Winter Contribution

This contribution is written by a member of the Creative Writing Team, unchanged by teachers.

     I am a park ranger, and the simplest definition of my duty is to ensure the protection of nature within my  jurisdiction; the woodlands, forests and conservatories found therein. Before I am one who serves to protect these conserved areas and the animals that dwell there and the people that visit, I am one who loves nature. Today, and all the days of my life previously for as long as I was able to feel the breeze of the outdoors on my skin and befriend the trees, I have been a child of the outdoors. I was not fostered by savage animals in the wild, a product of abandonment and my malleable form carved by the hand of the rule of survival, but an insurmountable amount of time has been passed beneath the canopy of trees, on the rippling waters of the lake, within sight or on the massive form of the mountains, and among the gentle fields of grass. From the time of young age, when I was able to grasp concepts of the world, memories that would stay, opinions and experiences that accumulated in my consciousness, I decided that time spent outdoors was never time wasted. The seasons were passing friends, trees became familiar acquaintances. It was inevitable that I would one day take an occupation that satisfied my spirit, cohering with this passion. I have found, and to this day, find solitude in nature and the presence of its wild inhabitants mystifying and comforting. Those of timid nature, as well as those powerful and dangerous. In my mind I hold them almost as equals to humans, though they are not legally, they are so long as they trod this land that has been asserted in this reservation. Therefore, it is with a discontented heart that I share this story.

     Immersed in a winter wonderland, I strode to my vehicle. The snow over the gravel crunched beneath my boots as I made my way through the parking lot. Halfway to my vehicle I paused to gaze at the circumjacent trees, whose beauty I have the privilege of being exposed to at most times during my work. It is for this reason that I consider my profession to be superior to those who must suffer in the confined spaces indoors. The trees, I saw, were coated with ice, it appeared as though they were embalmed in crystal. The tips of the naked branches ending in empty stubs were entrapped in the ice, glistening like stars under the white winter sky as the clouded sunlight shone through. The snow beneath was untrodden, smooth and powdered like marshmallows. All was so very still, as though time had frozen along with the trees.The air was crisp in my lungs, immaculate, no trace of the stench of human industrialization, only the breath of the pine and cold. Until all the snow melted and the seasons changed I could have stood there, immune to the bite of cold, in the scene winter painted before me. It would feel like forever, I knew, but I wish that I could be forever absorbed in this perennial phenomenon. Though it is the elapse of seasons that make them enjoyable, there is a dying and revival, each bringing unique beauty. Without an inevitable end would the characteristics of the season possess such special splendor? Would they retain such intimacy in the perception of the beholder? I do believe that it is inexorable waxing and waning of each season which accentuates the exquisitancy. In this phenomenal sequence the four periods are experienced to both climatic extremes, a benefit of living in this region of the globe. Each season is like an artist that reforms the landscape into its own envision of beauty; colors, flowering buds of spring, the accumulation of vibrancy in the leaves of autumn, the sun-baked illuminated sky and fresh humid air of summer, and now the white blanketed snow and shining ices of winter- the clouds of breath and frosted glass, the chill outside that makes the fire so comfortable.

     My duties extricated me from this winter reverie, for I had been relied upon to answer the call of a concerned traveler on a remote back road. What service I could provide that the driver required, I was not certain and had only drab theories. It was not an emergency or matter that seemed to require immediate action. With reluctance I got into my truck, where I sat waiting as the heating began to wake as the engine came to life. With the press of a button, the frost on the windshield gradually began to dissipate. The journey would have been perilous for some vehicles, the roads being coated with a sheet of ice. Despite my truck being well equipped with the appropriate treads and my attentive navigation of the roads I still found it difficult on some of the bends. Though I am conversant with these roads, I was not at ease. This did not deter me from reaching the point of destination, and so I went on slowly. By now, I thought I knew the purpose of the call for help, yet could not gather why roadside assistance was not called. Turning cautiously around a bend I soon spied a Ford F-150 off to the side of the road. The shoulder was narrow and on the outside there was a steady incline that dropped into a ditch just before the edge of the trees. Before long I was out of my vehicle, and took great care to walk on the shoulder, where the frozen brown grass provided better grip than the icy road. The driver did not seem to have lost control, initially I would not have predicted that this would be the vehicle of the driver. The passenger seat opened, and a young man likely in his late twenties with short dark hair and a trimmed beard exited the vehicle. He was wearing a thick, woolen plaid jacket and gray beanie, his teeth visibly chattering as he greeted me. He rushed to explain why I was called, pointing ahead of the road. I leaned to look over his shoulder and saw the figure of a deer, laying atop folded legs with its head on the ground, motionless. I became instantly annoyed that I drove, only  twenty minutes though it was, so that I could see a dead deer. This is not a cause for immediate response, beyond being an inconvenience to me it had required me to take a journey under dangerous conditions that should only be embarked on if necessary. It was then that the man insisted that it was still alive. He slid aside as I walked past him to the front of the truck, looking at the rest of the vehicle. There was no evidence of a collision with the deer, and the man confirmed that they had not hit it. Reluctantly I took a dozen or so paces to where the deer was, the frozen grass crackled under my feet like embers in a fire. As I approached, I was surprised to see that indeed the deer still lived, its head shifted and deep, dark, brown eyes looked blankly ahead, taking no notice of me. I observed its fur, it was bedraggled, patches were bare and others were tousled and erect. Within closer proximity the cadaverous frame striking as it trembled. Its bones protrude beneath tight skin. A great pity filled my heart, seeing this creature in such a state of degradation. There was no chance for him, I regretted admitting. It does not require a skilled veterinarian to tell that this animal was sick, and he was sick with an ailment I had seen in two other deer the same season.

