Lately, I’ll be sitting here on a sunny morning like this one, soaking up the day (and some caffeine) and then I hear it: a loud BOOM! from the distant woods. Hunting season.

I’m the first to admit that the deer can be a nuisance. They eat ALL of my plants, even the ones that the people at the nurseries swear they will not, decimating all your hard landscaping work in a single night. But a lot of things—and people—get on my nerves. That doesn’t meant I want to shoot them. Or would shoot them. But there is an overpopulation, and it’s legal, so there’s nothing I can do about it. To be honest, it’s not even the hunting that upsets me as much as the dead ones I see when I’m driving. Another factor of country living: the roadkill.

When I moved out to the country six years ago, I knew to expect changes, some good, some bad. Just popping out to the store, for instance, was no longer an option, but then neither were unannounced drop ins from friends and family. Yes, it took longer to get home, but once there, the stars were brighter, the nights quieter, the sound of passing traffic nonexistent. But there was one thing I wasn’t prepared for, and that was the roadkill.

Growing up in town, my experience with dead animals on the side of the road was pretty minimal. The occasional squirrel, sometimes a bird both unlucky and flying low. When I was very young, a dog was hit by a car right in front of our school bustop as we all looked on in horror. I never forgot that. On the whole, though, these were singular events, never routine. Not so these days. The roadkill, out in the country, is a fact of life.

Where I live, it’s often not the dead animal you see first. Instead, from a distance, it’s the big black birds overhead, moving in slow, lazy circles. “Look!” I said to my husband, one of the first times we went out to see the land we’d just purchased. “Hawks!”

“Those aren’t hawks,” he said. “They’re buzzards.” As we came over the next hill, we saw a dead deer in the median—which really, is bad enough—and a crowd of birds around it, picking it apart. This was no docile squirrel, lying inobstrusively in the gutter. This was National Geographic, live before your eyes. And even if you tried to close them, just around the bend, or down the road a ways, the scene would play it outself out again. And again.

It’s not just the deer, either. As with all things gruesome and disturbing, there’s always that moment, just before you look away, that you try to identify what you’re seeing: a raccoon, a snake, a possom. You know you’re adapting somewhat when, instead of saying, “Oh, my God,” you findyourself asking, “What was that?” It’s even worse in the summer, when the number of dead animals rises to such numbers the buzzards can’t even get to them: they get behind, like the office IT guy after a deluge of service calls. After driving past the same digusting sight several days in a row, you start to think to yourself, Can’t anybody do something about this?

As it turns out, no. Forget the Lion King: this is the circle of life, and no amount of cringing or complaining will stop it. That said, people have different reactions to roadkill. Some cross themselves. Others opt for denial.(“That was just a bag of garbage. That was just a bag of garbage.”) And few claim to not to be bothered by it any more than a passing tree or landmark. I, however, am still and the cringe and gasp stage. This fall, it got particularly bad. It seemed I couldn’t go to the gas station without seeing something that would turn my stomach or make me want to burst into tears. As a pet owner, the dogs, for me, are the worst. But what can you do, other than suck in your breath, clutch the steering wheel that much harder, and head home to pull your own closer to you, making sure they are safe and sound?

What I’ve realized, lately, is that my experience with the roadkill might represent something wider. That when I was smaller, the world for the most part was about beginnings: death was a foreign concept, only interrupting the day to day occasionally, and then overwhelmingly. When I got older, though, and moved out to the country, I had no choice but to see life more widely, all the way to its end. Death, like life, is happening every
moment, whether you’re bearing witness to it or not, and we all react to this fact differently. Like by crossing ourselves, or denial, or claiming it doesn’t bother us at all. The next step is continuing to live yourself, regardless.

It’s still hard for me to pass carcasses on the side of the road. To endure it, though, lately I’ve been trying to think more about that circle, beyond that single moment when I look up to see buzzards circling overhead. Like this summer, when I’ll see baby deer walking across my driveway on wobbly legs in early morning, a fresh start right before my eyes. Now, on the road as I crest that next hill, I may brace myself to look away, wincing, horrified. Then, though, I will do my best to do the opposite. Turn facing, and lean in to watch closer, bearing witness, linking the end of the circle to the beginning, and back again.

have a good day, everyone!