Facts & Arguments is a daily personal piece submitted by readers. Have a story to tell? See our guidelines at tgam.ca/essayguide
I moved to rural Ontario seven years ago, partly to be close to my aging parents. Almost immediately, the locals took pleasure relating gruesome stories of deer being hit on the highway, or boasting of the number of deer they themselves had hit, totalling their vehicle while managing to survive, which then led to stories of the people they knew who had tied the trophies to the hoods of their cars, which led to stories of roadkill. I’m sure all of this was geared to elicit a reaction on my nonplussed, city face. (Even though I hadn’t arrived from Toronto, that was the noun, used as an adjective, to describe me, and the likes of me, whether from Edmonton or Halifax. He’s Toronto. Not, he’s so Toronto. Just, he’s Toronto.)
And behind my glassy stare I secretly dreaded the day that I would witness the inevitable deer in my headlights, seconds before it smashed my windshield and I met my maker, deer at my side.
So far most sightings have been at a distance, and I have learned that they rarely travel alone. Recently I came between two deer on our crossroad; one had leapt well ahead of the car, allowing me time to slow and keep an eye out for others. I found myself between the deer and its kin, and I stopped, rolled down the windows and took pictures of both lovely creatures as they stared, doe-eyed, at one another, through the windows of my car.
But I couldn’t escape death that easily.
I have had the misfortune of colliding with a few wayward birds who did not know whether to hit the ditch, the road or the grill on my car. Those seconds of indecisiveness cost them their lives. Forgive me, but the amount has been less than I could count on the fingers of one hand. But I regret it.
I have happened upon a maimed rabbit, making me wonder if there is a God, and if so, where, now, with this helpless creature, looking trustingly at me, as I carried it to the tall grass.
And it happened much closer to home.
My mother passed away three years ago, quickly and unexpectedly. I had the privilege of spending her last day with her, unaware, during the laughs and then the painful gasps as I rubbed her leg to soothe her, that those were our last moments together.
What no one had warned me about was just how hopeless I would feel in the face of death.
Riding my bike on another section of country road I came across the cracked corpse of a turtle. It was the kind of roadkill you don’t want to see, the kind you view through the light between your fingers as you cover your eyes. Mostly I have had the good fortune and foresight to recognize the turtles – and we have many – and not mistake them for rocks or dirt, and stop and lift them toward the side to which they seem to be travelling. They always come across as a bit cranky, as if to say I can do it myself, while they shift stubbornly toward the marsh.
But when I am out for my regular morning walk with my dog, there is a smaller world we see, not something that you notice from the car – who would recognize a large fish dropped by a passing heron? It’s a world that demands closer inspection.
Each day we pass what I believe to be a spot of tar, but I see one morning it is actually a flattened baby turtle, the texture and size of its shell no rougher than that of a large coin. Further along, on the shoulder, is a hole, freshly dug with soft white eggshells littered nearby, of more misfortunate turtles no doubt. Was the perpetrator a raccoon? Coyote? Fisher?
On our midday walk we come across a rare treat, a tiny live salamander, bright orange like a child’s jelly candy, but it is real, and alive, and has found itself on the asphalt. I coax him onto my hand while my dog comes in, big wet nose for a closer sniff at this tiny creature. Its eyes blink upward, tiny fingers support its barely wavering body. I find some cool grass, congratulating myself for saving the day for this gem.
Late afternoon, we head toward the kind of sunset that makes you think of, well, angels. Beams of sunlight shooting out every which way (making me wonder, “Where’s my mom?”). As orange as the salamander was, a brilliant sliver of green catches my eye. It’s not a leaf. We are too far into the season for a green this bright. Reluctantly my brain assembles the evidence: it is a praying mantis, and I think it is half-squashed and struggling, until I realize it is whole and beside the flattened corpse of another. It appears to be keening, arched skyward in a silent scream. My heart breaks to see this pose, something so familiar to me, a memory in my own body from the death I had mourned, as if there is not enough air to fill our lungs, feed the wailing, dilute the pain and take away the suffering for the moment.
I slip a leaf under the reluctant jewel and a small rage fills him, as though he refuses to be taken from his dead mate. His front legs – those used for praying – box the air in a silent tantrum. I am not endowing this living emerald with human qualities, I am merely observing. In seven years, I have had the luxury of scrutinizing my environment while others worked, harvested crops, watched the sky, dug wells and plowed snow. I am no longer Toronto; I share canning recipes and know what a field of buckwheat looks like, and, say what you will, I recognize mourning.
Andrew Binks lives in Prince Edward County.