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“Road Kill”

June 1, 2005

These warming late spring and early summer nights bring critters out of the woods and fields and onto the roads where gasoline-powered danger lurks.  A recent early-morning drive down Highway 56, through Pauline and Cross Anchor to Clinton, gave a casualty count of two possums, two raccoons, one squirrel, one black snake, one gray fox, and several stray dogs and cats.  It’s a rough life out there where “highways become die ways,” to use a slogan coined by the South Carolina Highway Patrol.

Roadkill provides the meat (pun intended) for a few tongue-in-cheek recipes and any number of Southern jokes.  Maybe you have heard the joke, How many people from Spartanburg County does it take to eat a possum?  The correct answer is three – one to eat, two to direct traffic.  Or maybe you have heard the one that goes, Why did the chicken cross the road?  To show the possum it could be done.

Roadkill can be hazardous to the driver, as well a to the critter.  A friend in North Carolina collided with a red-tailed hawk that splattered across his windshield.  Blinded by the feathers, he swerved into a ditch, inflicting several hundred dollars in damage to his car. The demise of the poor hawk, a protected bird of prey, was a tragic loss.  Any driver who has had the misfortune to hit a white-tailed deer knows all too well the perils and the expense of such an encounter.  Bumper-mounted deer whistles are a good investment. 

Fishermen friends and I were traveling to Lake Murray before dawn one June day. Out of the darkness, a small doe leapt into the side of our car.  The unfortunate animal was killed instantly. Her body damaged the passenger side fender and hood; her head shattered the windshield.  We waited for a state trooper to make an official report so that my friend’s insurance company would pay for some of the damage.  Afterwards, the trooper put the deer in the trunk of his patrol car and drove to a venison processing plant near the accident.  Some people really do eat roadkill.      

Several years ago, on a late-night drive back from the beach, the driver of the eighteen-wheeler in front of me slammed on his brakes and came to an almost complete stop.   A mother skunk was ushering her seven or eight babies across I-26.  The black and white family clearly had the right of way.  Fortunately, the eighteen-wheeler and I had that stretch of road to ourselves.  It occurred to me that the big truck would probably not have slowed at all for only a single skunk.  The four-lane interstate would have again become the site for yet another smelly roadkill.

I have witnessed other times when traffic stopped for a family of creatures in the road.  On Highway 176, between Pacolet and Union, four lanes of traffic paused while a flock of seventeen or so wild turkeys ran and flapped their way across the asphalt.  One dark night on Highway 25, near the Greenville watershed, I stopped and gazed in amazement as a wild sow and perhaps a dozen piglets scampered through the beam of my headlights.  A single death may seem of little consequence, but something about seeing a family of creatures in harm’s way brings us up short.

Two weeks ago while traveling to a church camp in Greenville County, I rounded a curve somewhere beyond Campobello and Gowansville on Highway 11.  There I saw an elderly couple refreshing the artificial flowers on a wooden cross, placed as a memorial just off the shoulder of the road.  The cross, I am sure, marked the site of the death of a person they loved.  I have no way of knowing their story.  I do know that their loss, like every death, involves a family. 

When you stop and think about it, road kill is really not very funny at all.  For those who have lost loved ones, death on the highway is a heartbreaking reality.  Please be careful.  We don’t want to lose a single one of you.

-Kirk H. Neely 

© H-J Weekly, June 2005

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