In the scorching summer of 2015, when British Columbia forests burned and the sky over Vancouver was often covered with a dark veil of smoke that made the sun look blood-red, a young deer appeared in the streets of downtown’s West End. Nobody knew for certain where did he come from; the most probable explanation was that the animal had swam across Burrard Inlet from the North Shore.
Even though the Vancouverites are no strangers to wildlife in their midst, the young buck had caused considerable excitement. The alliteration-loving media quickly dubbed him “Downtown Deer” and soon he settled down in Stanley Park, a sprawling sylvan space at the edge of the city centre. The deer was unusually tame and friendly; he licked people’s hands and inspected at close range anything that aroused his gentle curiosity. With fluid grace he glided over grassy clearings and asphalt paths, sometimes coming to the seawall’s edge to gaze with cabochon eyes at his old home grounds across the water.
I saw him only once when riding one August evening in a car along the Stanley Park causeway. It was just a fleeting glimpse, the deer’s tawny, slender shape frozen in an instant of grazing while some tourists took pictures. In the smoky dusk the scene looked like an ancient faded fresco.
Several weeks later the inevitable happened. The deer was struck and killed while trying to run across the fast causeway traffic in front of the two majestic Art Deco lions that guard the southern end of the Lions Gate Bridge.
As in the haunting case of Kaspar Hauser, the mystery of the deer’s appearance was now compounded by the mystery of his death. What was he running away from? Was he perhaps being chased by a predator? If so, was the predator animal or human?
However, unlike the poor Kaspar, the deer did not come in the first place to join his own species; on the contrary, he decided to leave behind his herd and swim a considerable distance to a big city with its crowds of machines and people. This is probably the greatest enigma of all – why would he freely choose the special solitude among the humans?
Once again, we will probably never know. We are left with a new bit of Vancouver folklore and a new bit of emptiness among the shadows of Stanley Park. And when I pass on the bus, twice a day, through the place of Downtown Deer’s death, I think of him and of the title of Werner Herzog’s film about Kaspar Hauser: “Jeder für sich und Gott gegen alle” (Everyone for himself and God against all).
Video reports about Downtown Deer (in chronological sequence):