on wildness near at hand

For the second time in as many weeks, I rounded a long bend slowly today and came upon a rafter of turkeys, a hen and her dozen chicks, older now and taller and more alert: standing with heads suspended high on long necks, one beady eye each aimed my direction. When I made no further move toward them, they eased on across the lane, melting again into the underbrush.


And then, rounding another long bend slowly on a paved road that gets a good deal of fast traffic which regularly grinds small creatures beneath their speeding wheels? There they were: twin baby fawns, spotted and thin and standing close to the road, looking perplexed. Curious and perplexed. I pulled off and looked for their mom, for surely she would never have left them in such an exposed place–trapped between a slow-moving slough and a highway. I found no sign of her at all, and the babes were slightly leery of me, so I worked with that natural instinct and eased them along until they could escape into the woods, in hopes they wouldn’t opt to step onto the road again and meet a quick, painful end.

Roadkill here is endemic, unavoidable, given the driving habits of my species. Raccoons, deer, woodchucks, possums, rabbits, skunks, cats—you name it: somebody’s hit it, nearly every day. The raccoons and deer, both of which I raised as a child, have always ripped my heart out and I usually go along angry with the people who refuse to slow down and drive in a manner that would deal less death. Sometimes that lasts the whole trip. I drive the speed limit or below, staying alert for whatever might be hoping to use the road as I pass: I have remarkably rich encounters thus (as with the twin fawns). If there’s a chance that an animal may still be alive, I stop and render aid. I’ve rescued huge old snapping turtles and raccoons and squirrels and birds and helped to get them returned to the wild. Sometimes I stop and simply move the dead ones off the pavement, trying in some small manner to honor their lives, apologizing to their corpses and spirits for the people who cut their lives short, speaking when words make no difference at all to them anymore. I want my own life to be lived in perspective: hurrying has a cost, both to them and to me: slowing down and stopping and helping or just paying my respects is a way to keep my own notions of what’s important more in line with all that lives about me, rather than just me and what I want, when I want it, etcetera. That’s all fine and good but it’s easy to slip into self-righteousness when I’m angry that another small being has died due to someone simply not caring enough to slow down and pay attention. Way too easy.

Today I came upon a baby skunk, lying dead in the middle of the road, the hair on its tail moving in the gentle breeze, no blood evident, just a swift death, and suddenly I understood something different than before: “Walk on,” I said, “Walk on from this beautiful heart-wrecking dream of now.” Walk on. I have had elders who told me this is what happens when we go, that we walk on. But there beside the skunk I had a glimpse of what a beautiful dreamworld this all is: good and evil wrestling with one another so earnestly that one tends to morph into the other, and people seeming to ‘fail’ the second they ‘succeed,’ and death attending the living every step. Instead of crazy cruel and bitter, which is how I usually understand all suffering, there is a grand theatre in which we, at every  moment, choose how we will engage. We make this world what it is: each of us. Believing we’re in time, we get to contribute to its wholeness and healing or to breaking it more. A judgment on anyone else is a judgment on myself. Thoughts of anger and retribution, no matter how well-deserved I might convince myself that they are for some ‘wrongdoer,’ only help to create a nightmare of brokenness, not just for me but for all. Thoughts take form. We get to choose what we contribute while here. Walk on.

For the first time ever, as I came upon each new death—today it was all babies, tiny and only here for a short time, then spirits vanished and leaving only the broken bodies of three raccoons, a woodchuck, and the skunk—I was able to breathe, to smile in acknowledgment of my kinship with these creatures and the drivers who killed them and the fact that I am walking right alongside them all, all the very way, and happily so. Walk on, I said, to each of them and to the humans who had passed this way, and also to me. Walk on and love this grand and beautiful, hazard-strewn dream of now. Place into it all that you are, all that you can give, for what you give you receive. On waking, you love it all.