I suppose it was inevitable. After years of living in the mountains, I’d seen enough to know it was a matter of time, no matter how careful I was. Still, I thought I could escape.
It was dark, and raining, but that’s no excuse. I’ve driven in far worse conditions without an issue, though there have been some close calls. The most serious was due to fog: creeping 5 miles an hour up a narrow, windy road at dusk with zero visibility , I heard–and felt–a soft, fleeting thud against the left front fender. As I realized what had just happened, the deer sprinted off across the road, a brownish ghost emerging briefly from the mist. A second later, unharmed, it was swallowed by the fog again.
This time, I saw the blur of motion in the corner of one eye–a few erratic stops and starts off on the side of the road–and thought the animal had decided against crossing. I was wrong, and because I was in a hurry I did not slow down. The thump and crunch were sickening, not least because right before I hit it, I saw the little skunk run toward the road again–and knew it was too late. I’m so sorry, baby, I told it, wishing desperately for a different outcome.
One skunk more or less may seem insignificant, but I’d just contributed to the estimated one million vertebrates killed on US roads each day–one every 11.5 seconds. This includes wildlife from mice to moose, endangered species, and household pets. Human injuries and deaths result too, and pricey damage to vehicles. Fencing, signs, and wildlife crossings can reduce roadkills, and high-tech solutions may help in the future, but awareness and reducing speed are still the best bets for avoiding these tragic incidents. It’s a lesson I know I’ve taken to heart.
This essay was aired as part of the Perspectives series on KQED-FM on April 6, 2011