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I was driving south on Rock Creek Parkway Saturday morning, heading for I-66.
At the corner of the parkway and Pennsylvania Avenue NW, I looked out the window, and I saw a man dragging a deer.
I looked again: A man was dragging a deer by the head, pulling it away from the roadway.
The deer, a buck, appeared to be dead. I assumed it had been hit by a car, and he was just a courteous driver removing it from the road.
As I pulled around to Pennsylvania to get onto 66, I saw the man dragging the deer over to an apparent homeless encampment in the shadow of an overpass, resting every 15 or 20 feet.
This guy isn’t really thinking about eating this thing, is he? I thought. I pulled into a gas station, grabbed my camera, and walked up the hill after him.
He stopped when he got to the edge of the encampment, nearly a hundred yards from the parkway. Another man came to assess the situation and offer advice.
“You mind if I shoot some pictures?” I asked.
The man with the buck struck a pose. That wasn’t exactly what I had in mind, but I played along and shot a frame.
“What do you plan on doing with it?” I asked.
“Skinning it and eating it,” he said.
“You know how to do all that, skinning it and stuff?” I asked.
“Yeah,” he said. “You have to boil it for four and a half hours.”
The deer’s eyes were open. They were a beautiful brown, shining in the sun. Bright red blood ringed its nose and mouth, but it looked alive.
“Are you sure it is dead?” I asked.
He looked doubtful. “I saw it breathing,” he replied.
“Yeah,” he said. “I saw its chest moving.”
I warned the man to be careful: It might jump up. But then I noticed that both of the deer’s back legs were severely fractured. It could still kick with its front legs, I thought.
Three or four other men wandered up. One started petting the deer on its belly and side. I thought about what my mother had always told me about wild animals carrying germs. Another man, wearing a stocking cap, also took note.
“Damn, man, you’re touching the thing enough,” he said. “Why don’t you go ahead and feel its nuts?”
The other man didn’t reply and kept stroking the deer. Yet another guy strolled up, pushing a Safeway shopping cart.
The man who’d found the deer was squatting over it, looking back downhill at Rock Creek Parkway. An SUV and a red van pulled up and stopped where the deer had been.
“Those are the people that hit it,” the man said. “It looks like they’ve come to load it in that red van.”
“He had a friend who wanted it,” he said. “He’s from Virginia.” Everyone seemed to think that explained it.
When the drivers couldn’t find the deer, they drove away.
A few of the men pitched in and loaded the animal into the Safeway cart. It sat there in a heap. I don’t know what the guy who found it was waiting for. He went across the street to grab his coat. In the meantime, a few of the others joked about what they could do with it.
“Take it to the Chinese restaurant,” one of the men said. He laughed scratchily.
Another guy touched its antlers. The guy who’d been petting it before started touching it again. He touched its legs, where the bone was protruding.
“It blinked,” the man with the stocking cap said. “It isn’t dead yet.”
The man who’d found it moved in closer to inspect it.
“Do you have a knife?” the man with the stocking cap asked him.
Another man pulled his finger across his neck, as if to demonstrate.
“You have to hang it upside down to drain the blood,” said the man who’d found it.
Everyone kept standing there, looking at the deer in the cart.
“What are you going to do with it?” the man in the stocking cap asked.
The man who’d found it said, “I’m taking it to a house on 11th Street.”
“You’re going to take it inside the house?” I asked.
“No, no,” he assured me. “In my friend’s back yard.”
The last thing you would want is for that thing to come alive in your house, I thought to myself. Then I remembered: We were at a homeless encampment.
While the man was deciding what to do, I watched drivers as they went by. Most didn’t notice that there was a deer in the shopping cart. Those who did wore expressions that ranged from horror to surprise to amusement. One driver craned his neck almost 180 degrees backward, just to get a good look.
The man who’d found it maneuvered the cart out into the street. He started pushing it up the hill. I followed him to the intersection, snapping a few frames. He crossed the bridge heading toward 11th Street, and I went back to my car. CP