Friday, April 25, 2008

Untimely Demises

Hi Folks!

Thanks for joining me again! I hope you're all enjoying the great spring weather we've been having.

A funny thing happened the other week, and it fits right in with what I want to talk about today. I was idling at a four-way stop in downtown Whoville. Up ahead on my left was a small house someone had turned into a knitting supply shop. There were a couple of trees out front, and some grass and a sidewalk. There were cars parked in the street. Across the way was the local grocery store.

As I sat in my car, I noticed a squirrel rooting around in the grass out in front of that knitting shop. I watched him as two women left the building. The squirrel was spooked by those ladies, and did exactly what I thought he was going to do: he ran under a parked car and then out into the street.

I did what I always do in situations like that. I rolled down my window and hollered, "Squirrely! Get out of the road!" I find that yelling works much better than laying on your car horn, though it took me a long time to figure out why: because even after a century of internal combustion engines, animals still don't see cars as predators. Humans, yes. Cars, not so much.

I'll admit that I felt a bit stupid, hollering the way I did. Not because of the squirrel, of course, but because those two women overheard me. From the corner of my eye, I saw the squirrel quickly make his way up a tree while at the same time, two humorless thirty-somethings swivelled their heads in unison, keen to get a look at the crazy broad who talks to animals. The good news is that Squirrely lived to see another day.

A veterinary technician of my acquaintance once claimed that hitting the occasional animal with your car was inevitable. I disagreed with her then, and I still do now. In truth, I suspect that she was looking for a plausible excuse as to why she'd run over so many. As for myself, I've only hit one animal in my forty-five years, and I can tell you, I swerved mightily to avoid him.

The "thunk!' I heard told me that my swerve was unsuccessful. Glancing out the passenger-side mirror, I could see the squirrel's lifeless form at the side of the road. I pulled into the nearest drive and fished the shovel out of the trunk. If nothing else, I would see to it that he wouldn't be flattened into a pancake by the cars behind me. As I scooped him onto the shovel, I noticed that the squirrel was still breathing. Thinking that he probably had internal injuries and needed euthanized, I headed back to my car to pull out the critter carrier, with a view to taking him to the nearest vet.

I had some difficulty with the latches, and apparently the four-odd minutes I struggled with the carrier was the time the squirrel needed to get his wits back. Just as I popped the carrier top, the squirrel sprang to life, ran a couple of circles around my now-frozen body (they bite, you know!), turned what looked like an entirely accidental back-flip, then ran off toward the woods. When I stopped back an hour later and searched the treeline, I found no trace of him. It was an unexpectedly happy ending.

A few weeks before I write these blogs, I give the topic a good think. I'll ask my friends salient questions, get some opinions, listen to stories. Indeed, I invited my friend Bob Tarte (author of such gripping page-turners as Enslaved by Ducks and Fowl Weather - both available at to weigh in on the subject. Bob told me that he's never hit an animal in his fifty-odd years.

When I asked what he attributed his success rate to, he claimed it's because he skateboards everywhere instead of driving. Because by Bob's own admission he's far too lethargic for something as strenuous as skateboarding, I suspect that he simply didn't have the stomach for a detailed coversation about roadkill. Who can blame him?

My friend Aimee, who is, among her many charms, the Director of Humane Ohio (low-cost spay/neuter in six Ohio counties), once told me something about herself that makes me look tame by comparison. She said that in the spring, female opossums are often killed by cars while carrying a pouch-ful of young. Aimee is one of those hardy souls who will pull over to the side of the road and stick her hand in that dead critter's pouch, checking to see if any babies need rescuing. I'm pretty sure I successfully concealed my nausea during that conversation!

On the other hand, it cheered me no end to learn that I'm not the only person with a shovel in my trunk intended for scraping dead animals out of the road. Turns out Aimee and I have both passed roadkill in the street and made mental notes to shovel it out of the road on our way back - only to find that in the interim, someone else (no doubt one of us two) beat us to it! It takes a tender-hearted soul indeed to care about an animal that's already dead.

In a rather alarming coincidence, maybe a week after Aimee told me about female opossums with pouches-ful of babies, I happened to come upon a dead opossum in the road. Pulling my car to the side, I noted grimly that the thing really took a mashing: there were guts all over the place. I may have a tender heart, but I definitely have a weak stomach, too, and there's nothing like critter intestines to give me serious dry heaves. Wanting to scoop the poor creature up on the first try, I gave it one brief glance and discovered to my horror that all those things lying in the road weren't intestines at all. They were dead baby opossums.

There must've been eight or ten of them, all tiny, white, hairless, wormy-shaped things. Say what you will about opossums - and most people tell me they hate them because they hiss (which, by the way, I'd be inclined to do, too, if humans disturbed my peace), but the fact is that if you believe in God - any God, I'm not particular, then you cannot deny that the ugly critters, the mean ones, the hissers, they're all His creatures. And they all have a right to cross the road safely.

My experience with the somersaulting squirrel taught me that some accidents do seem to be inevitable. But I find that, more often than not, most folks just aren't paying attention. I know this because any number of you have had vehicular near-misses with me while you chatted away on your cell phone. Or tried to discipline your kids in the back seat. Or fussed with your groceries/briefcase/whatever else took your attention from the road.

And while they may seem like nothing more than nuisance animals to you, you might want to consider the possibility that your deity is unimpressed with the money you toss in the basket on Sundays, but is instead very interested in why you gave his lesser creatures such little regard. We're all going to have to answer for ourselves one day - or at least I hope so - and I'd love to be a fly on the wall up there, listening to people's excuses as to why they didn't go back and check on that critter they hit on their way to Somewhere Important.

Every single day, as I drive around Whoville, I see construction workers building new shops, new restaurants, new crap that we don't need, all the while bulldozing the one thing His critters do need: habitat. And we never give it back. You'll never see Wal-Mart tearing down one of their ubiquitous stores in order to give some land back to the local skunks. Seeing all that new construction, and knowing that the people responsible don't give a second thought to all the creatures they've displaced, depresses the hell out of me. It's no wonder so many of them end up in the road - they've got nowhere else to go!

So please, folks, try to be a little mindful, the next time you're in your car. How would you feel if some fool babbling away on his cell phone hit your pet and kept on going? I know that skunks and opossums and the like don't seem terribly important in the grand scheme of things, but God made them all for a reason, and I think it's safe to assume that when you kill one of His critters, you kill a little piece of Him as well. That won't look good on your resume.

That's all for now, folks! Until next time, enjoy this beautiful spring weather, and please be kind to all the critters!

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