Tuesday, 2 November 2010


Driving into Norwich, I leave the A11 at Cringleford, moving off the sliproad, up the slope, to cross back over above the A11 into Eaton Street and hence, back under the A11, to Bluebell Road. There is a young muntjack standing right by the road, its hindquarters slightly protruding into road space. I am going very slowly but it doesn't move. It must be petrified. There is no going ahead for it without descending into the fast and dangerous A11. There might be turning back if only there weren't a stream of cars moving, moving slowly, but moving, as I am moving.

The muntjack is so still that I wonder for a moment, as I pass it, whether it is a joke, a stuffed muntjack. Its eyes look glassy. It does not stir a muscle. I steer a little to my left to give it clear space. I wouldn't want to startle it down into the main road. Already I am past it, and I see the car behind me has slowed down for a second or two, before also steering wide of it. But then the muntjack moves, not its feet, only its tail, and only a little, almost indisceribly, but sufficiently to show it is flesh and blood. How long can it stay there, frozen, without the impulse to run one way or the other?

I think briefly of Elizabeth Bishop's wonderful long poem, 'The Moose', the sense of nature being 'out of place' but oddly totemic, as something that joins us, astonishingly, briefly, so that we all feel a little lightning-struck, as still in our minds as the muntjack in body.

There is something in that curious, all but unplacable act of bonding that is hard to describe (I sometimes get it with the cats when our eyes meet, but not quite in this way.) It is as if we had seen a ghost, all of us at once. It is the ghost of the existence we have never led but know to be possible. The muntjack for a moment inhabits us, then, given a good deal of luck, it turns and dives back into the trees to our left and we forget it.

Memory isn't like a photograph really. It is more a shudder.


Mark Granier said...

Thanks for this George, vividly told as usual. I actually didn't know what a muntjack was and at first I thought you were talking about an imaginary beast, such as Claire Crowther's 'thike'. Interesting to learn that it's the small 'barking deer', introduced to England in 1925. Apparently the oldest deer we know of, first appearing 35 million years ago.

George S said...

Muntjacks are perfectly real, as you have found. Slightly disturbing looking. not-quite-a-deer and yet a deer. I looked in the local press for any report of it - they are common really, so I wasn't really expecting it to be mentioned. it was just its location - nothing there. I should have used my phone camera, but hard to do when you're driving and I didn't think of it.