I have a thing with roadkill

When I’m in my car, I know I should be completely one with my machine and road and elements, but I must confess that some of my energy goes to scanning the side of the road for the smushed animal that lost its life due to cars and asphalt and fossil fuels and the carelessness of humans.   Some of my fascination with roadkill is connected with a need to feel guilty. Whenever I see some innocent squashed animal I immediately think, “But whyyyyyyyyyyy??? Why do we need cars and roads and look at how we are disrupting mother nature’s ways and cutting through these ecosystems so that we can get to our jobs that are way too far away and then we do further damage by fueling these vehicles with fossil fuuuuuuels that kill little furry creatures who are just trying to live out their liiiiiives.  Whyyyyyyyyyyy?” And then, if I can, I turn my car around,  park it, and run over to the little dead thing to get a closer look.

I humbly offer for your consideration this passage from Asana Pranayama Mudra Bandha by Swami Satyananda Saraswati.

Awareness: This is as essential to the practice of asana as it is to all yoga practices. […] Awareness in this context may be understood as consciously noting sensations in the body, the physical movement, the posture itself, breath control and synchronization, movement of prana, concentration on and area of the body or chakra and most importantly, witnessing any thoughts or feeling which may arise during the practice.  Implicit in the concept of awareness is the acceptance of any thought or feeling which comes uninvited to the mind.  This awareness is essential in order to receive optimum benefits from the practices.

I bet this “acceptance of any thought or feeling which comes uninvited to the mind” applies to blog readers, too.  It’s essential to receive optimum benefits from this blog.  Now, please continue.

Since moving to Texas, the roadkill that I encounter is much more interesting than any I remember seeing in Seattle. Here’s a list of what I’ve seen in the last month alone: deer, turtle, jackrabbit, 2 rattlesnakes, a rat snake, an armadillo, a cardinal, a pigeon and way too many butterflies.   There are animals that were on the road but not yet roadkill and this list includes this crazy-ass lizard that was pale, almost albino, with spiky skin, a triangle shaped head and a missing tail (see photo below), a tarantula, a roadrunner and loads of turkey vulture that were, no doubt, feasting on some of the animals from list one. I saw vegetables, too. Someone lost a box of artichokes on their way to market, so I stopped to pick that up and my fam and I ate like artichoke kings and queens for 3 days. Feasting. On artichokes.

Lately, I’m a little more compulsive than usual.  This shows up in the things I have been putting in my pie hole and in my roadkill scanning.  I’m pulling over to look at dead things on a weekly basis.  Fortunately, there are times when I can’t actually do this because I have places I am going on a timeframe or it’s a busy busy street, but still, I manage to stop and check things out —up close—quite often. My recent habits don’t even compare to a year ago.  Please consider that when the girls and I moved here to Austin, we were still homeschooling, I didn’t have an outside job and I didn’t have any friends.  This combination of circumstances gave me even more time to pull over and look at dead things—Plus, I had my small children’s Education to think of.  They would, no doubt, learn so much by looking at roadkill up close.  Things like the smell of decomposing flesh and the cruelty of cars and roads, and the innocence of sweet little furry animals.

One time, the girls and I were in the car and I saw a dead raccoon right by our house.  It looked freshly hit.  The corner of a car must have clipped it because it looked like it was just having a peaceful little snooze out there on the road—no blood and no guts. Of course, we pulled over.   The raccoon was in the middle of the lane and I couldn’t have my girls hang out in the middle of the street, as I’ve been known to do, so I left the two of them on the curb.  In my trunk, I had one of those thick plastic bags that you put car seats in at the airport and I ripped a corner off.  I approached dead raccoon and squatted down.  Still, I’m thinking, “cruuuel cars,” and  “wow,  I’ve never been this close to a raccoon.”  At the same time, I was feeling like an awesome homeschooler mom who was about to win major coolness points. I reached out; plastic barrier in place, to grab what I was sure would be the warm and fuzzy raccoon leg.  However, when I actually made contact through the plastic bag, I had a flash-realization: the animal was dead and stiff, rigor mortis had already set in and what I was intending to do was really disgusting.  Maybe it could even be called perverse.  It didn’t feel like science anymore, it started to feel like the stuff of Mary Shelley novels. Those human instincts (that we have for a reason) screamed, “don’t do it, Amanda.  That animal is d-e-a-d. Leave it,” and then my body shuddered.

I must have had an expression of disgust and horror on my face, but I didn’t look up because I didn’t want my kids to see me grossed out. I don’t have any problem letting them see me gag and wretch when they eat a globby booger in front of me (there’s nothing I can do about that-  That is the most disgusting thing anyone could do… ever), but get grossed out by death and animals, something that is a natural part of the cycle of life and mother nature and the earth… naah.  Not me, girls.  Not your mama.  I embrace aaaaalll parts of the circle of life. So in the most unnatural way, I forced myself to push through my disgust and I grabbed that rigid, furry little leg/paw and proceeded to drag that dead raccoon (20 pounder, at least) to the curb.

The girls had that same sparkle in their eyes that I get when I think about communing with animals and Mother Nature and furry things.   There was some sadness beneath the sparkle because the creature was dead, but I could see it… they have my same fascination with roadkill. They both really wanted to pet it and I had to insist that they just use their eyes to get to know the raccoon.  Hazel kept insisting and I finally gave in and let her pet it through the piece of thick plastic that I was still holding.

Where’s the yoga in all this?  Honestly, it took me a while to uncover it.  I almost didn’t post this little story-confession, because I began to wonder if it was appropriate for this blog.  I started to feel weird and self-conscious about this roadkill thing I have and do.  I worried that you, dear reader, would judge me or get grossed out or think some other thing that might make you stop reading and then I’d be bummed out and might fall into a deep depression and never recover.   I pushed through those fears, posted, and discovered that this small decision to post this story was a step towards self-acceptance.   These things that we are curious about, these “weird” things that fuel a curiosity about nature and life and connections, aren’t something to stifle.  These are the things to celebrate.  These quirks and idiosyncrasies are really fun to get to know when we can practice acceptance and non-judgment and when we let go of the stories that we tell ourselves about what other people think.  As Swami Satyananda Saraswati says, “This awareness is essential in order to receive optimum benefits”  and inherent in optimum benefits is more joie de vivre.   Accepting any thought or feeling which comes uninvited to the mind is a practice and  I think it’s worth it. See?  Yoga can even be found in roadkill.

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3 thoughts on “I have a thing with roadkill

  1. I really like this post, Amanda. I think it talks a lot about our natural curiosity about how we relate to the world around us. Seeing roadkill, realizing why it’s there, and then taking the experience in with a physical response… I think this is a way of being present. I don’t know what you’re learning to be present to, but we live in a tactile world. Death is, first, a tactile experience for us. How can we move into the existential thoughts about death until we have touched it for ourselves?

    I think it’s also very cool that you asked yourself how far the limits of your fascination extend. Good post!

    1. Meredith. You found very eloquent ways of expressing the feeling behind my own stopping, looking and pondering, and I think you are right–it is so rare that we experience death in a close-up and tactile way. Our loved ones often die in hospitals and we don’t prepare the body or touch them once they are gone. And then, there it is… death, on the side of the road and I feel the need to get close to it, smell it, see it. Thanks for your comment. it helped me to further reflect on this thing.

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