December 3, 2012

Holidays and Highways, Turkeys and Deer

By Danielle Miranda

It’s a bad time of year to start a new diet, to be a turkey, or to have faith in the ancient Mayan calendar. But for everybody else, happy holidays and happy New Year! Snowflakes are falling, spirits are soaring (and pouring), and shoppers are on their never-ending quest for cheap blenders and such.

I was lucky enough to hit the dusty trail towards Duluth, MN for Thanksgiving weekend, where I was warmly greeted by my favorite dog (Lucy), my family and friends, and my least favorite sight on the highway: a deer in the headlights.

Anyone from Minnesota knows that deer generally congregate en masse near roadways during periods of heavy traffic with consistency that is almost pathological. Fortunately, most of those deer are content to merely dare their buddies to play dodgeball with the speeding motor vehicles that whisk by. Unfortunately, one poor, antlered friend had something to prove to the group and wandered courageously into the right lane of US-52 North. More unfortunately, I happened to be in the right lane of US-52 North hurtling towards Duluth and jamming to a 1980 classic by Queen just in time for Mr. Deer to decide it was a good opportunity to show the deer world just how much of a man he was, and just how apropos “Another One Bites the Dust” can be.

There are a few options when you have a deer in the headlights:
Option A) continue straight – do not attempt to avoid the deer. This is a good option in heavy traffic, icy conditions, or if you are driving the Batmobile.
Option B) press the brakes calmly and signal before switching lanes to avoid the deer – this is a good option at all other times, particularly when you do not happen to be the Caped Crusader.
Option C) swerve irrationally, honk furiously, stomp on the brakes like you are Wile E. Coyote about to run off the edge of the Grand Canyon, and wave with one finger as the deer nearly climbs into your passenger seat.

Care to conjecture which course the constrained cognitive capabilities of my careening cranium carelessly chose? Correct. Thankfully, I survived my close encounter and arrived near the shores of Lake Superior later that night.

Thanksgiving is a time to remember our blessings. We are among the most blessed, privileged, and downright lucky group of people to have ever tasted the sweet oxygen of God’s green earth. The brave souls that first traversed the “purple mountain majesties” and “fruited plains” before us probably never could have imagined the feast of luxuries at our disposal today.

Graduate school can be stressful. The stack of papers, tests, presentations, and experiments looms so high that we often feel inescapably stuck in “research mode” (Smith, 2008). During these times, it’s all too easy to lose sight of the incredible chance we have to make an insightful discovery, impact someone’s life, or maybe just confirm yesterday’s results. These are things that we have the opportunity to be thankful for. Take a few moments to step back and breathe some fresh air. But don’t stay out too long because it’s fresh Minnesota air, and frostbite isn’t any fun.

The holiday season is a time to slow down and enjoy the company of our friends, families, neighbors and pets. It’s a time to have a slice of pumpkin pie with that extra scoop of ice cream, and not count the calories. It’s a time to stay up late around a warm fireplace and really listen as Grandpa tells his best fishing stories from yesteryear. This holiday season, I hope you all have the chance to build a snowman, sing a carol, sip hot chocolate, and throw a snowball at someone you love. Most importantly, be sure to say a word of thanks, because those deer are getting pretty daring.

written by Carl Gustafson

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