There’s a dead, bloated raccoon on the shoulder of the road leading to our house on Coyote Ridge. It sticks in my mind as being strange because it’s been there for three days now. Animal Control officers usually clean up the pieces/parts before the magpies even get wind of the roadside buffet. I know because this particular kind of genocide is, unfortunately, not rare in this neck of the woods south and uphill of Denver. We moved here partly because of the abundance of wildlife, so it dismays me that there is also a profusion of wild death.
Deer, coyotes, foxes, porcupines, pocket gophers, raccoons and even once a mountain lion have all fallen prey to the 4-wheeled carnivores of the boulevard in these parts. I often wonder how it is that they so often get caught in the path of the onrushing steel. You’d think they’d be used to our machines of death by now – we’ve been here for several generations. Sure, some – like porcupines – are really slow, and some are, no doubt, pretty stupid. (Why did the prairie dog cross the road? Same reason as the chicken. But, regardless of which version of that old joke you end with, it doesn’t speak well of the intelligence of the chicken, or the prairie dog – or the joke teller for that matter.)
On the other hand, I'm not sure that animals don't have more intelligence than we give them credit for. (Right now, my cat Starbuck is staring at me with a look that says, “Why are you writing this stupid blog instead of finding a real job?”) Road-kill prairie dogs are often seen being mourned by another – a pathetic sight as the survivor tries to comprehend how the game of dare-you-to-cross-the-street went so wrong. Is a deer in the headlights really brainless for not moving out of the way, or does she just disbelieve the existence of metal monsters? And as far as deer road-kill goes, which species really is the stupid one? Most deer carcasses I see are within a few yards of the yellow sign that supposedly-intelligent humans have posted there to warn drivers that THIS IS WHERE DEER CROSS THE ROAD! So, who’s the dummy when we mow them down on the roads that cut through their own living rooms?
It’s the callousness of the road-killers that bothers me though. In such a hurry to get to their important places for their important events that critters on the road are barely footnotes in their travels. Who do we humans think we are? Having opposable thumbs does not make us gods. If having the ability to reason makes us the higher life form, wouldn’t that title also give us the mandate to respect ALL life and protect it when we can? If simply being mindless justified extermination, there would surely be fewer reality show contestants and the highways would be less crowded every rush hour.
I believe that life is life no matter how small, and while it ends for every living thing sooner or later, I think that our world is diminished by each senseless passing of one of its creatures. I have to wonder if Mother Gaia doesn’t feel that loss and somehow mourn it. One of these days, we're going to kill off one too many of her children without thinking, and then the feces will really hit the oscillating blades for us "higher life forms" (think Mother Nature in the old margarine commercials, “It’s not NICE to fool Mother Nature!”) I don’t belong to PETA and I don’t believe the “science is all in” regarding global warming (er, sorry, “climate change,”) but I have to believe that Karma does not look kindly on the indiscriminate killing of the beasts of the field that the Old Testament God gave man “dominion over.”
Because of this belief, I feel sad and more than a bit guilty for the meaningless deaths of the road-kill deer, or raccoon, or even the stupid-as-a-rock opossum. (I once saw ten - count 'em, 10 - dead 'possums on a 3-mile stretch of I-80 in Eastern Iowa.) I mean, really, where do we get off killing squirrels just so we can get to work on time? Who's to say that their nuts are less important than the ones we work with every day? Save the whales? Sure, but let’s save the chipmunks, too. Even rodents are not in infinite supply. If we keep squishing the cute little almost-rats, who will the tourists feed?
So, go ahead and call me an environmentalist, or better yet, just call me a Friend of the Earth. Real-life Bambis can’t speak for themselves, so I’ll say it for them. Slow down and save a porcupine. Get the point?