all. That spot on this trail was just as far as that fawn could get in its brief time on the planet, the body bound to be discovered sooner or later. It just happened to be sooner.
Sooner for some things, later for others. Knowing all we do about melting glaciers and swollen rivers and wildfires, about infectious diseases and prophylactic measures doesn't seem to prevent these things from happening, either. How strange would it be if, for all we know, in the end it is what we don't know that matters most.