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Death du jour

As I drove to work the other day, I passed a dead coyote on the highway – easy to do, since it wasn't moving very fast. (Sorry, I couldn't resist that one.)

It got me thinking about one autumn when I counted 18 Gray Squirrels scattered along a 12 mile route on my way to work. The carnage was impossible to ignore as I had to steer around so many crushed little bodies. Absolutely sickening. I wondered just how many animals die each day on the highways and back roads of this country, so I looked this up and here's what I found (from Wikipedia):

In 1993, 25 schools throughout New England participated in a roadkill study involving 1,923 animal deaths. By category, the fatalities were:

81% mammals
15% birds
3% reptiles and amphibians
1% undiscernible

Extrapolating this data nationwide, Merritt Clifton, editor of Animal People Newspaper estimated that the following animals are being killed by motor vehicles in the United States annually:

41 million squirrels
26 million cats
22 million rats
19 million opossums
15 million raccoons
6 million dogs
350,000 deer

This study may not have considered differences in observability among taxa (i.e. dead raccoons are easier to see than dead frogs), and has not been published in peer-reviewed scientific literature.

This does not mention the billions of insect smeared across windshields or imbedded in radiator grills.

I drove on, feeling sad about this while the announcer on the car radio was taking about the latest suicide bombing in Iraq, then without a moment to let that grim detail sink in, he slides into the update on a recent celebrity scandal. Next comes an annoying commercial for some product that no one really needs, then back to the current fiscal doom story, and finally comes the cheerfully conveyed weather report. Weather reports are inserted to make people forget all the bad things they just heard about, and to encourage more receptive listening so that the advertiser that follows has greater influence on your mind.

Our lives are full of paradox. How do we reconcile such things? I was having a good moment there as I drove to work, a fresh event in the last several months, and it was noticeable. I felt relief. Then I see this beautiful coyote terminated by some motorist (who also likely felt terrible about it), and I felt a twinge of guilt for being happy. I am sad at the loss of this coyote and all road kill I see. But should this sad feeling have more influence on my life than my happiness? You might be thinking I am nuts for even analyzing this experience at all. But since it is there, I must look at it. Sure, I moved on quickly enough, but it stirred my kettle a bit. Every moment of every day there are true horrors and atrocities taking place AND such beautiful miracles and love in the world. To ignore one or the other is somehow inappropriate, though I surely favor the beauty of life. I see what the buddhists mean about attachment to good feelings or bad feelings. Always the pendulum swings while we hang on for our lives!

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