North Bay - The light is starting to soften and dim into evening as I steer a rental van with four passengers up Highway 400 on our way to perform at a concert in North Bay.
Jazz musicians are almost as good at amusing each other as we are at playing our instruments. The conversation ranges from Honda Civic is the favourite car of double bass players in Cincinnati, the career slumps of Billy Ray Cyrus and the cost of oranges in Chinatown.
We're having a fine time until the deer gets in the way, a huge white-tailed doe about the size of a very tall man.
I'm doing about 100, and suddenly there it is, 20 metres in front of us - a graceful, skittish creature. I hold the wheel tightly as I jam on the brakes and pull over. Its body has caromed off the van and slid into a field. Michelle, the only other person in the car to see the deer smash into the grill, starts to cry.
A white pickup truck pulls up behind us. "Were you ever lucky!" he says. "She'd just landed from a jump. If she'd been standing she'd have come through the windshield."
As we stand by the highway looking at the van covered with hair, the man's son opens up the bashed-in hood to reveal tufts of hair and blood and bits of brain on the engine.
The good Samaritan from North Bay informs me there is "nothing left of your deer worth taking. That deer is your property, you know," he says. "If someone wanted to take it, they'd have to come and ask you first."
Feeling very much like a city guy, I think about the graffiti I saw in an alley in Toronto not far from my house: Violence = Fun. Then I flip over to a memory of my time in the Queen Charlotte Islands: my friendly neighbour with a rifle under his arm, heading out to "get a deer for supper."
If I'd told this neighbour or the North Bay gent that I felt bad for the deer, they'd probably have rolled their eyes - or at least explained to me that overpopulation of the herd leads to starvation.
It's dark when the policeman shows up to fill out the accident report. I ask if this happens a lot. "We're out every night on the highway dealing with it," he says.
We ride up to North Bay in the rear cab of our new friend's pickup. The jokes and stories about roadkill keep on coming. Maybe it's our kind host's way of lightening things up. The clash between animal habitat and the invading metal beasts of burden seems an accepted part of the culture of Northern Ontario.
According to the highway safety reports, of all the accidents that occur in this province, 1 in 35 involve wildlife. In Northern Ontario the ratio is 1 in 4. Later, a call to traffic sergeant John McNall of the Ontario Highway Safety Division, reveals that "collisions with wildlife are a continual problem in North American migration areas, especially in spring, when deer come out to lick salt off the road or to get out of the forest to escape bugs.
"Sometimes it's better to hit an animal than risk rolling your car to avoid one," he says. But moose are especially dangerous. "A moose's eyes at night, unlike a deer's, do not reflect the light from headlights. A moose weighing 500 kilos will get his legs cut off by the car and fall through the windshield."
"The best way to avoid hitting one," says McNall, "is to be aware of your surroundings. Some people tend to get tunnel vision when they drive, maybe because they were taught to keep their eyes on the road. If you're on a country road, you should scan the bush and ditches and farmers' fields."
Deer are creatures of habit and tend to use the same travel corridors. When you see one in a certain location, file away the information for next time. Since they're herd animals, if you missed one there will be one or a few following right behind.
As for inserting sonar deer whistles on or under your hood, few of these have won approval by wildlife conservation professionals, and some studies disprove their effectiveness.
A week later, the insurance has covered the written-off van, but I'm still trying to work out my karma with the doe and me as her inadvertent predator. What continues to eat at me is the look of her wincing face when we collided, the force of that single moment.
It sounds melodramatic, I know. As the driver of a car that killed something alive, I am not off the hook for the consequences. It's a "car thing" as much as carrying a loaded revolver is a "gun thing."
If you have one, you may be involved in something violent.