It was a fox. At least I think it was. The face was still intact and even though I was passing by at 15 miles an hour, I think I saw a fox face. A cute little snout, red fur, perky ears. But the rest of it was just smeared across the road. I didn't want to look at it, but when you're riding your bike down Lake Road it's generally ill-advised to close your eyes.
My heart went out to that little fox, an innocent soul probably just trying to make it across the street. I mean, a fox is pretty big, and fast, and it seems to me if you're even paying a modicum of attention, you would be able to break or swerve or notice... or something. I live in a world where I am more likely to force traffic to go around me than I am to run over a caterpillar, and I can't imagine plowing down something as big as a dog - and then just leaving it there in the middle of the road.
I don't know if it was the time of year, or the fact that it had rained the night before or what, but this particular morning, my path seemed to be paved with death. Frogs not hopping, snakes not slithering, birds not flying. Their tiny bodies littered the road and the shoulders; they were everywhere. I swerved to dodge the carnage, like I was riding some kind of macabre obstacle course. It seemed so unnecessary, all this death.
As I rode north along County Line Road, with the sun just peeking up over the treetops, I contemplated the violent nature of the world we live in. It seems to me that with just a bit more care, we could make way for the creatures with whom we share this earth. It grieves me that we can be so callous, so disinterested.
So I was happy to see a gorgeous male mallard duck standing at the side of the road. He just stood there, proud in his emerald and sapphire cap, as if contemplating about whether or not to cross.
I called out to him, "You can fly, you know. Just fly over the road."
And then I saw it. His mate, dead in the ditch, a tuft of speckled brown feathers rolling across the grass. She'd been hit. And he was just standing there, befuddled.
My aching heart broke.
I heard once that ducks mated for life, but I don't even know if that's true. I thought that I would have to look it up on Google as soon as I got home. Maybe discover that the mallard would easily find another mate. Or maybe see what I could learn about the emotional life of ducks. Perhaps he didn't have the capacity to feel sad, the way I felt sad for him. I thought like this because I needed to find a way to comfort myself. Crying while you're riding your bike down County Line Road is also generally ill advised.
As I rode along, I struggled to put that morning's experience into some kind of a context that I could accept. Because I couldn't accept the image of that innocent little thing, standing over his dead mate, immobilized. I wondered how long he would remain before he moved on.
What is our big hurry? Where are we going that is so important that we can disregard the gentle lives that have no protection other than our sensitivity? Can't we answer a text five minutes later? Can't we be second in line for our latte? Can't we make room in our schedules to be careful with the world?
As I rode along, my heart sank more deeply into despair. So many roads. So many people making great sacrifices at the altar of the gods of Rush, Indifference, and Distraction.
And I know that animals on the roadside is just one among the symptoms of our disregard for life. I know the stories of man's inhumanity to man. I've even lived some of them. I found myself asking God how we are supposed to stand it here, with so much violence and death and apathy.
"How can you expect us to bear the tragedy of that?" I prayed.
came the answer.
Your eyes are trained on the road, on the death, on the suffering around you. But what about this gorgeous day I have provided? What about the way the early morning sun is filtering through those tall trees over there? And what about the birds who line your path, singing in ten-part harmony? And look over there - see those clouds of tiny purple flowers that seem to be floating on the fog? That's beauty, that's life.
Acknowledge the violence and the suffering in this world, take time to pray and act for peace and love. But then, don't forget to look up.
My tears subsided then, and I crossed the bridge that passes over Four Mile Creek. I looked over and saw two flat rocks rising up in the middle of the gurgling water. A male mallard was perched on one rock and his mate on the other. Quacking, enjoying the morning, safely tucked away, far from the cars and bikes and trucks pulling boats, whizzing past, thinking only of getting where they are going.
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