Driving down the shade-dappled road with the sun sparkling through the leaves on a brilliant morning, singing with the radio, and out of the corner of my eye I saw it coming. It ran in front of the car and suddenly froze in a moment of indecision. Hitting the brakes, I swerved to avoid it, when it suddenly unfroze and bolted in the direction I was now heading. Swinging the wheel the other way and hoping for the best, it zig-zagged and ran under my wheels – all in the blink of an eye. Was that a thunk, or just my imagination? Looking in the rearview mirror, I hoped not to see a little lump in the road. I think most of us have been there. If he got away, you sigh with relief and keep going – he made it. If you see the little lump is there, your heart sinks. If that little lump is still moving…..well, those are the moments that I feel physically ill, because really, there is not much to be done at that point.
One sure-fired guaranteed bummer, at least for me, is running over a squirrel. I imagine this stop/freeze/reverse/reverse/reverse action is an instinctual survival tactic to evade predators. Although the squirrel in the road is doing it’s best to outwit the oncoming vehicle, it seems some of them don’t even consider crossing until they see you coming and are just hell-bent on suicide.
Every day I drive through areas that are filled with squirrel, hawk, coyote, deer and wild turkey. Each has its challenges. Of course there are variables, but after enough animal/road encounters there are certain things you can come to expect. If a deer leaps in front of your car, it is as likely there is at least one, maybe more, waiting in the woods to bolt right behind it. Whether they decide to all come forward and follow or not, I try to look ahead for that. If they do bound out in front of you, they will probably continue in the same direction as they were heading to get to their destination on the other side. They usually do not change their mind.
With turkeys, if there is one on the side of the road, there is usually a flock in the vicinity. They are a little more confused when you drive by them. They often will hesitate and run back into the woods, or anxiously mill around together at the side of the road until you pass. Although one time one massive tom insisted on strutting right in front of my car – actually took his time and poked his head over the hood to get a good look at me while I waited for him to move on. This is not the norm. But squirrels – trying to anticipate and avoid them is like trying to navigate a road video game.
My days of thinking “Awwwww, aren’t they cute” are long over concerning Sciurus carolinensis. Inevitably, whenever I plant anything and disturb the ground, there they are, digging up what I just put in. After planting over thirty gladioli, only one came up by the time the squirrels were finished. I actually watched them scamper away with the bulbs in their mouths. Last year I planted a bag full of what were supposed to have been spectacular red dahlia bulbs that someone gifted to me and never got to enjoy seeing even one.
The Significant Other has no mercy on them and will eradicate them when necessary. They have chewed through the soffits of the house, the ultimate violation in his book and a declaration of war. They have turned even the most artfully designed squirrel-proof bird feeder into a squirrel buffet, sitting there binging while keeping the birds away, and leaving a heaping mess of sunflower hulls all over the porch. They have become so bold that when I stepped out the back door, they would shoot out from under my feet and then perch on the back railing, looking almost insulted that they had to move out of the way to let me by. They are nervous, skittery and freaky, and not nearly as sweet as chipmunks. And did you know that like most rodents, their teeth would continue to grow, up to six inches a year if they didn’t keep gnawing? That sort of creeps me out.
But still, there is also that Beatrix Potter type thing about them. When I have had the misfortune to hit one, I always cry. Then I say a silent prayer/apology for it and move on. On having to drive past the scene of the Terrible Accident later, I am always apprehensive, guilty and sad if it is still there. Sometimes there is a little comfort in finding the crows are dining, that it is not such a waste; part of the cycle, if you will. At least the one this morning made it across. It was probably the best thing that happened for me today.