Middle of Nowhere

Mike Holland

© Copyright 2023 by Mike Holland

Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.
Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

Last week at work Iím out in West Marin, on Nicasio Valley Road, near Point Reyes- Petaluma Road. Nice road, smooth, encourages fast travel. Sixty? Easy. More if the Highway Patrol wasnít always around somewhere. One lane in each direction, theyíre ten feet wide, plus a breakdown lane on each shoulder. At times you can walk out into the middle of the road and stand there, listening to the quiet.

So Iím out there because someone called and said thereís a dead deer on the side of the road.

All broken up. Hit by some vehicle. Itís my job to get the carcass out of public view. I can load it in the truck which I do most often, but I have options. This is still Marin, where every once-in-a-while someone says:Ē vultures gotta eat, tooĒ. And today they will. Back around the guardrail Iíve spotted a little flat-topped grassy hill.

If there is a place thatís out of the public eye (and nose), accessible to carrion-eaters and will not offend an owner of private property, I have the discretion to relocate the carcass. I loop my come-along around the head and drag the whole decomposing thing around the rail and up the hill where the vultures can see and smell it from the air, but the drivers passing by canít. In a day it will be a pile of bones.

I unhook the body and feel like quite the woodsman about leaving it in such a perfect place for the birds. Walk back down the trail I made, knowing I might pick up fleas that jumped off the body, but too lazy to walk through the stinging nettle and foxtails. Iíd rather dust off a few fleas then spend 10 minutes picking foxtails out of my shoelaces. And those other things that look like Rice Krispies but have little stickery spines all over. Hate Ďem.

But I like being out here in Nature. Itís warm and still, Iím lost in it, my senses are humming, and I reflect that the longer I live in Marin, the more I notice in the wild places I visit. I have other calls to handle, so I automatically head back to the truck, which is scrunched away from traffic in the breakdown lane. I open the back of the truckís camper shell and stow the come-along.

And, WHHUUUMM!! Distracted, Iíve stepped into the road, just feet away from a car that must be doing seventy, passing another car. Side by side, coming in my direction, obscured by the cab of my truck. Itís over in a second, but the sound, the air pressure, the feeling of mass moving by so fast, so close. And I know that if Iíd taken four more steps I would have been hit like that deer. While I was blissing out behind the tail end of my truck, they were both hurtling toward me, one racing to pass. I never heard or saw it come. They were just there.

In my work Iíve seen what happens when a car hits a deer. Sometimes all the bones are broken. Sometimes I have occasion to touch the skull and feel a handful of shards. Sometimes the body is split open with bright red blood, fresh from the lungs, on the ground.

In a world where I have to deal with death all the time, I pretend to be immune. It wonít happen. It canít. It just doesnít. But it does. Death just blew in my ear and reminded me.

I spent 17 years driving what was called the "Dead Truck" in Marin County about 22 miles north of San Francisco. I gained experience for this job by previously working in San Francisco for ten years as an animal control officer. I have stories.

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