Essay: An Animal Attack on Hazel Creek

First posted in September 1997

I spent a week earlier this summer documenting historic cemeteries on Hazel Creek, a delightfully secluded section of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. To assist me, I brought a volunteer from the University of Tennessee and two seasonal Park Service employees. We worked in the cemeteries by day and spent our evenings in a bunkhouse reserved for Park Service employees, located up the creek, about eight miles into the backcountry.

I had been made aware of the fact that the volunteer (we'll call him "Frankie" to protect his identity) had an incredible fear of ungulates. Ungulates? That's right, folks -hoofed mammals. If it's got hooves, he's terrified of it. Horses? Yep! Cows? You know it! Goats? You betcha! At any rate, despite this phobia, Frankie agreed to work in Proctor, a very large cemetery on the lower end of the creek, a few miles from where the rest of the group would be working. This was pretty brave, for Frankie was admittedly a city boy, and wasn't used to spending very much time outdoors. When I picked him up after his first day, he told me of his encounter with a turkey that had wandered through the cemetery (turkeys have no hooves, however, and therefore pose no great threat). When I picked him up on his second day, he told me of his run-in with a wild boar (which does, in fact, have hooves, but is also easily scared off). I could tell these encounters were slowly beginning to peck away at Frankie's brave attitude. If only we'd known what was to happen on the second evening. the night of the attack!

Late that evening, the four of us wound up our game of spades and cleaned out our coffee mugs and dishes. I'm usually the first to bed and the first to rise, so I went about my tasks quickly. I went outside, did my business (if you know what I mean), and returned to the cabin. On my way back in, I passed my three companions who were headed out to collectively conduct their business (safety in numbers, I suppose). It seems that I was the only soul brave enough to venture into the darkness alone (that's right - that includes two Park Service employees. I'm withholding their names as well
J). They had developed a relatively unique plan: two would stand on the steps of the cabin, directing a flashlight out into the yard so that the third could see, thus preserving one's modesty.

I chuckled over this, went on to the bedroom, closed the door, and found my bunk. I was just drifting off when I heard a tremendous racket out on the front porch. Suddenly, one of my cohorts burst into the room, noticeably shaken and trying to communicate:

"Outside. in the yard. Frankie. Deer-"

"A DEER? All this is over a deer?" I demanded. Then, I remembered Frankie's phobia. "Where's Frankie?"

"I don't know. outside, I suppose. I was so startled that I just dropped the flashlight and came inside."

"You know Frankie's afraid of deer!" I said this with sincere concern, though I must admit that deep inside I was laughing hysterically.

I ventured out onto the porch, where I found my second coworker. "Where's Frankie?" I inquired. "Did you leave him outside with the deer?" (**snicker**)

It was at that moment that Frankie came busting through the door onto the screened-in porch. "Very, very cute, you two. You know I'm afraid of those things!"

I couldn't help it. I laughed. I laughed hard. So did everyone else. everyone but Frankie. Frankie was livid. he hardly spoke to those two the rest of the week. Personally, I just think he's seen one too many episodes of When Animals Attack! on television.