     They call it wasting disease, the other wildlife enthusiasts and park rangers. Chronic wasting disease is the proper term, and the symptoms were exemplified right before my eyes. Progressive loss of weight and awareness, and there seemed to be a dampness around its lower jaw that perhaps coheres with the symptom of excessive saliva. The sight was so pitiful, the way this gentle creature, the likes of which I had witnessed so many times previously moving amply through the woods  and swiftly like a kite over roads. Yet the figure that sat before me possessed neither the calm beauty nor the agile capacity. Deer are seldom found alone, I looked hard in both directions at the wood and down the road and could see no sign of other deer. Isolatic behavior, or perhaps a decrease in socializing I believe was another symptom. This is positive perhaps, for this disease would otherwise spread and afflict more pain on these helpless creatures. This pestilence, as I said, is pitiful for anyone to witness, and now I understand why these travelers waited for my arrival instead of departing after reporting it. The sight is more depressing, I believe, to someone like myself who has so often witnessed the gentile immaculately of these creatures. Beneath the deer, the ground was bare, where as the surrounding area had a thin layer of snow. From this I deduced he had sat there for awhile, and was likely freezing to death. I took a step closer, he was within arms reach. Any healthy deer would have bolted in my presence as soon as I pulled my vehicle over. There was no doubt, he was ready for death to take him. 

     My love for nature and for her children was too strong to leave him abandoned. I radioed in from my truck asking if animal control could come. The reply was negative, for the roads were deemed too icy and it was not worth risking the life of a human for this animal. I was informed that when the travelers had called in, animal control was already notified that they may need to come after my investigation. They immediately declared they would not be capable of service at this time because of the condition of the roads, and the drive for them would I believe be longer than it had been for me. I asked the ranger on the other end of the line what he suggested I do, and at first gave an unhelpful, rather evasive answer, telling me that it was I who would need to judge the situation as he was not present, which he worded in a way that displeased me. Before he put down his receiver, he reminded me there was a shotgun in the back of the truck, at which point I was filled with dread.

     My first impulse was refusal, yet soon I was immersed in the consequences. It would be better to give this animal the gift of death now, and have it be fast, than leave him here to waste away by starvation or freezing to death. It was an internal argument of ethics. My heart knew I could never harm a defenseless animal, that there was no possibility of me being able to look into its massive watery pupils down the barrel of a gun. Yet I could not leave it to suffer. There would be no use in calling someone else again, and if I did wait it would only prolong the suffering of the animal. All the while this took place, the Ford had remained. I returned to the passenger side and informed the travelers that they could depart. As the tires spun slightly and the truck sped away, it fish-tailed as it went down the road. The driver regained traction and continued much more slowly to avoid sliding into the ditch. Soon it disappeared in the distance, the tree lined road like the edges of a picture frame. The thought came to me to examine the deer, for there was a possibility that its condition had not been as grave as I initially perceived. 

     No.

     I correctly diagnosed the creature the first time. Upon second observation, I only noticed more unsettling features. Its rib cage was more visible than I previously saw, as I believe that the animal had shifted over more on its side since I last set eyes upon it. Furthermore, I saw more how thin its coat had grown. The creature looked nothing like its brethren that I had seen, smooth and brown like wet sand on the shore. This animal’s strength had gradually seeped from its body, and the longer I loitered here the more its suffering was prolonged. I found myself walking back to my truck, yet I did not go into the bed. Instead I found myself sitting in the driver’s seat with no key in the ignition. I hardly noticed when gentle snowflakes began to float down from the sky and rest on my windshield. As I waited, staring straight ahead, but without seeing anything, I heard someone’s voice come in once again, giving confirmation that animal control is hesitant to make any excursion unless there is apparent danger. This for the better, I would not want any travelers along these rounds under these conditions, the animal control officer included, especially when I have the equipment necessary to carry out the same course of action. Besides, there is no apparent danger to human life from animals on this isolated road.

     Coming out of this comatose of pensive scruples, I observed that I could no longer see the scrawny creature on the threshold of death, not because by some miracle he was suddenly healed of his affliction and departed from the side of the road, but because the snowflakes had piled up on my windshield and obscured my view. Little by little it accumulated like blots of paint from a gentle brush on a transparent canvas. For me, this signified that it was time to make a decision, for otherwise I too may become stranded here, with only this creature as my company. Never before had I taken the life of a creature in such a way. Never had I supported or engaged in hunting activities. I confess that I do consume meat, but never would I consume deer, or duck despite their abundance here, for I admire them too, nor pigs, for I believe they are one of the most intelligent animals. Chicken and beef I consume guitlessly, for chickens have a level of intelligence just above sentience and are plentiful, while cows I find also dumb and devoid of interesting characteristics, yet I shall never claim that they are not beautiful in their own way. 

