Heavy, a dense pound, the color of a dark bruise, crisscrossed by the coronary artery, the heart in my hand had been beating an hour before in a big doe. Its aortic valves, pulmonary artery and vein are as spacious and dark as the end of a hose. Much like my heart, mammalian, four-chambered, hot, but this beat faster at rest, ready for the leap into a dead run, the norm for a browser and prey, not like my slower beating predator’s calculation. I know they have been feet away from my unaware, meandering gaze many times, watching me from the brush.
Most deer in these woods live to two or three, a very few especially wary of cars and hunters who know where to feed in winter might make ten. They sleep in bits of time, thirty seconds to a few minutes, but are often alert, taking the scent of air currents, listening, their ears wheeling. When sounds counterfeit to their surroundings pop, they grow instantly cagey and wired-tense. Motion renders them still and hushful. They can see the colors green and blue.
Days later running in the field with the dogs, the heart beating under my left hand throbs rhythmically — pulses into my fingers — but I know at 62 that it is working harder to pump its streams to the lungs and brain and along the length of the arms and legs. This is the inexorable process. The heart walls thicken; the pump abates, by degrees. Better to know this I think, to know what might yet be done, than to live in a harried, shallow present, surprised, heart suddenly rushing, anxious that every strange figure or noise might be the final threat.