death on the asphalt

A couple nights ago, I went for a walk up to the corner store and got a little lost for two hours. A childhood friend of mine moved into the area recently, and we decided to go for a short walk to explore his neighborhood as the day fell. We made it to the corner store and then kept on going, eventually finding ourselves wandering down a rural back road in the dark, wondering if it might be faster to retrace our steps, but enlivened with a spirit of adventure to keep wandering on into the unknown.

We talked of how the chorus of frogs and crickets calling out through the warm, humid night air reminded us of our youth in the Amazon, and of how good it was to live in a place where the artificial glow of a city did not choke out light of the stars, where we could wander an unknown road and feel alive in a somewhat fuller way.

I was wearing the Australian boots I'd been given in Sydney last year, and although they are perhaps the most comfortable footwear I have ever owned, they are not made for long slogs down hard asphalt roads. As blisters began to form, I started to think once more of the ugliness of roads - how their snaking black fingers make up a web of death that blankets this entire continent. I thought about the hundreds of thousands of people who die on them every year, and the millions of animals, and of the wars fought over the dead-animal, fossil by-products with which they are made.

And then we saw it - practically stumbled over it, in fact, in the dark of the night. A dead rabbit.

I mentioned to my friend how I'd once had the idea to photograph roadkill... to force myself to stop and document each asphalt death I saw. I would then blow the pictures up huge, rent a warehouse and have a gallery show, a carnival of the grotesque, a testament to the ugly collision of "progress" with a natural world that never saw it coming, and couldn't have done anything if it had.

So I took this picture.

As we walked away, I zoomed in on it in my viewfinder and saw, to my chagrin, the dead baby bunnies. In a twist somehow more disturbing to me than even the pointless death of this creature and her young, I found that I was not disturbed. Not really.

There was a time, possibly, when the death of a rabbit by the road would have had a visceral, emotional effect on me. Now, though, anesthetized as I am to all of this by constant, rolling exposure, I am no longer able to summon the emotional wherewithal to feel anything for these creatures. A dull, intellectualized sorrow sits in their place. I took a short road trip, recently, with a woman who does still feel, and although at the time I appreciated her sensitivity, I found that I could not share it.

When I mentioned my surprising lack of feeling to my friend, he shrugged it off. "It's not a bad thing," he said, "or a good thing. It's just something random that happened, like everything else."

I started to point out the reasons I thought this rabbit's death ought to bother me, but he interrupted. "Okay, he said, maybe it is an unnecessary waste, a useless death, but..."

As he trailed off, I thought of how different we had grown. Both of us creators and artists. Both of us lovers of people, of the wild world, of literature and of deep thinking. And yet there, confronted as we were by the death of a rabbit, we had each chosen to mark the moment in different ways. He, to deny somewhat the wrongness of it, and I to fall into a deep, cyclic mental funk. I want to "wail, for the world's wrong," but can't seem to muster more than a sullen, detached mental discomfort. My friend, on the other hand, accepts it all as part of a big, pointless mess.

And all I seem to have to fall back upon is the heart's cry that "NO... this should not be."


  1. i think it is horrific that our stupid cars and roads kill animals all the live long day. sometimes i think i might stop and pick up every single one and bury it, but then i would be so busy doing that i wouldn't arrive anywhere in a timely manner, if at all. it's been a strange year so far for me. found a dying turkey on the side of the road that had fallen off of the truck. nursed it for a week, and then cried as i watched it struggle to take it's last breaths. those last breaths were so labored and went on for so long that i thought of smothering it just to make it end. but i couldn't so i just walked away and got in bed and cried until luke came in to tell me it was gone. then my poor little goose friend . . . . i can't even speak of it, it's too hard. recently picked up two dead ravens in a few days span and buried them. as we pulled in the driveway with the second one, a raven flew over our house and called to us. then we found two baby raccoons in the middle of the road. we tried to rescue them but they were so scared that they climbed up a tree (very high). I googled baby raccoons and they are very often orphaned from people calling exterminators to rid their properties of the "pests" that turn out to be the mama raccoon. the website said to leave orphaned babies alone and don't disturb nature's course. i say wtf to that. we have disturbed nature's course so much that all living things are suffering because of it.

    this comment is so long, i'm starting to think i could start my own blog . . . .

  2. They seem to find you, when you care. Baby raccoons! Climb that tree!

  3. The very reason it bothers me, thisbrit, is that I believe in a Loving Creator. Reconciling that with the ugliness is difficult for me, and therein lies my tension.

  4. It makes sense to be bothered by your loss of feeling - even if you can't help it, it seems like if you don't feel pain over the injustices in the world (even tiny little injustices like rabbits flattened by cold, unfeeling passing cars), you're maybe starting to give in to a generalized callousness. Like maybe this is one small step towards not giving a shit about anything.
    When we were children, we would cry over dead birds or other critters we'd find and we couldn't understand why our parents just didn't seem to be too concerned. Growing up is highly overrated if it means (and it does) that our hearts no longer break every time we see little things that don't seem fair or good in the world. Recently, setting out traps in my detached garage and ultimately killing two rats that were chewing our stuff and leaving droppings everywhere has placed me on my daughter's cold hearted bastard list. She's probably right - but I actually do still feel pain over killing those little buggers because I feel very much out of tune with nature as a result, but as an adult - what else can you do but rid your home of vermin that could potentially make us sick or bite someone? There's an irreconcilable tension between needing to be an adult and needing to stay a child in our hearts. My daughter may be partially right about me, but I think she'll probably find herself here someday as well.

  5. I guess that's why I'm so impressed with adults who still yet maintain their child-like grasp on the truth in things like this. It's weird the hypocrisies we come to accept in ourselves - like, I'll eat chicken all day long, as long as I don't have to be the one to wring its neck. It's easy to argue points we don't have to live out. But if that's what being an adult is, then I suppose you'll find me outside, playing in the sprinklers.

  6. Hey Josh, I'm a student currently studying Games Design at RMIT, Melbourne - would it be alright if I used the rabbit pic for a game I'm making?


    1. Have at, Kevin! Let me know what you come up with -- I'd love to see it.

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