     For too long had I remained here, it was time to take action. There was no point in waiting for the arrival of anyone else, for the animal’s suffering would be only extended. There is no cure for this chronic wasting disease- the only relief this animal will ever feel again will follow his departure from life. Looking around, I saw that I still remained stagnant in my vehicle. Thoughts rushed through my mind like these snowflakes in the mustering blizzard. Who was I to take the life of one of God’s creatures? How can I be sure there is no hope left for his survival? Would it be painful for the animal? More painful than what afflicts him currently? These were the questions I asked myself during my melancholic deliberation. It so happened to be me that was sent on this dismal errand. Had I known, I would have remained in bed, gone to any extent apart from severe self-harm to stay home or prevent myself from going to work. Yet I would never have known of  the events the day would bring and there is no changing the past. I could describe the many wonders, the many thrills and joyous experiences I have witnessed with this occupation. The national park I work in has shown me many magnificent animals, sublime sunsets, serene hiking excursions, captivating conversations with visitors and enthralling experts in wildlife. On a less dreary day I could relocate these fond memories, and on any other day I would be able to tell my wife and children of my escapades in parks around the country, dangerous encounters with wildlife and venturesome rock climbing trips, all when I was a longer man. There would be no story about today, though I shall hope with every fibre of my heart that I will be able to forget it; that I will have no ability to recollect it. The more I strain, the more I let it gnaw at my heart, the more I know I will feel guilty, and the more impossible it will become to forget.

     Procrastination continued for another half hour. Twice already I had made an attempt to open the car door, but retracted my hand, telling myself that I had to go over my options one last time, just for the sake of certainty. The animal would suffer, and suffer until death takes him. I can not reverse the course of the disease that has infected him, nor do I have the capacity of scientific knowledge to find a cure. The only thing I can do, that I must do, is make sure it suffers no more. I recall now, a time long ago when I thought to myself on the brink of inevitable demise. I had been mountaineering in Glacier National Park in Montana, when a sturdy wind and unfortunate placing of my feet had sent me tumbling down a snowy embankment. For almost two days I had remained there, injured and immobile. During that frigid night, I thought that I was going to freeze to death. The inexorable cold grasp of the air and surrounding snow as it tried to clutch me and squeeze the life out from within is not forgotten. Therefore, I must know some of the pain this animal was going through. Yet, I would not have wanted to have been shot on that lonely mountain, and so I then had a change in my mind, for perhaps the deer did not want to give up on life either, just as I refused as well. The realization came that my situation had been different, I had called for help and knew that someone would arrive. Nothing can save this deer from death, no help is on the way. At this point, I confess, I sighed heavily as I wondered if the deer had looked upon me believing that it was me that had come to save him. Not long ago I stood just before him, and he did not flee, which is not of his nature. He had trusted me, and did not cower or show any other sign of fear at my presence. The creature trusted me. Although, I can not be sure, perhaps those deep, immersive eyes had begged me to end his life. This internal debate and my oscillating emotions raged on, until I found myself opening the back of the truck and drawing from it a rifle. 

     The creature had not moved from where I last saw him. His head turned as I came, as though he was expecting death. I felt that I owed the creature some sort of apology for the deed I was about to do. Then I thought that another apology was necessary for the delay in doing what I should have done, and prolonging his suffering. The rifle was already loaded, and even though the deer was facing me, he gave no indication that he knew, or did not know what the equipment I was holding was for. At this time, I wished that I could communicate with him for just a moment, to ask for his consent in this unfortunate task. Yet he could give no words that I could understand and there was nothing I could say or do that he could comprehend. The snowflakes drifted down, one rather large one landing right on the tip of its nose, which was black as coal. Its massive eyes seemed to not only look into me, but surrounded me, as though I too was being engulfed in those sodden eyes. The look in his eyes, for a moment seemed so human, yet never could I take the life of my fellow man. His eyes looked at me imploringly, yet I could not tell if this was him pleading for his life, or begging for a merciful death. Since I could not make up my mind on which it was until my legs began to feel tired and my shoes were coated in white powdery snow. The first tingle of cold began to penetrate my skin beneath my jacket. At that moment, I made up my mind. I was just now beginning to feel discomfort, this creature had waited in anguish for who knows how long, in anticipation of death. For the final time, I told myself I had hesitated too long, and this time my apology was out loud. As I raised the rifle up, aiming for the head, the creature made no sign of objection. It simply stared sorrowfully with caliginous eyes set on either side of a long, narrow face. Its ears seemed to lower as it stood still, so perfectly still that passersby would have taken no notice had I not been there too. So still, that it seemed like it was frozen, like the branches on the trees that had become emballed in ice. 

     I pulled the trigger.

by Luke, Grade 10