Archive for the 'Our Absent Friends' Category

Apr 14 2015

Bark-Eater: Eulogy for an Old-Timer

I’ve been thinking about him a lot lately, even though he died nearly 40 years ago at the age of sixty-five. It wasn’t an easy death. He “died hard,” as folks used to say. I won’t kid you. He was no saint. He was a bit of a bastard, in fact. Still, he had his reasons. He packed a lot into his sixty-five years. He raised three kids on little or nothing. A fourth, his youngest son, drowned one winter when he broke through the ice on a local lake. What with one thing and another, he never had an easy life. He lived through two major wars, several diphtheria epidemics, and a depression—and that wasn’t all. But he never lost his love for his mountains.

His name was Jack. His last name doesn’t matter. He didn’t have much use for last names, to tell the truth. He started guiding when he was little more than a boy. If the state required guides to be licensed then, he didn’t care, and no one else did, either. By the time he’d grown up, the state had dropped the requirement altogether. They’ve put it back now, of course. You have to pass a multiple-choice test. Some guides even get degrees in wilderness recreation and outdoor education. I doubt that Jack would have been impressed by their diplomas and certificates, however. He was a “show me” kind of guy. And he lived in the woods all his life… Read more…


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Jun 25 2013

The Kill Zone Claims Another Victim

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.

Another Life Cut Short

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.


Further Reading



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Aug 14 2012

It’s a Less Than Wonderful Day in the Neighborhood

First things, first. I’m not what you’d call a bleeding heart. I eat meat—though a lot less than I used to—and since I once worked in a cattle auction barn I understand where it comes from. I’m also a lapsed hunter. Plus I ride the mean streets on my bike most days, which can be a pretty Grand Guignol experience in its own right. So I’m no stranger to killing. Killing for food. Killing for sport. And the incidental, “accidental” killing that’s the hallmark of any transport system based almost entirely on the private automobile. But I’m not often privileged to see killing done in cold blood, killing done deliberately, maliciously, and with no other purpose than to eliminate something that just happens to be in the killer’s way, by whatever means lies most readily to hand.

Last week was the exception. Here’s the story: A town road runs past my office window. It was once a quiet byway, but in the last few years it’s become what the Brits call a “rat run,” a shortcut for impatient motorists who want to avoid a few seconds’ delay at the stop sign where the two state highways meet. And more recently, it’s also become a gathering place for a motley contingent of pigeons. Now as it happens, I’m not a pigeon fancier. But the pigeons were displaced by construction work nearby. They had to go somewhere, and they ended up hanging out in a bit of open land opposite my window. They scrat for grit in the road, too—and thanks to the town’s overgenerous application of sand throughout our largely snowless winter, there’s still plenty of that to be had.

The upshot? Sometimes motorists making the rat run have to brake in order to avoid striking a pigeon who’s in no hurry to move out of the way. And wonder of wonders, they almost always do. But last week one driver didn’t. In fact, when she found a pigeon scratting on the shoulder of the road ahead of her, she accelerated and jerked the wheel to make sure she stayed on target.

And she hit what she was aiming for, too. So there’s one less pigeon in the world to inconvenience motorists. The bird wasn’t killed outright, I’m sorry to say, but that didn’t seem to bother the driver, whose satisfied smirk was evident even at a distance of 30 yards.

My conclusion? Some motorists—a very small proportion, no doubt, but there are a lot of us around, so the total must run into the tens of thousands—are quite happy to use their cars to eliminate sentient obstacles in the road ahead of them. In other words, they’re convinced that a driver’s license is indeed a license to kill. Last week the obstacle in the road was a pigeon, but what about next week? Then it could be a cyclist. Me, for example. Or you. Or a five-year-old on a tricycle. Would the fact that her target now happened to be human make any difference to the smirking killer I glimpsed from my office window? What if she felt sure no one was around to hear the thud as her car struck flesh? Would it matter to her that the flesh was human flesh? I wonder.

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