Friday, June 1, 2012


A warning to those who may not wish to read of the death of an animal.
There are no bloody photos, only words to shape what I witnessed today and the thoughts and the memories which have been the fall-out.
If you prefer to 'pass' I'll understand.

The wind was blustering, spatters of rain fell as I pushed my shopping car from the sliding doors of
Wal Mart along to my car parked halfway down the lot.
I stowed my purchases: 4 tins of chicken/tuna dinner for the cats, a carton of half and half, shampoo; items from the store's deli section for sandwiches.
Setting the windshield wipers on the slow interval I eased the car up the parking lot and into the acess road that fronts several businesses.
Pausing at the stop sign, I flicked on my blinker for a right turn onto the short stretch that leads to the traffic lights guarding the junction.
The light was red, so I coasted gently to the painted white line and put my foot on the brake.
From the corner of my eye I caught a flutter of black out in the road, just beyond the hanging lights.
A bit of plastic I thought, perhaps blown from the McDonalds or the fuel and convenience store both of which flank the access lane.
Even that brief glance showed something amiss and rather against my will I looked again.
It was a black cat, scarcely beyond kitten size, evidently struck seconds before, probably when the opposing traffic moved on the green light.
It would have been suicidal for me--or for anyone--to have dashed into the road where the cat lay--and it was all too obvious that the injury was a mortal one.
The creature struggled pitifully, its back legs flailing as it attempted to turn, trying instinctively to rise.
Dear God, let the light turn green!
I stifled my outcry, dreading the moment when an on-coming vehicle would strike the cat again.
Still the red light glowed, and unable to turn away, I saw the pedaling legs slow, hesitate, thrash again.
The traffic light blinked green and as I guided the car into the intersection, the small body lay still.

My eyes stung and my throat felt half-choked with the desire to howl.
I couldn't blame the unwitting driver who struck the cat which surely, frightened and confused, and in a place where no animal should be, had dashed wildly into the traffic.
Anyone who has driven, whether on a super highway or on winding country roads, has either run over and killed or narrowly missed an animal.
Arriving home I dumped my parcels in the kitchen, greeted my cats.
A memory broke over me suddenly, one that I've not visited in more than 20 years.
J. and I on the way to church, headed up busy Rte 7 in Vermont.  We had left Middlebury a mile behind and the road unreeled through rich farmland, passing a tractor dealership, a plant nursery.
I don't recall now if we saw the tiger-striped cat crouching in the roadside weeds or if our first sight of it was as it hurtled into the road a few yards ahead of us.
Oncoming traffic allowed insufficient room to swerve.
J. did what he could to avoid the cat.
I screamed as we felt the impact when it slammed into the front tire.
J. slowed, hesitated, but we both saw in the rear view mirror the cat struggle briefly, then fall limply back.
"Don't look!" said J. fiercely. "Where did it come from? Stupid cat!  I couldn't---there wasn't---"
His voice trailed off wretchedly.
"I know, " I said, muffled, "It happened so quickly."

A choice of trucks.

The Wyoming years were a lesson in sharing the road with animals.
Once outside a town the roads wound over mountain passes and miles of high desert--sagebrush as far as one could see, inhabited by herds of antelope, by mule deer, elk and moose.
In 2002 J. and our son, H. were working in Bonderant--building a massive log house on the holiday ranch owned by Joe Ricketts.
I had been hired to restore order to the gardens on the grounds of the main house.
During that summer I packed up whatever truck happened to be in our dooryard at my disposal, loaded in the dogs and roared over South Pass through Pinedale or up Togwottee Pass, through Jackson Hole and in to the ranch via Snake River Canyon.  Either route was a 3-4 hour journey.

My plan was to arrive late in the afternoon at the ranch, clean the 'cowboy apartment' which J. and H. shared, do up their laundry, cook and in general sort their housekeeping.
For the next two days I planted, pruned, watered, dead-headed.
On the evening of the second day I loaded up and made the journey in reverse, usually choosing the long haul over the Continental Divide, through South Pass, down the steep road into Red Canyon and, finally, Home.
This worked well in the summer months.  Twilight lingers long in the west and I usually pulled into our dooryard as the last light faded.
As August drew on, sundown was earlier and there came the day when my garden tasks kept me late.
"Stay over another night," urged J., testily.
But I wanted home, my familar room.
I missed my cats.
I was driving J.'s old Chevy WT that week--6 cylinder gas engine, 5 on the floor transmission.
I flung my bag on the seat, commanded the dogs to "load up!" and rumbled down the dirt road
from the ranch.
I topped up the fuel tank in Pinedale, bought a bar of dark chocolate, a bottle of water.
It was 45 minutes before I turned the truck onto the long stretch of highway that traverses the
Continental Divide.
The whole of the sky to the west was stained orange, red and lavender.
I pushed the truck hard, meeting little traffic, keeping a watchful eye on the herds of antelope that grazed in the short grass and sagebrush at the road's edge.
I turned on the truck's headlights as the engine labored up the Pass.
It was full dark before I began the long winding descent.

