By Robyn Smith
Late in winter when I was in college, I set off on a run down this country road off campus where the speed limit was 55 miles per hour and the sidewalk, along with my safety and security, tapered off. Bits of nonhuman neighbors set the mournful obstacle. They had blown aside or seemingly melted into the road: ragged feathers, some tufts of fur, a head here and there. I began to count, but lost track after 30.
After about ten minutes of blundering along a patchy, cracked shoulder, a dead doe startled me into one of those half-wiggle, half-cringe movements. Her grey, soulless eyes gazed in my direction as I, a reluctant witness to her public display of ruination, hobbled around her gangly limbs. Blood tinged her fur, but I could spot no injuries. Not wishing to linger, I stepped gingerly around her carcass, careful to make as little eye contact as possible without tripping over her hooves, which were, unfortunately, in my way.
I did not mourn for her—how could I? To me, she had no name. But I was sad to have laid eyes on her. I’d never been so close to fresh death before. I know what happens inside meat processing plants, but I’ve never actually been inside one. The limp doe broke my heart. And to think there were 999,999 more like her that day.
The Humane Society predicts a million animals are killed by cars every day. No one’s crying at their funerals. No angry deer mothers are forming a coalition against driving, no roads are being renamed. Best the dead—may they all rest in peace—can get is being roasted and eaten, or their heads being mounted above a TV. That, or they’re ground into the asphalt, hauled off to an incinerator, or scavenged.
Can you mourn the loss of an animal you don’t know? I don’t know. I doubt many of these animals’ assailants take time to pay their respects as they drag the bodies to the side of the road. I just hope they occasionally shut the eyes.
You never want to pet roadkill, especially the collarless. No matter how soft their fur may have once been, now it’s all matted with blood and gravel. A longtime vegetarian, I never see one of these creatures and think, “Oh, steak!” But that doesn’t mean someone else shouldn’t.
At least a car puts you a respectable distance away from the rawness of it all. On foot, that’s not the case. A blur of leftover body parts usurp one another in an altruistic cycle. States can barely afford the maintenance fees.
I’m not sure a car is any less cruel a weapon than a rifle or a manufacturing line. The millions of animals that get hit each year deserve better than the empty beer cans we keep chucking at them, and if that means they feed families, well, that’s probably for the best.
Dead animals, or at least the recognizable bits of them, are equally as decorative and ever present as the mountains that surround this road, and, one could argue, more prominent. In glimpses, I imagined myself among them, struck by a car and cast aside, limp and rotting in the bright winter sun. Would a dead woman blend in? I could only hope a hungry kid would soon eat me. Or would passersby see my body and assume I, like the forgotten critters wasting by my side, was meant for the incinerator?
Such thoughts were fruitless, born from the fascination I held toward mortality, and the means by which I could control it. As I gathered myself, I relaxed and let my eyes drop. Then, I gasped.
A whole woodchuck lay on his back, one arm draped over his heart as if pledging allegiance, the other poised next to his ear as if he were ready to answer a question. His brown, fluffy belly was like a pillow that still had all its stuffing, and through his unblinking gaze he watched clouds wander by. Surely this teeny, four-legged beast had suffered some Shakespearean tragedy, striking such a melodramatic final pose. I paid my respects—may he rest in peace, may they all rest in peace—and continued onward. Thoughts of rolling myself into traffic were left behind.
I bet he would have been delicious.
About Robyn Smith
Robyn Smith is a Brooklyn–based writer and journalist.