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Richard Lackey

You see them everywhere you go; Deer, squirrels, opossums, raccoons, turkeys, hawks and owls and an occasional dog or cat. Our roadways are littered with the animals that live around us and in the woods along them. I feel sad for each one of them. Why did they have to die other than they tried to cross a road?

Turtle deaths are especially difficult. As a kid I would bring turtles home that I found slowly trying to cross a road while I was riding my bike. It was a used single speed Schwinn with coaster brakes. It seemed unbreakable at the time. Trying to jump holes and landing hard. Or riding as fast as you could and grabbing an overhead limb like some Saturday morning matinee movie star and lifting yourself off the bike to let it ride off on its own. You knew turtles moved so slow if left in the road surely someone would crush them with a car tire before they reached the other side. I had to bring them home to save them.

On a flight to Arkansas many years ago, as the pilot landed the jet, he allowed the front landing gear wheels to hit every small concrete reflector on the runway. Each reflector shook the plane rather violently. He was supposed to straddle them but to him it seemed like a game to see how many he could hit. Interestingly at dinner after the flight, the 2 pilots were at the next table drinking heavily and getting louder with each drink. One laughing heartily turned to the other and said he should not have hit everyone of those reflectors. The other pilot laughingly offered he had run over every “turtle” on the runway. I immediately felt sad for every living turtle he came across on the roads in his life that he saw them as targets. Kind of an analogy for all of those unkind people you find in life that see you and everyone else as a target.

Finding dead animals on the farm is always concerning since there are no vehicles to run them down. Is there a disease running through the deer community? Did a red tailed hawk misjudge a tree’s size as it streaked to earth after its next meal? Did a coyote maul that dead opossum or raccoon? Each is a loss to the balance of nature on the farm.

Was that hawk the one we saw getting kicked out of the nest and we watched it fly for the first time last spring? Was the opossum the one that played dead when I came across it while walking across the hay field behind the house and hissed at me when I poked it with my gloved finger — yea, you were trying to trick me. Was the raccoon one of the four or five little ones following its mother across the forest floor during a recent walk in the woods?

We lost a momma cow recently. Found her on a farm road in a pretty wooded setting laying on her stomach with her head down. Looked like she was just asleep. We remember when she was born. We remember the 14 or 15 beautiful calves she gave us. We remember her personality, her love of sweet feed, the way she would bellow in response when I would call them with “Hey Cows!”. All 1500 pounds lumbering towards you looking for a mouth full of sweet feed and hoping her brakes work.

Several local cattle farmers had warned us some of our animals were getting pretty old and needed to go to the butcher or the sale barn. I can’t do that if they are healthy. If they look like they are in pain then it’s like needing to do something when your dog or cat needs to go on to pet heaven then maybe the butcher. She had only known these fields, pastures, creeks and hills her entire life. I would rather see her lie down and die in a quiet beautiful place than being put in a cattle hauler, jostled across our pitiful roads, pushed through a labyrinth to her death.

We don’t think about our own death and what that may look like. The older you get these ideas slowly start to creep into the forefront of your mind. No one wants to go to heaven by getting run over. No one wants to get mauled. No one wants to die from some unseen disease. Perhaps laying down under a huge oak high on a knoll with soft gentle rays of sunshine filtering through its canopy on your face, a slight breeze from the west, a chipmunk wondering why you are so close to the entrance of her home, and a butterfly’s dream that is your life slowly bounces by not knowing a swallow high above has her sight on dinner. Let them find me here.

Richard Lackey can be reached at richard.t.lackey@gmail.com.

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