I wasn't enjoying the drive at this point, but I had known I wouldn't be home by dark.
Rounding a wide curve I saw them, frozen motionless in the yellow glow of headlamps: five mule deer strung out across the width of the road.
I blasted the horn, then with words that were both cursing and prayer, I grabbed the gear shift
and applied the brakes.  Gently; easy does it--pump the pedal, don't slam it and risk a skid.
Downshift: fourth gear, brake, third gear.
The Chevy shuddered to a stop in front of the deer.
The muscles of my legs were taut, my hands shook a bit on the steering wheel.
The deer stared, their ears flicked.  I saw them gather themselves; they turned as one and flowed in graceful leaps into the darkness and the safety of the mountain night.

A big horn sheep stands in the road near Sinks Canyon.

Mule deer outside our last Wyoming home.

In Lander, In Pinedale, even Jackson Hole, the deer strolled through town, grazing on lawns, nibbling shrubbery, stopping traffic.
In 12 years there, J. hit two--I was with him for one accident.
The truck was slowed to 30 mph per the warning signs at the edge of Hudson.
The deer broke from a clump of alders at the road's edge--three of them dashed across the road.  The 4th, a young one, dithered, slammed into the front bumper.

The death of an animal is perhaps a smallish event in the larger scheme of things.
A wild animal is almost anonymous.
A feral cat--a stray dog--an addle-pated rabbit or audacious squirrel--who counts their loss?
I expect, coward that I am, that I grieve too sorely these little deaths--the ones I have encountered--the times that I have shut my eyes, turned my head to avoid the sight of an elk hit by a snowplow, a deer crumpled at the edge of the road;
the black cat in the intersection at Wal Mart.
Perhaps I mourn them because the alternative grief --the human deaths of war and disease and hunger-- is too huge, too horrible to contemplate.
I tell myself the black cat was likely a stray--nobody's pet--or else it wouldn't have been where it was.
I can't know.
I only know I feel diminished by my unwitting presence there while the small cat died.


  1. I'm sorry I had to pass on this one.

  2. Oh my, this had my eyes filling with tears and my heart in my throat.

    I believe God is with every creature big or small when it falls and passes away. He loves them all. They are part of Him.

    Your feelings show you have a heart.
    May your heart be soothed.

    Love and hugs ~ FlowerLady

  3. A poignant exorcism of a painful moment, it's aftermath and it's ability to generate sometimes painful memories.

    My own version was this.

  4. My heart breaks over every animal that has met its end like this. No matter if unknown. They do not go unmourned. I loved the way you mentioned God being with them. I've always been afraid to come upon one who has not quite departed, as you have, and deeply sympathize with you, and hope your heart finds comfort..

  5. Oh I am sorry for you Sharon it must of upset you terrible.Nice to get home and have a cuddle with your own pussy cats.Love Jill xx

  6. The deaths I've witnessed stay with me as well. I can still see the huge mule buck spinning around and around on the interstate after getting hit by a semi. Unable to get up, I am assuming from a broken back. Or the dog I finished off like the second driver from the black kitten. The man on the side of the nighttime road said I put him out of his misery. These still stay with me. So sad you had to witness this. Beautifully written.


  7. hugs Sharon, your distress is evident and i would have been/ have been the same. It is a mercy sometimes that another vehicle ends the pain. I too have witnessed the last moments of life seeping from animals struck by cars, its utterly heart wrenching

    Leanne x

  8. I felt your distress ...I got the shivers as I read this post brought back memories of where we used to live ...a busy road ...and my daughter having to deal with a neighbours cat that had been struck by a car ....still alive yet death iminent.
    I hope you have recovered from the shock of it all and given your furry family extra strokes. xx

  9. I debated whether to publish this. I did need to pin down the experience in words, even though it wasn't pleasant to write it, nor does it make for easy reading.
    There is comfort in sharing something that so many of us have witnessed.
    I am blessed by your kind responses.

  10. Oh Sharon - how poignant your tears and grief for the loss of an animal's life - unknown to you, but you can imagine only too well their shock and agony and are unable to reach out and comfort them in those last final moments.

    I still remember the only time I hit - and killed - a cat, which had run beneath my wheels. I felt physically sick and for months when I drove along that road it came back, heart-wrenchingly, to me.

    A neighbour who used to drive our children's school taxi, would make absolutely no attempt to avoid animals on the road, and only swerved round baby bunnies when the children all shouted out. There was something very lacking in that woman's psyche - as experienced by her own children . . .

  11. I agree that every life is precious. It's awful even to have to see an accident that ends an animal's life, nevermind to be the cause, however unwittingly, of an animal's death. I agree with FlowerLady that God knows when even the smallest sparrow falls, and is with all creatures when they pass over. That thought doesn't always make it easier, though.

    Thank you for your very kind comment on my blog.

  12. BB; I've been relieved that no errands took me back through the intersection. Today riding with Jim, there is no trace of what happened there--but the sight seems indelibly fixed in my mind.
    I can only think how terrible for the survivors of war and disaster who must live with far worse memories.
    Christine; Thank you for visiting here--I'm sorry it wasn't a happier post. I think we all take comfort in the thought that each creature's life, however brief, has some meaning in the larger realm of things.