When I stepped out of my vehicle in the Remote Parking Lot at O’Hare airport, it shocked me to look at the front end of the car across from mine. There was an adult killdeer smashed into the grill.
Killdeer are a common species of plover that loves open spaces near water. They have beautiful markings on their wings and rump. Adult birds are known to feign injury to draw potential predators away from their nest or young. It works.
But killdeer have a habit of flying low over roads, and occasionally one of the birds gets smacked by a passing car. That seemed to be the fate of this particular killdeer.
The fact that the bird was still stuck in the grill is what surprised me. The options are intriguing:
- The person who drives that vehicle never noticed the bird in the grill
- The person(s) who drive that car are frightened or can’t stand the idea of touching a dead bird
- The person who drives that car is proud of the fact that they hit the bird in the first place, and are carrying it around with them like a trophy and a bumper crop
Obviously the bird will never get what qualifies as a dignified burial in any case. But neither do millions of other creatures smashed and smangulated by cars and trucks, trains and planes every day.
Tallying up the damage
I have run nearly 50,000 miles in my lifetime, and cycled another 50,000 more. Generally there is a road kill of some sort along the road every five miles. That means during all my running and riding, I’ve seen probably 20,000 road kill victims including raccoons, squirrels opossums, skunk, chipmunks and foxes. Coyotes, deer, rabbits and plenty of domestic cats and dogs. There are lizards and butterflies, dragonflies and snakes as well. So many frogs and toads, salamanders and worms than I ever care to think about.
More than once I’ve gotten out of the car or stopped while running and riding to carefully move a turtle across a street or highway. They simply aren’t evolved to avoid vehicles speeding along from twenty to sixty miles an hour.
Is anything? Even human beings?
I’ve also encountered thousands of dead birds. Swallows, pheasants, owls. Hundreds of robins, cardinals and goldfinches. Buntings, warblers and thrushes. The carnage goes on daily. These are valuable individuals lost to eternity. More bumper crop.
Most people never take notice of road kill while hurtling over the road in their heated or air-conditioned vehicles. Those of us who bare our souls and bodies and minds to the seasons also know that even road kill has its rhythms. In the words of Tom Waits,
“Road kill has its season just like everything, you got your possums in the autumn and your farm cats in the spring…
Human road kill
Only once or twice have I happened upon car accidents bad enough to witness death among human beings. But it has happened. There is human road kill as well.
That’s the principle threat to people who cycle and run on the open roads. Despite the law that requires drivers to give cyclists three feet margin when passing, some people are too stubborn or too stupid to manage that simple driving maneuver.
Listen people: Separate hazards. It just takes a little planning. Some can’t be bothered. Others can’t do the math. But murder can be intentional or manslaughter. The results are the same.
We runners and cyclists don’t want to be road kill. Yet there is so much testimony to the hard facts of distracted driving it is hard to ignore the facts. The Pedestrian and Bicycle Information center says, “In 2015, 5,376 pedestrians and 818 bicyclists were killed in crashes with motor vehicles (National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, Traffic Safety Facts). These two modes accounted for 17.7 percent of the 35,092 total U.S. fatalities that year.” And: The total cost of bicyclist injury and death is over $4 billion per year (National Safety Council).
Statistics like these do make one worry about winding up like that killdeer on the front grill of the red Toyota. The brand and style of vehicle doesn’t matter. When it comes to flesh versus metal, it is no contest. When that metal is pushed into action by a furious human being, you might as well throw the odds out the window. Anything can happen.
It doesn’t take much to set some people off. Just get in their way on the road and they start screaming about paying taxes for the roads and the fact that they own them. And then it quickly can get ugly. It doesn’t take a crowd to incite violence. Note:: the video on this link shares graphic violence of an angry motorist attacking a cyclist with a club after he knocked the man to the ground with his vehicle.
There really is no accounting for the levels to which human rage can be carried. The recent incident in which a driver in Charlottesville, Virginia chose to plow into a crowd of people is a keen illustration of the fact that there are people who regard their vehicles as a legitimate weapon against those who pose a hindrance to their perceived cause. The rest of us are mere bumper crop to their anger.
Other close calls
Of course, not all threats to life are calculated. I’m actually fortunate to be here on this earth given the fact that my father almost got clobbered by a train in his youth. He waited for one train to pass, then jumped across the next set of tracks and was almost struck by a speeding train engine headed the other direction. Close call.
So the fates are certainly fickle when it comes to who survives in this world. Most of us try to avoid ugly circumstance any way that we can. I personally grown more cautious on the roads the more I run and ride.
But it sure doesn’t help when people with anger in their hearts choose to buzz close to you, or from behind, and out of some sense of perceived privilege or affront try to run you off the road. They seem willing risk of stealing the life of someone else for the perceived satisfaction of cashing in their bumper crop.
There’s a whole world out there filled with idiots like that. When one of them gets into power, it emboldens the rest to play rough with the fate of others.
Civility itself seems to be stuck like road kill on the grill of America. Whether the nation has the conscience to slow the pace of terror in the post-modern world is a question for the ages. Those of us who love real freedom, not the freedom to maim and murder according to race, religion or refusal to share the road, cannot afford to back down. We must resist those who insist that it’s okay to view the rest of the world as bumper crop for anger and fear. That resistance must go all the way to the top. And to the very end.