Middle of Nowhere
Copyright 2023 by Mike Holland
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
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
If there is a place thatís out of the
(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.
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
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
And, WHHUUUMM!! Distracted, Iíve stepped
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
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
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.
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.
of the message
won't know where to send it.)
Another story by Mike
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