The scene did not look natural to me. A strong, healthy whitetail doe mired deep in Lowcountry pluff mud. Stuck just beyond the water’s reach, sunk to the base of her thick neck and the round of her haunch, she struggled to free herself.
I was twelve, maybe thirteen. We had been up the river for shad. The afternoon was cool and damp, gray, the river and marsh becalmed by a heavy mist. When I first spotted her, she appeared as a corruption on the landscape.
I motioned, but you had already seen. You backed off on the throttle, and the johnboat yawed gently in the wash of its own wake before settling into the smooth palm of the river. The motor coughed at idle, then quit, and at once the doe’s brays rang through us, high and hoarse. She blew them skyward, as if to petition some god. Her muzzle reaching, her ears drawn back.
They don’t give up, you said. Not ever.
Abruptly the doe quieted — to survey the landscape, gauge the threat of us. Her ears cocked forward and back, her large black eyes searched us. Her hide was caked and matted with brittle dry mud.
What will happen? I said.
You looked away, across the water. You squinted into the dense mist as though some sort of solution lay just beyond it. Then you looked at the doe, and then away again.
The tide, you said. The tide will get her.
You turned and jerked the starter cord. The outboard coughed once, stuttered, then quit. I watched as the doe, startled by the noise, struggled again, brayed. You pulled the starter cord a second time, then a third, and a fourth. When at last the engine fired, you geared into forward and carved a wide circle in the creek to head us homeward.
Slowly at first. You did not open the throttle until we had gained the first substantial bend in the river, when the doe, whose strange silhouette I had watched gradually recede into the misted distance, could no longer be seen. We gathered speed, the bow of the boat rising, then leveling off, the blond marsh sliding past, the lower flats beginning to flood with the same waters that would, in time, claim the doe. I did not understand how nature could take her this way. It did not seem like something nature would allow. But nature, I was learning, allows a lot of things.