April 27, 2013

North Cairn: The end of the road for a coyote

She never had a chance.

If outmaneuvering a car in the dark is a skill you must learn to survive, then the young coyote I struck sometime after midnight last week never had a chance. In the instant that mattered more than any other, she was off by that split-second that separates life from death, and we collided there.

She leapt right into it but I had already arrived. And no matter how adept a driver I might have been, the nano-second I needed to react slipped away faster than my impulse to turn the steering wheel the small slice of its circumference that could have meant the lithe animal would have been spared.

I knew before I had even cleared her body she was dead, surely; she had turned into the grille at the very last moment. She had done her best to dodge the vast hurtling thing with bright eyes that roared out of the darkness just as she had spurned the shelter of the scrub in the median and meant to make her move into the tidal marsh.

Before our paths intersected, she made that swift back-and-forth dance step of a stressed animal trying to evade an impossibly powerful predator. She leapt into the road, stopped, felt the dread of the car coming, took one step forward and made the mortal mistake of turning back. She looked back but had not even enough time to lift her paw to turn. Her instinct to retreat was her final, fatal impulse.

And then it was over.

I heard that sickening second, in which circumstance unfolds in a way counter to the animal urge to survive, felt her bones and flesh tearing under the body of the SUV and recognized the inexorable consequences. I didn't have to check on her; I knew an animal that had achieved 35 or 40 pounds could not withstand the force of a fast-moving killer nearly 100 times her size and speed.

But I returned to the point of impact.

I pulled onto the shoulder, my tires thumping loudly in the deserted night air, my headlights lumination enough to locate myself and focus her stilled form in the dark. I wanted to get her off the road, take her for burial in the woods behind the house. I had all the necessary equipment for my sentimental intention -- a snow shovel still stowed in the back; thick black compactor bags; a couple of towels and a heavy blanket to lift her out of her spilled, strewn life.

But I knew the ritual would be lengthy and messy and heart-breaking -- dangerous, too, in the ashen light of the highway. I didn't want any more trouble, even in my sorrow, for myself or other unsuspecting travelers.

So I did the little that could be done. I got out of the car, and during one of the long stretches of quiet that reigns in the middle of the night on the interstate, I dashed across the lanes to the point from which she had risen and checked to be certain her suffering was over.

She was finished.

But even in the insubstantial glow of the headlights aimed away from her, I could see her thick, lush fur ruffle in the night breeze, the only movement her body was still capable of executing, now that nature, human nature, had swept her out of the equation of living.

(Continued on page 2)

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