|Posted by Angela Cannon-Crothers on October 29, 2011 at 3:35 PM|
All My Relations – A Halloween Story in Two Parts
If you want to see wildlife the best place to go isn’t thewoods but rather, the road. On one morning commute to Canandaigua I see Skunkdressed up with a Mohawk along the center line, her musky odoriferous smoggreeting me a mile before I ever encounter her body. I count Raccoon(squished), Doe (roadside), Squirrel dead center in my lane and someone elsetotally unrecognizable in a pile of blood and guts as I zoom by at a speed tooghastly for the early hour of the day. And I’m not the only car that’s raced bythese animals without concern. We are all so immune to our daily destruction ofthose who share our community that I wonder if even apathy can explain it. It’sjust plain scary.
Google Images of earthbegan to show only developments and sword-like crisscrossings of dirt roads,main roads, and highways. The animals who shared the land with us had tocontend constantly with our eagerness to get someplace in usually, a great bighurry. Animals had places to go too, obviously, or we wouldn’t have seen themon the road.
I’ve hit quite a few animals and I’ve been known to pick uproad kill on occasion: a fresh hit grouse that’s not too banged up has goneinto the pot and once, when I thought I had a grouse dinner in my grill plateafter a huge gust of wind sent a bird pummeling at my car, I ended up nursingwhat turned out to be a screech owl for a couple days and released it back intothe wild. One of the most memorable poems I’ve ever heard was about a womanpicking up a dead fawn on the road and utilizing every bit of it – down to thelard it made for pie crust. I’ve also collected porcupine quills for earringsoff a road kill, moved a coyote off Route 53 I planned to pick up after work andhave processed for its pelt (did you take it?), and eaten road kill deer that,when the cost of car repairs was over, ended up being some pretty pricey steak.
In some areas of the Country,salamander and other amphibian crossings caused such high mortality rates forendangered species that highway departments built amphibian crossing culvertsunder the roads in an attempt to get these small animals from the woods totheir seasonal breeding grounds. It helped some, until their habitats weredestroyed.
A couple weeks ago I was helping with a canoe program forHoneoye School ninth-graders at Hemlock Lake. There was a dead raccoon in themiddle of the boat access road; the route the school bus would be taking backand forth all day. Much to the other guide’s amazement, I asked if we couldplease take the animal off the road before the kids started arriving. The otherguide was surprised, even tried to brush off the idea saying “the kids won’teven notice it.” I thought some of them would and worse, that the bus would berunning it over again and again all day long. I got out and moved the animaloff into the wooded road edge. Two crows in the tree overhead yelled at me,probably afraid I was stealing their lunch.
Some animals wouldn’tcross roads at all but still their numbers declined. Wolves needed about 25square miles of uninterrupted territory – something that grew harder and harderto come by. Grizzly bears didn’t care much for paved roads either so GlacierNational Park is now the only living zoo with grizzly bears left in the Lower48. All the other animals are either in urban zoos or extinct now.
Of course one can talk about the whole food chain involvingdeath and scavengers and the wonder of our well-oiled ecological system; talkabout the overpopulation of deer, the dangers of breaking for wildlife(something I am not suggesting you do for fear of injuring yourself) – but whatabout the souls of these living relations? What about grieving amongst theanimal’s kin? What does leaving the dead in the road say about humankind?
Native Americansbelieved that the animals were our brothers and sisters. They believed that allthe animals – insects, birds, mammals – had messages for us; that Great Spiritworked through them to help us on our journey. The Animal People were ourspirit guides in a sense. One can only imagine the cost to our souls from theabsence of wildlife.
Animals do grieve and although I was reminded recently thatthere are people who don’t think animals have souls, people who think only theyare worthy of such afterlife-movings-on, and I suppose that could explain some ofthe apathy. But what about grief for the loss of a loved one – isn’t thatsomething we can all relate to? We know that a chimpanzee will carry their deadoffspring around for days in mourning. We know that elephants will stand vigilover a dead member of the herd; that some animals live a long, long time andsome mated pairs left without their partners display extreme sorts of grief.Even our pets display grief over the loss of an owner or stable mate and we forthem. Aren’t we all animals after all?
Most nocturnal animalshad layers of light sensitive cells, called rods, to help them see in the dark.They also had mirror-like tapetum lucidum at the back of the eye that producedan eerie eye-shine seen driving at night. One could identify animals at night bythe eye shine in their headlights: deereyes blazed white, raccoon eyes were yellow, foxes and rabbits glowed red.
If we consider the souls and feelings of animals, considertheir importance to our own souls, think about how our behaviors might change. Afterall, what would a Council of All Beings say about our doings? One could getinto a whole slew of environmental and animal rights issues here but for now,I’ll just stick to the road. What does it say for us as a species that we careso little for the lives of others that we continue to drive on past death anddestruction? Of course, moving an animal off the road is tricky, gruesome,nasty, gut-wrenching business but trying to do so (given safety restraints) isan act of kindness that could be an act of higher human-kindness as well. Maybeyou say a little prayer, tell them you are sorry, blow sage smoke over theirbodies with a feather and wish them well on their next journey. Maybe it’s theleast we can do in this fossil fuel age until we can think of gentler ways tolive and be that takes into account all living things.
The movie, FantasiaII, and Douglas Adam’s Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy made unique referencesto the animals trying to warn us of our own demise, giving up, and thendisappearing into outer space. It seems like that now, with all the animalsgone, the planet feels colorless and alone.
All Hallows Eve was actually an old pagan holiday that honoredrelatives who had passed away that year. It was believed the veil between theliving and the spirit world was thinnest at this time. Tradition involvedputting out a plate for recently deceased family members in case they spiritedby. Maybe this All Hallows Eve we could honor and remember All Our Relations, including those we consider so infrequently,those whose bodies we see daily in the road and those who feel our impactregardless.