"Skunk!" Drew Powell yelled, and then everyone smelled it at once, the gasoline perfume of roadkill, almost pleasant in its olfactory fuck-you."~The Mammoth Cheese, by Sheri Holman~
That line, don't you love it? I don't think you have to be from my portion of the midwest, these prairie lands near the great lakes, to appreciate the description, as roadkill is a mile after mile after mile fact of life through much of rural America. ...."an olfactory fuck-you".... that repayment to drivers who take no time to scan the side of the roads, who take no time to anticipate or appreciate where they are, who take no time to realize that it is we who have invaded the animals homeland, their habitat, not they ours. A message to those human travellers who anthropomorphize animals, telling themselves it is the animals fault that they ran them over, "they should've known better than to cross the road here."
In my 30 years of driving, I remember every heart-sickening, breath-catching, stomach-gripping, thudding thump, when it was I who took a life with my gasoline driven weapon of destruction. One squirrel, two raccoons, three birds. All because I was driving too fast, unable to slow down soon enough to give the animal the chance to use their flight response in the safest manner.
So now, when travelling these midwestern glacier flattened lands especially at dusk or those few hours past the break of dawn, I become a roadside scanner, and not just the immediate sides, but far off into the fields that line the roads. It is the only way to not miss that tawny-colored deer sailing over the cattle fence, or the oppossum waddling along the fencerow who suddenly decides the insects are more plentiful on the other side of the road. I have taught my children to do the same, my son did have a deer jump directly into the path of his car, it bounced off the passenger side door and lay stunned on the roadside. The car received more damage than the deer, which is usually not the case, and yes humans have lost their lives also when striking a deer or much further north, a moose. But often times it is avoidable if the driver would only remind themselves of where they are. In my son's case, it was probably unavoidable as he was driving along a road in which the marsh lands abruptly met pavement, and the marsh grasses and cattails obscured the view.
What infuriates me, and the reason I loved the "olfactory fuck-you" are those drivers who seem to purposely run these animals down, it becomes a game to them, I have often overheard people (usually young male drivers) telling stories of the opossum family that they played the game with [how-many-they-could-miss-by-centering-the-truck-over-the-animals]. They even have a point system, I don't know how the points are awarded, because by this point in the conversation I have either interrupted and expressed my appalled view point, or walked away in disgust. And NO NO NO opossums are not vicious rabies carrying garbage spreading pests that deserve to be killed, they are shy, placid, useful animals, they eat insects and carrion, yeah all that nasty smelling roadkill, which is why they are the animal most often seen lying smushed.
And just to show the very strangeness of how my brain works, this somehow makes my craving for a day long road trip even stronger. Not far from me is north-south 2 lane state highway, several times a summer I travel straight north to arrive at the shores of Lake Michigan. I have never been there in the winter, but there is an ache in me to see the dunes covered in snow, blue-white waves of snow bordering the shoreline. There is always a sense of peace that flows through me when I gaze even further north across that seemingly endless bounty of water. At the spot I often visit, when I gaze west I can just barely make out a few of the skyscrapers that dominate the skyline of Chicago, to the east if I angle my view just right, then it is another endless view. I feel an ease in my soul almost immediately, just arriving at my destination, without even seeing the lake yet, that state of relaxation begins.
It has been forecasted that we are to finally receive some real snow, not just a light dusting, but several inches, in my imagination I see myself at dawn, lakeside, all sound muffled by the heavy blanketing of snow falling, the air cold, but somehow there is also a warmth in the fat white flakes. Standing there, my frail human body surrounded by the huge majesty of the dunes, the extreme breadth of water, waves lapping at my boot covered feet. My face upturned to feel the light touch of iciness before it begins to melt against the warmth of my skin. And suddenly there is a centering within me, life seems to be in balance, for a few short hours my being is serene. But, before leaving I would have to lie down on my back, sweep my arms and legs through the snow, carefully rise so that I do not disturb the pattern, and leave my own snow angel behind. The feeling lasting for days afterward, all I would have to do is close my eyes and replay the day, and I would be there, a little piece of heaven on earth.
I am not a lover of the cold, but those few heavy snows that quiet our world, that cover the ugliness, those layers of snow that outline the skeletal arms of the hardwoods, those early mornings or evenings when the sky and earth take on that bluish mystical quality, those times are some of the best of times.