The other day I took the highway home from work. I don’t normally take the highway, as I find the route brisk and austere, preferring the relatively slow commute along the back roads amidst the pecan groves. This time around I didn’t have much choice. I was running late and needed to get home to feed the dogs. I merged onto the highway and sped up to my usual 5 to 10 mph over the speed limit. Country music blared from my speakers while I munched on one of those king sized Snickers bars. The drive was long, straight, and uneventful until about a mile from my exit when what appeared to be a yellow feathered bird slammed into my windshield. The loud thunk jolted me up into my seat. Mouth agape and with pieces of Snickers dangling off my tongue, I sat motionless for several seconds as I processed what happened.
The impact of a 3.5 oz bird against a 2.5 ton SUV traveling 85 mph should result in a scattered mess of blood and guts and feathers but there wasn’t any. Rather, what remained can only be described as grayish/brownish feather dust, which left the poor bird’s wing impressions on the windshield as if they had been stenciled there. I don’t mean to sound grim, Jamie. It was a grim experience that lends itself to a grim description.
The bird I killed was but one bird on one stretch of road at one point during the day. In my little region of the world, thousands of automobiles travel in excess of 60mph at any given time on hundreds of miles of road, so it’s reasonable to assume that birds are whacked out of the sky with murderous regularity. Again, another grim thought that lends itself to grim description.
Birds are not the only victims. During my commute to work, I see a small zoo’s worth of dead animals littered along the road–cats, dogs, skunks, coyotes, and the occasional javelina. Vultures and their fellow scavengers pick at their remains, risking their lives against the metal beasts careening down the asphalt buffet.
Road kill is such a common feature of the American landscape that we barely notice it. It would need to be a grotesque configuration of fluids and body parts to reveal its horror and yank us from its invisibility. For the most part, road kill is merely an unfortunate byproduct of material progress, a kind of sacrifice if you’d like.
I know what you’re thinking, Jamie. My horror infused language isn’t helping matters. It will neither convince you nor others to see how the way we live on this planet kills with reckless abandon. Language matters and persuading others requires a delicate touch. Maybe you’re right. Alas…
I am, of course, complicit in this mass slaughter of the non-human world, as I admitted above. I’m not absolving myself of any hypocrisy. Admission isn’t absolution. But it’s a complicity shorn from a less than ideal slate of choices. Either drop out of society or kill yourself or accept things the way they are. At the level of individual initiative, those are your only options. The first is of dubious consequence because living outside society isn’t possible, so in a sense, it’s not a option at all. The second, well, not everyone has the fortitude to cross that threshold. The third is straight complicity, which most of us are OK with. A fourth option, collective action, may provide us a way out of this needless killing. Working together to organize a world in which habitation and material needs don’t take the rest of the world down with us. Fingers crossed.
Anyway, I pulled into my exit and rinsed the bird dust off my windshield. I got home, fed the dogs, and made myself a sandwich. I watched a David Attenborough documentary on Netflix with bated breath.