Driving back from the airport on city streets one morning recently, I witnessed a sudden, gripping mini-drama. My attention had been divided murkily between navigation and a haze of almost-thoughts not related to traffic flow. The driver's side window was open. Early fall leaves were falling. And then…a squirrel shot into the road.
The front right wheel of the car ahead of me hit the squirrel. The squirrel, which narrowly escaped being smushed by the back wheels of the car, started to head back toward the curb from which it came.
But the squirrel was injured—badly. Its head was tilted to the right and was sliding on the asphalt. Three of its legs were working, but its left leg was useless, likely pulped along with the left side of its head. Its tail was twitching frenetically, and it was making high-pitched clicking noises.
I swerved to give the squirrel more room to get to the curb. As I passed the squirrel, I looked in the rear-view mirror and saw that it had made a 180-degree turn and was heading back into traffic. At this point, I had to return my attention to the road in front of me. When I glanced back again, I couldn't see the squirrel.
I don't know exactly how it died. If it somehow managed to escape the road without further damage, I'm sure it died fairly quickly from its initial injury.
From first seeing the squirrel dart into the road to the moment when I had already started to think about other things, here's my attempt to capture moment-by-moment what I was thinking:
Idiot animal! Get out of the road!
Will he make it?
How awful, but it's still alive! It's headed for the curb. You can do it!
Why do squirrels always seem to turn back into the road?
God, the thing must be in pain, terrified.
I really should run the thing over to put it out of its misery.
Why do I care about this squirrel? They're basically rats. Why don't I care about rats?
Being sentimental can cause lots of needless pain. It's cruel, cowardly.
Roads are rivers of carnage.
Squirrels have lived in car-infested environments for many squirrel-generations now; you'd think they'd start evolving sharper road-crossing skills. Is evolution that slow?
How can this be funny? Yet there's a latent laugh in me somewhere.
It's slightly disturbing how fascinated I am to watch this injured squirrel in the road.
It's just a random everyday bolt of mayhem and agony. A petty, trite sideshow of pain and death.
I wonder how soon I'll forget about this?
I need coffee.
Look at that: somebody still hasn't scraped-off their "W" bumper-sticker. Idiot!*
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NOTES: Apparently, squirrels developed the 180-degree turn as a maneuver to avoid natural predators, not as a means of avoiding cars. Read more about this behavior and about how autumn is the high season for squirrel road kills here. Here's a recipe for "Squirrel Road Kill Brunswick Stew," which I haven't yet attempted.
* This sentence merely reports a cranky morning thought that passed through my head. Not all George W. Bush supporters are necessarily idiots—a fact I sometimes realize later in the day.