by Michael Hofferber. Copyright © 2007. All rights reserved.
In a quarter century of driving I figure I've put more than a million miles on various cars and trucks, most of it on rural two-lanes, gravel drives and dirt roads. This includes several cross-country migrations through 36 states and one Canadian province, across prairies, along riverbanks and up over mountain passes.
In all this time, across all those miles, I have not run over a single skunk (knock on wood) or collided with a big game animal (knock on wood twice). Nor has my driving claimed the life of any dogs, cats, rabbits, snakes or tortoises. My only roadkills have been a few birds, mice and a mess of frogs that covered the road in a Kansas thunderstorm one August night.
I mention this not to boast, but to explain why I don't understand roadkills. Drive a few miles some morning along almost any state highway, especially those that cross some rural area, and you will likely find carnage littering the roadway.
How does this happen? Is there so much traffic on these roads that the law of averages catches up with so many cats? Or are there really folks out there who deliberately try to run over skunks so their car can wear the animal's lovely fragrance for the next six weeks?
Is it truckers making late-night runs in loaded-down rigs that can't stop or maneuver quickly that make most roadkills? Or are equal numbers of non-professional drivers out there clipping deer and dogs and doves as they speed along with a cellular phone in one ear?
Just as mysterious to me is what becomes of all those roadkills. By mid-afternoon, I've noticed, most of the morning's carnage has vanished. Gobbled up by scavengers? Scooped up by litter patrols? Broiled away to nothing in the hot sun? I'm not sure.
A small and rather obscene literary tradition has emerged to explain roadkills. There's the comic field guide by Roger M. Knutson, "Flattened Fauna" for naturalists who want to identify roadkills and the culinary classic, "Road Kill Cookbook" by B.R. "Buck" Peterson that helps explain disappearing roadkills.
Most astonishing is John McPhee's journalistic "Travels in Georgia" from his 1976 anthology "Pieces of the Frame," in which he describes a couple of wildlife enthusiasts who pull off the road whenever they see a D.O.R. (dead on the road) and often carry roadkill home with them.
Carol (this is a real person) talks to McPhee as she skins a roadkill squirrel:
"I lived on squirrel last winter. Every time you'd come to a turn in the road, there was another squirrel. I stopped buying meat."
Carol holds up the skinned squirrel.
"Isn't he in perfect shape? He was hardly touched. You really lose your orientation when you start to skin an animal that's been run over by a Mack truck. People don't make sense. They hunt squirrels, but they wouldn't consider eating a squirrel killed on the road."
She sniffs at the carcass.
"M-m-m-m... It has a wild odor. You know it's not cow. The first time I had bear, people said, 'Cut the fat off. That's where the bad taste is.' I did, and the bear tasted just like cow. The next bear, I left the fat on. How do you like your squirrel cooked? Rare or well-done?"
What becomes of roadkills? Maybe I don't want to know.
Artwork: The Bloodied Roadkill of a Male Koala Alongside a Country Road, Australia