Category Archives: Our Absent Friends

In honor of those who lost the race to reach safety.

What Good is a Dead Tree? by Tamia Nelson

The Others have an answer to the question in the title. But is anyone listening? Tamia is.

The Expert looked at his watch, and gave his companion a thumbs-up. The job wouldn’t take long. A flight of finches exploding into the air. Neither man noticed. The Expert eyeballed the old pine. He didn’t see the red squirrel clinging to the trunk. He saw only the brown needles and the bare limbs.

“What good is a dead tree?” the Expert asked, not expecting an answer. His companion knew the question was purely rhetorical. And he marked the pine for removal.

The two men thought they were alone. But they were wrong. And the Others who were present did their best to answer the Expert’s question. He wasn’t listening, though. Perhaps he never had. In any case, his companion was anxious to get going. Time is money, after all, and the Expert had more trees to condemn.

Yet the dissenting voices of the Others continued to make their case, long after the Expert had gone. It’s too … Continue reading »

The Kill Zone Claims Another Victim by Tamia Nelson

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 … Continue reading »

It’s a Less Than Wonderful Day in the Neighborhood by Tamia Nelson

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 … Continue reading »

Life Cycles: Reflections on Life Lived Amongst the Dead by Tamia Nelson

If you’ve read The Raj Quartet, Paul Scott’s epic tetralogy about the last days of British rule in India, or if you watched The Jewel in the Crown, the miniseries that was made from Scott’s books, you may remember Sister Ludmila, the eccentric woman who gathers up the dead and dying from the wastegrounds and shantytowns around the fictional city of Mayapore. It’s not a role I’d ever covet, I admit, but it’s one I seem to be destined for, nonetheless. Just last week, only two days after celebrating a snapping turtle’s narrow escape from the fate that all too often awaits any creature unlucky enough to have to cross a roadway, I found her lying dead in the grass near the very spot where I’d last seen her. She’d been alive and (very) lively when we last parted company. Now her shattered remains made a meal for a turkey vulture.

She’d been killed not long before I came across her corpse, and the tire tracks in the sandy margin of the road … Continue reading »

Beyond the Beauty Strip for October 2010: Hidden in Plain Sight by Tamia Nelson

When we’re behind the wheel, it’s easy to fall into “Don’t look, don’t see” mode. A car enwombs driver and passenger alike, insulating them from the many of the sights, sounds, and smells of the world around them. Not long ago a driver ran down a cyclist, dragging her several hundred yards. The driver continued on without stopping, thinking, she later said, that she’d just hit a deer or a dog. Only when she got home and discovered a bicycle lodged under her SUV did it dawn on her that she’d struck a human being. (The cyclist died of her injuries, by the way, but the driver wasn’t charged. Apparently, this was a mistake any driver could make.)

Only a deer. Only a dog. Only a cyclist. Life is cheap on America’s highways, and the open road is littered with the bodies of the ones who didn’t get away. Not many cyclists are left where they fall, of course. We still have enough respect for human life to collect their remains, if not … Continue reading »

Road Toll by Tamia Nelson

A steady stream of cars passed me, each one driven by someone who was in a terrible hurry to go… Where? Work? The HyperMart in town? Or the post office just half a mile ahead? In any event, they gave me plenty of room as they sped by me, and the bumper stickers on most of the SUVs, extend-cab pickups, and vans proclaimed their owners’ abiding love of the environment and deep personal commitment to the green lifestyle. Perhaps the drivers were communicating the depth of this devotion to friends or coworkers as they hurtled along. At least that’s one explanation for the many hands that I saw cupped tight against ears. The drivers sat in splendid isolation in air-conditioned comfort, watching the landscape unfold at 50 mph, as their lips moved soundlessly, imparting (or receiving) some message too urgent to be postponed, even for the 30 seconds or so it would take to reach the post office parking lot. I could usually pick out the urgent communicators while they were still some distance behind … Continue reading »

Absent Friends: Killing Time by Tamia Nelson

It’s summertime—in the northern hemisphere, at any rate—and the living is easy. Then again, the dying is pretty easy, too. It doesn’t make for a very catchy tune, but it’s a fact. Pick up a paper or log onto a news website, and what do you see? Motorcycle crashes. Casualties from wars in distant places. Pelicans and sea turtles and porpoises drowning in oil-fouled water. Of course, for most of us, most of the time, these tragedies happen off-stage. The don’t touch us directly. We read about them, or we watch a two-minute video clip on the local news, and we think, How sad. How terribly sad. And then we start up the gas grill.

The dying goes on while we broil the burgers, of course. But it doesn’t spoil the fun. The painful dramas unfold somewhere else, somewhere far removed from our patios. And the old saw is right: whatever is out of sight is out of mind.

Except that it isn’t. At least it isn’t if you ride a bike on the road … Continue reading »