She was an old hand, with many years’ experience. She’d learned that the asphalt was a death trap, and that safety lay in staying on the sandy verge. Though I often rode past her home waters, I met her only once, just after she’d laid her eggs. At other times, I saw only her tracks. As far as I could tell, she never ventured onto the roadway. So I thought I’d be seeing her — or her tracks — for many years to come.
But I was wrong. The last time I saw her, she was dead, crushed beneath the wheels of a car whose driver couldn’t be bothered to stay on the road. Or — and this is about equally likely, I think — a motorist who swerved off the road deliberately, welcoming the opportunity to kill without consequence. I’ve known a lot of motorists like this, and I’ll bet you have, too. For far too many citizens of the Republic of Happy Motoring, a driver’s license is a license to kill. Provided, of course, that no one is looking. Other than your buddies (or your girlfriend), that is.
I say “girlfriend” advisedly, because a lifetime of experience suggests that the majority of avocational highway killers are male — and usually under the age of 25. Not that there aren’t a lot of lethally bad women drivers around. There are. But few women (or girls) seem to revel in the role of casual killer. They’re happy just to look on and applaud while their boyfriends do the killing for them. It’s the gladiator-spectator thing brought down to date, I suppose.
Be that as it may. I wasn’t on hand when the old turtle met her end. But I happened by not long afterward, and I moved her shattered body into the ferns that abut the road. Now the scavengers who will come to pick her bones can do so at little risk of ending up under the wheels of a car themselves. It’s not much as last rites go, but snappers aren’t sentimentalists. The old girl would understand.
I’d like to be able to end this by saying that her eggs survived to carry on her line. But I can’t. After I carried her into the ferns, I looked at her nest, and sure enough, someone — a raccoon, probably — had dug it out. I found rubbery sherds of eggshell scattered all along the verge. Still, some eggs may have survived, so a few of the old girl’s offspring may emerge from their earthy crèche in due course. I hope so, at any rate.
As I got ready to go, I was suddenly struck by a sense of déjà vu, and sure enough, I realized that it was almost a year ago to the day that I found another dead snapper on the same road, but on the other side, not 20 feet away. Were these two old girls in fact sisters? Or were they mother and daughter? I’ll never know the answer. But either could have been the case. Or neither. And anyway, the question is moot. Both are now dead.
Cyclists see more than motorists. I’ve often said this, and so have many other writers. Indeed, it’s become something of a cliché. And it’s usually a good thing to know what’s happening in your corner of the world. But not always. There are many things going on along our roads and highways that most of us would prefer not to see. The wanton destruction of wildflower communities, for example. The senseless felling of healthy trees. And, of course, the never-ending ritual of casual blood sacrifice. Today it’s “just” a snapper. Tomorrow, it could be you, or someone you love. After all, a driver’s license is a license to kill, and quite a few of our friends and neighbors really wouldn’t want it any other way.
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