In a previous post about my newfound joys of commuting, I mentioned that seeing dead animals on the side of a road (or even sometimes actually right in the middle of a road) completely breaks my heart. I try not to look, usually I’m driving so I can’t gawk or anything, but the slightest glimpse does turn on my waterworks. When I walked to work I’d see things up close - a dead squirrel would make me cry a little. Now that I commute there’s almost daily weeping. When I see a beautiful, sweet deer that really gets me going - when I see a dog or a kitty, well, let’s not even go there. The worst part is that I am now contributing to this slaughter. Now I can slam on my breaks to save a four-legged creature but I’ve yet to find a way to dodge the moths and bugs and sometimes even butterflies (!) that are light-heartedly flying through the air and don’t see my windshield until it’s too late. If you were a fly on the wall inside Meredith the Mazda with me, mixed in with all the animal and insect mourning you’d hear me say things like “stupid cars” all the while knowing what a hypocrite I am.
My brain knows that there’s really nothing Meredith and I can do to keep from killing buzzy critters and that the carnage I see is not my fault. My heart still wants to park the car forever and live off the land or something really primitive like that. I mean, it really is our fault with our roads and cars and and and… Then again, I really like my job and I really like living away from the city so I have to drive. Who am I to get on a soapbox?
A few months ago I ran into Barry Lopez for the first time, not literally. I read an article about him in a magazine. There was also an excerpt from his newest book. I thought it was groovy cool. Then the next magazine I picked up had an interview with him. (Someone was trying to tell me something.) In the interview he talked about how he stops his car when he sees dead animals and buries them. You guessed it; I started crying.
I knew that I had to read more of this man’s work! The next time I was over at the main library for a meeting I looked up Mr. Lopez and headed to the stacks. A couple of books had especially appealed to me in the library catalog so I was going to take those and those only. (I have a real problem with taking just one or two books, I want to take them all home – it’s an addiction, I know.) I grabbed the titles that were of particular interest to me and was talking to myself about walking away from the shelf when I saw this skinny little volume. It had a library binding so I didn’t know what was inside but I thought oh, it’s tiny I can take it too.
The book sat at my house for several weeks until one evening it called out to me. I picked it up and WOW was there ever some all-out-girly-balling going on. In this slim volume, illustrated with gorgeous woodcuts by Robin Eschner, Lopez writes about all the dead animals that he saw, buried, or killed during a road trip from his home in the Cascade Mountains to the home of a friend near South Bend, Illinois. It is a beautiful and heart wrenching story. I felt like I’d found someone who completely understands how I feel about these things. As he’s burying animals he thinks, “Who are these animals, their lights gone out? What journeys have fallen apart here?” I so get that. When someone asks him why he does this, his reply is amazing – “You never know, I said. The ones you give some semblance of burial, to whom you offer an apology, may have been like seers in a parallel culture. It is an act of respect, a technique of awareness.” Oh man! This Lopez guy is so right on!!!
I don’t want to give the entire story away in case you want to read the book. I’m writing about it here because it really touched me and it helps me to know that there are other folks who feel the same way that I do. I am indeed not a crazy person, well, not crazy in a bad way, that is, my crazy is good crazy. I’m so glad that I picked up this skinny little book that day in the basement of the main library.
So here’s to you, Barry Lopez, a man who has the courage and the strong stomach to be able to bury the animals, something I can’t do. Also to my friend, Mac, who I have talked to about this and who admitted to me that he has stopped and buried animals before. And to Christine who rescues live turtles (and I’m sure other animals too) from the highway. She’s already on my hero list.
Here’s the citation:
Lopez, Barry. (1998). Apologia. Athens: University of Georgia Press.