Pocomoke City -- IT WAS 2:08 a.m.
There is no more mystery to the middle of the night -- not with a digital clock branding the precise moment on our consciousness, measuring out our lives in something more hi-tech than coffee spoons.
2:08 a.m., and nature was calling me.
I tiptoed to the bathroom and glanced out the window. The woods bordering the fields to the north gleamed back at me. Had I left the garage light on? That wouldn't illuminate the woods like this! Suddenly I realized what was happening.
"Joe," I hissed at my husband, "somebody's spotlighting!" 2:11. He reached the window. A shot rang out, then a second shot.
The noise had a force that stunned us body and soul. Then we recovered our senses -- on with the bedroom lights, Joe into his jeans.
Just as quickly the spotlighter reacted to our lights and took off, disappearing down the road before we could guess what kind of vehicle it was.
While not hunters ourselves, we have no problem with legal hunting. Friends are welcome to hunt on our farm during deer season. We recognize the need for even a second deer season here in Worcester County, where overpopulation is as much a disaster for the deer themselves as it is for the farmers. But spotlighting -- destroying the cover of darkness with huge searchlights which effectively freeze a deer in its tracks, then blasting the live, helpless target -- has no justification.
For the next several minutes we lay awake, still throbbing with the awful reasonance of those shots. 2:26. The sound of an engine stopping on the road propelled us back into action. Again our lights on, again Joe into his jeans. And again the vehicle roared away, in the other direction.
Before sun-up, Joe found the deer dead in the field. "A 10-point buck!" he exclaimed appreciatively and, in his next breath, uttered the appropriate expletive to describe its assassin.
Because there had been complaints about spotlighting in the neighborhood, we'd met the DNR authorities who deal with the problem. I called before 8, and in less than half an hour an officer arrived. He got the details and tagged the deer for a neighbor who wanted the meat and had agreed to return the antlers to Joe.
"You want the antlers?" I had asked incredulously.
"Sure," my husband had answered. "It's some rack!" he glowed. "A 10-point buck is a real trophy. I bet the guy who shot it is pretty ticked he didn't get to keep it."
Left with this revelation of male chauvinism and my own faint, 10-pointlessly feminist reaction, I was startled to hear the dog barking. A gray pickup stood in the driveway, and a young man in camouflage cap was pointing to the front of the truck where a piece of the grill was missing. He proceeded to tell me that at midnight, on his way to work, he'd hit a doe; and could he have permission to look over the farm because, if she wasn't dead yet, he wanted to put her out of her misery.
I wasn't born in the country, but I wasn't born yesterday, either. When your vehicle hits a deer, it loses more than a piece of the grill. Nevertheless, I stood there dumbly saying "look around," while I committed his license number to memory.
He was still looking around when the officer returned. And the officer, reporting to me soon after, was as sure as I was that this guy was the culprit. But without real evidence . . .
Oh, and by the way, the officer now had the deer in his truck. Someone in his office was going to stuff it so he could use it as a decoy in the field. The meat would be returned to our neighbor, but there went the antlers, all 10 points, to stand once more in the spotlight -- this time to catch some law-breaking trophy-hunter with a smoking gun.
Well, maybe. But the whole idea seemed ludicrous. Just this morning, as I was filling the washer, a swift arc of motion caught my eye. The February fields were brown as deerhide, and only movement, like melody, brings a deer to light against the landscape. I tiptoed out the back door to watch. Two steps and a leap, two steps and a soar, she crossed the entire farm, a living allegro, a trophy sighting. No antlers.
Ellen Kirvin Dudis is a writer and poet.