Tonight I was remembering a strange thing we saw on the river in May. We were approaching a lock and dam on our second day out. This was our first lock of this leg of the trip. We had just left the small stream upon which we had camped at a lovely private boat club. I was, as usual, excited to approach the lock. Locks are one of the most amazing of human accomplishments and it constantly amazed us that our tax dollars create these gigantic chambers big enough for a 15 barge tow and yet welcoming our little red canoe as readily. Definitely a use of tax dollars that we can feel good about!
I was also excited to possibly meet “John,” a man with whom I had spoken on the phone several weeks prior about the locks. We had done all the locks on the Allegheny but this was our first Ohio River lock and we wanted to make sure the procedure was basically the same for small recreational craft. It was. John had expressed excitement in our trip and hoped he would be there when we arrived. He was! But locks are for another post. For now I want to go back to what we saw upon approach to the lock.
My eyes caught some kind of an animal, maybe 1/4 mile downstream from us, thrusting itself out into the water FAST. It looked like a duck miraculously swimming backwards and fast on a piece of floating driftwood. I know that doesn’t make sense but the sight truly did not make sense to our eyes. We watched and wished we had brought binoculars. The animal continued steadily across the river. Even though the current was strong, the animal stayed a course to the other side. About halfway across the river, the animal turned slightly and Karen realized first that it was a deer. The head of the deer, sideways, looked like the duck. The bit of the back of the deer sticking out of the water looked like the driftwood. When it turned its head toward us we could see the ears and perhaps small antlers.
Now knowing what it was we were even more amazed that it had appeared to launch itself into the river to swim to the other side. As usual, we amused ourselves with our typical theories about why it had crossed the river? Was it looking for greener or tastier grass? Did it one moment all the sudden think: Hum, I wonder what is over there? I guess I’ll go look today. Maybe hormores were beckoning it to find a mate on the distant shore? Or perhaps it had slipped into the river and kept swimming. It was clearly a good swimmer. It didn’t even appear to be carried downstream as it paddled across. And how did those skinny legs get it across anyway? We watched as it made it across in perhaps as little as ten minutes. It studied the shoreline for a while before it pulled itself out of the water and proceeded on its way. A brave new world for that deer? Who knows. But we marvelled at the experience for hours.
Later that day after we had found another private boat club that allowed us to sleep inside with heat and running water, we sat in the restaurant next door and told the story to one of the staff. He quickly suggested that the only reason a deer would jump into the river was to get away from something that was a threat to it. Ah. Of course. That made tons of sense. But just opened up another channel of theorizing: what scared it?