Saturday, November 6, 2010

I'm Sorry, Kermit!

When I was seventeen, I hit a chipmunk on my way to work. It was the first time I'd ever killed anything in my life (I'm one of those people that catches a spider or bumblebee then releases them outside--the only exception is mosquitos), and I was distraught. I was such a mess, in fact, that I actually got sent home from work because I couldn't stop crying.

I've had other roadkill incidents since then, and while I always feel badly about it, I no longer go into hysterics. I mean, sometimes those squirrels just run right out in front of you. I always try to dodge them if possible, but sometimes there's just nothing you can do.

Something happened one night last week that reminded me of my utter devastation over the first chipmunk I hit, and it got me pondering the proverbial food chain and the equity (or inequity, I guess you'd say) of the animals, big and small, that are killed incidentally by human beings.

I live very close to the ocean, and there is a lot of marshland surrounding the roads near my house. Sometimes at night, you can hear the frogs singing, a beautiful choir that's obviously not planned but somehow sounds intentional anyway.

One night last week, I was coming home from dinner in Massachusetts with a friend. It was pretty late--bordering on midnight--and it had been raining all day and most of the night. All of a sudden, with no warning at all, the boggy road I was on was covered with frogs. Covered.

I felt a twinge of the girl I was at seventeen rise up inside as I realized that I was driving over frogs. Like, multitudes of frogs. We're talking froggie family reunion here.

I considered reversing up the road, changing direction, getting back on the highway, and going home in a way that would have allowed me to circumvent the avenue of amphibians. If I'd been seventeen, I would without question have done it. There were two things that stopped me:

1) I could see in my rear view mirror that the frogs that had escaped certain death under the deadly wheels of my car were hopping over their dead and injured brethren, bound for the relative safety of the moonlit marshes on either side of the road. They had avoided the wheel of fortune's death knell once, and it seemed cruel on a whole bunch of levels to reverse over them--I don't know much, but I do know that fate only goes your way so many times, and they'd already been scared and shaken.

2) It was very late, I was exhausted, and I wanted to be home as quickly as possible.

And so I plowed ahead, flattening countless frogs in the process because they were so prolific that attempting to dodge them was futile. For nearly a mile, though, I weaved my little sedan slowly around the larger gathering spots, avoiding sitting water because they really seemed to conglomerate in and around puddles on the road.

And I cried, not with the sharp and sudden agony of knowing that I'd killed a little chipmunk dashing across the street but with a longer, stronger awareness that the road was basically paved with frogs, that I did not want to hurt them and wished that they would hop off to froggie endeavors that would have kept them off the road, and that, ultimately, there was absolutely nothing I could do to change my undesired mass murder of dozens, maybe hundreds of frogs.

It occurred to me as I drove, trying to ignore the fact that the normally smooth road was characterized by scores of small but frequent bumps, that there were many metaphors to be drawn here ... and that none of them were happy.