This is another post that has taken a long time to come to fruition, that is materialize on this blog. I am not sure why I wait so long sometimes. Often it’s just wondering if another revelation will grace me if I let the event hover in my mind.
I was biking in the Champlain Islands near the Missiquoi Wildlife Refuge. The refuge strives to provide habitat for a variety of birds. The expensive, tax funded visitor’s center is like a castle among the 6,729 acres of grasses and swamps. There are a few trails, adding up to 10 miles of boardwalk and narrow paths through a chirping forest. I spent the morning trying to keep up with large and small birds passing overhead.
Fairly relaxed, I took off on my bike for a ride to Alburgh Dunes. About 30 miles later, I was heading back to the parking lot of the refuge where my motorized vehicle was awaiting. The farms and large herons and egrets muffled the road sounds of trucks and cars. It was a warm day, the sun high in the sky and my mouth craving something cold.
With just a few more miles to go, I was getting weary for lack of water and pushing the pedals hard. Suddenly, a small brown mass appeared on the bike shoulder. I paused with the goal of identifying the animal. As I got closer, a wave of emotion swept over me. I set my bike aside and leaned in towards the golden brown mass of fur. The animal did not appear injured, yet was not alive. I couldn’t help but wonder where it was going, what it had done so far in the day, where it’s home was, what it’s favorite critter to eat was, did it have a mate, how did the impact feel? I turned over the animal and saw the other side of its jaw, smashed.
I occasionally see animals killed by motorized vehicles along the road but usually I am driving as well, not less than a foot away from the victim. I didn’t know what to do but I knew I couldn’t leave the animal on the side of the road. It was less than a half mile to the parking lot. I lowered the animal into my helmet and held the helmet by the strap as I biked back with one hand on the handlebars.
In an instant I felt a fury come over me. It was the same rage of incredulity I expereinced throughout college when I first began to learn about the environmental crisis of the world in which we live. The mass production of live animals for food, the posisoning of land and waterways by industrial agrochemicals, the deliberate abuse of animals, in short, us taking life for granted. Several times, after backpacking to a rather remote part of the world, I cried, contemplating the pace of destruction we have brought to this planet. In class, I was outspoken and fiery, judgemental and righteous. Over the last few years, such emotional reactions have subsided, a by product of standard desensitization. I, too, have been taking life for granted, I suppose.
Red from the sun, my face irritated by salty sweat, I made my way inside the air conditioned visitor’s center. At the front desk, a young man, closely resembling a college intern, grinned at me.
“I found this on the side of the road. Do you keep number on road kill?”
He pushed back in his chair slightly, peering at me with a dead animal in my helmet.
“Uh, no we don’t.”
“Do you have any idea of what this animal could be?”
“Uh, I don’t know, some kind of a woodchuck or something.”
At that point, I couldn’t help but release the last of my salt infused liquids from eyes. Some kind of a wood chuck or something? How could he be so unaffected by a dead being in front of his eyes?
I didn’t have anything more to say to the young man. I brought the animal near a pond on the property and left it in the tall grasses in hope it would continue on to the next stage in the cycle of our existence.