To the common road warrior, such as me, Roadkill is scattered randomly. Roadkill seems to provide limited information about a general area. For instance, you will not see mangled coral snakes or bloated armadillo on Great lakes Area roads, but you will see deer and raccoon and opossum on both Southern byways and Northern roads. Sometimes it’s what you don’t see in an area that is notable. Or so I thought.
During the past year Nell and I have taken to walking at least forty minutes each morning. Time’s inexorable push requires us to work out more than our usual three times a week just to keep pace. Part of our route is a quarter mile stretch of busy road south of our property; we used to be in the “country” but now the suburbs are a stone’s throw and the road also leads to the back entrance of Grand Valley State University. In this quarter mile stretch a stream drains a small wetland area, flows under the road, and traverses our property through a patch of woods.
The following is an annotated list of roadkill we’ve observed along this stretch in the past six months:
1. Three deer: One was small, but past the fawn stage, having lost its spots. Coyotes are resurgent in our area so I expected the carcass would be picked clean. It wasn’t and we were greeted each morning with bloated decay. It took three weeks for it to settle into a scum of hairy grease and bones.
2. Myriad frogs: Most were stickers on asphalt, but one had spatulated hind-quarters and intact bulging eyes that pleaded. I took a stick and scraped the frog from the pavement. It just looked too emergent, too alive.
3. A Blue Racer Snake: Whip-like back half intact, but head a flattened tablespoon.
4. Two Adult Garter Snakes: Both with internal organs bursting from their mouths, and sautéed on the summer blacktop.
5. Butterflies: An assortment, but mostly Monarchs; these not destined for Mexico.
6. An Adult Female Opossum: Her head was crowned with a halo spray of ‘possum fetuses blasted from her pouch on impact and arranged in perfect death pose with their mother. She looked regal as in an Egyptian tomb frieze.
7. A Ground Squirrel: Flattened, but for its tail sticking straight up: a final ‘fuck you’ gesture.
8. Two Small Raccoons: Our two year-old grandson Andrew watched three baby raccoons eat from our bird feeder each afternoon about an hour before he returned home to work-weary parents. “Ra Cooons” he would say. Two of them now lay mangled on the North side of the killing strip. I don’t think he realizes they’re dead because one survived with injured hind-quarters and Andrew watches it drag itself across our backyard to the feeder. One is enough to keep his interest. We taught Andrew to put dog food out for Ra Cooon and it has healed enough to again, halting and hesitantly, climb trees. Andrew is delighted. The lower jaw and teeth of one of the dead raccoons was still intact so I picked it from the road and cleaned it with bleach. Andrew will be curious.
9. Three Adult Raccoons: Maybe one or more were parents to the small ones mentioned above.
10. A Large Snapping Turtle: Since the tire ran across the middle of its sixteen inch shell, it’s hard to imagine a driver doing this by accident. We expected the shell would take quite awhile to deteriorate but the process was facilitated by vehicles repeatedly pulverizing it. What surprised us was the skin; after two months we can still see the desiccated, deeply furrowed and folded skin and claws near the north-side ditch, pointing the direction of the animal’s last effort.
Nell and I are not animal rights advocates. We don’t keep domestic pets though we did in the past, having not replaced dead cats and dogs because of our frequent travel. We maintain bird feeders that attract many other critters that provide entertainment, and I also let my neighbor hunt our fifteen acres and his efforts yield us an intermittent supply of venison burger and sausage. When driving our car we do what we can to avoid hitting animals, however when on Big Ruby we follow the advice of my motorcycle safety class instructor: “I don’t avoid any animal small enough to eat in a single sitting.”
Until we started walking we paid little attention to roadkill. We understand it’s the price paid for the way we choose to live, but it’s not us doing the paying, and it does seem excessive. On the other hand, what is roadkill if not collateral damage, something we seem to generate a lot of to continue our life-styles.
To Tell the Truth
It took several months, but today we found Ra Cooon dead on the killing strip, or at least an animal his size and age. Now what to tell Andrew if he asks where Ra Coon is? We don’t believe in heaven or hell, so it’s dust to dust for us. But it’s always more than just life or death, isn’t it? It’s also about the fairness, something children sense and expect an explanation for when it’s missing.