Let’s flesh out some of the details first, before I dive right into the gist of this story. I run, typically in the evenings, around seven o’clock—I leave my house by seven, arriving at the park maybe ten minutes later—which is when it’s not so unbearably hot and humid that I could possibly keel over from heat stroke or maybe even drown in the thick, wet wall of slap-you-in-the-face water vapor that floats just about head-high off the ground down here in the South during summer; and which is also when it’s not quite dark yet, an important requisite for seeing and such. I run at a place where I am ninety-three percent likely not to encounter motor vehicles of any kind (although I do encounter MVs every now and then on the one-quarter-mile portion of the facility’s entrance which is highly trafficked and which junctures with the four-, sometimes six-, lane highway running East to West on the South side of main campus), which is pretty much the only reason I run here, other than the fact that it’s got trails and trees, and on most days, especially weekends, it’s got an eclectic bunch of R/C hobbyists who fly neat little R/C planes and helicopters and, Jesus, I know the enthusiasts hate the term but I’m using it here only because that’s how most laypeople would have heard them referred to: “drones,” or quadcopters. This is fun, because I know how damn difficult it is to fly an R/C plane, my own dad having tried (and failed) to do so on several occasions in the past, and seeing guys whip the Styrofoam and plastic aircrafts around in neat little loops and hair-raising dives is really exhilarating when you know just how tough that stuff is. The park is not really a park, though. It’s more a tract of land which partly belongs to the university, and which partly belongs to the Dorthea Dix mental hospital complex thing, which is now owned by the city of Raleigh. The complex is massive, sitting just between Western Blvd and the Centennial campus, and the sheer size of the place makes it an exceptional locale within which to plan long, continuous routes for running.
So I was nearing the end of the second mile of my run when the urge to pee overcame my will to push on and finish my three-and-a-half miles. Fortunately I was getting close to this part of my run where I’m eighty-five percent certain no one ever goes because it’s kind of a side trail off of the official greenway (a network of walking/running/biking trails throughout Raleigh and the rest of the triangle), and up ahead you can see those orange plastic netted construction fence things that you see at, um, construction sites I guess; and this, I would assume, would deter your average pedestrian from heading off in that general direction. Plus it literally leads to nowhere save a minuscule little dirt path back up to Centennial Drive, which path is almost invisible from the road. You’d not know it was there unless you took the chance to go looking for it. So I’m heading up that way towards the orange plastic netting and I stop running and walk a little to the side of the path to do my business, and that’s when it happened. Now before you get all antsy and wound up about this thing I’m preparing for you here in this blog post, I should tell you that at its face, it is quite unremarkable and probably not worth mentioning in the first place. But I’m not writing about it because I think it’s very interesting. I’m writing about it because, at that moment, when it happened, I realized something about life and the universe that I think we should all get to realize sometime in our lives, and it was moving to me and that’s all I’m really trying to express here. So I start off toward the side of the road, I’m listening to a rebroadcast of the Diane Rhem Show on my NPR app, getting my fix of political banter, and as I’m walking over to the trees on the edge of this crumbling asphalt path in the middle of the woods, I see two scrawny looking female deer staring at me approx. thirty yards up ahead. Initially, I didn’t seem to notice the deer. It was like a passing thought that slips into your mind while you’re running, like, “Hey, I forgot to pick up windshield-wiper fluid while I was out earlier,” or, “Hey, there’s a deer up there,” and I didn’t think much of it at all because I really had to pee and not much else in the world could have distracted me from such a very important task right then and there. But as I was peeing, I looked back over my right shoulder, up the hill just a ways, and noticed the deer a second time; and this time it was different. I no longer had to focus on what was going on down below because, well, things are pretty simple once they get going, so as I’m apt to do in situations like these, I let my eyes and my mind wander, taking in the sights around me, allowing my brain to simply be. Up the hill just a ways, like I said, off the left side of the asphalt, in a little patch of grass that’s sandwiched between forest and path, these two deer are standing there, their mouths agape having probably been chewing on leaves, and they’re staring right at me watching me douse the trees with pee. I’m eyeing these things, relieving myself, and it’s taking a while because I really, really had to go, and they aren’t moving at all. They’re just watching me pee. I don’t say anything because I don’t want to scare them away. It isn’t every day you get to pee in a forest next to a couple of deer. And that’s when it hits me. I’m standing in a forest, in the middle of Raleigh, peeing not thirty feet away from wildlife that by all accounts shouldn’t really be here because this little patch of forest spans an area of no more than ten acres, which is small actually, and completely surrounded by concrete and asphalt. But here these deer are, and here I am, and we’re here because it’s the only place we could find that’s totally secluded and safe and just plain away from everything else, and there’s something really profound about me peeing in the woods next to deer in Raleigh. I feel strangely like I belong here on this overgrown path through the heart of what’s left of untouched land. I feel a connection with those deer who are staring at me, hoping I haven’t seen them yet, waiting for the best chance to bounce away without me noticing. But I still see them standing there, and I think they can see my eyes staring back into theirs, and one of them takes a daring step which causes some dried up foliage to crinkle under its feet and she pauses, still hoping I haven’t noticed her there, her head sinking low to gain a better line of sight through the bits of tree limbs that are peeking out of the forest and sheltering them mostly from my view. I consciously turn away as I’m finishing up, and I hear them both leap into the forest. I glance back towards where they would have dived in and I see two white tails bounding up and down, up and down, gently through the trees, their hops dainty and nearly silent, like dandelion seeds bobbing on a breeze.
. . .
I’m finished and my spectators are all gone. The moment passes. I look up at the sky. Back down at my feet. I breathe. I run.