Signs of Spring: The Slaughter

It rained last night, an observation that would have slipped my mind as readily as dreams do, if not for driving into town for a late morning breakfast. On the hundred yard stretch of road between the old reservoir and the field that fills up like a bathtub during flooding downpours, there lay dozens of long dark smears like oil stains on the pavement. Instantly, I felt pangs of loathing and grief, for I knew what had happened. The toads had come out of the field grasses to be slaughtered under tires like World War One trench soldiers on their annual migration to their mating waters. These spring rains set loose our delicate amphibians newly thawed from hibernation by the thousands in an amazing march—or hop, or crawl, or wiggle—that I’ve learned to watch for in the past few years. Last spring, when I recognized this tragedy for the first time on the road I walk daily for exercise, I felt depths of grief that seemed far out of proportion to the roadkill at hand. I attributed it to the loss of my ex-wife, still a dear friend, to suicide the previous autumn. Gradually, I’d coped with the sadnesses brought on by memories of her, but this wanton slaughter had released a fresh, hopeless rage. Now it was happening again, apparently an inevitable rite of spring. On my walk this evening, compelled to bear witness, I counted 209 dark smears, many with bodies flattened like dark brown leather yet patterned with discernible legs. I don’t do well at hating humanity. (Coincidently, I’ve been reading the Austrian novelist, Thomas Bernhard, who does.) But this tragedy stabs at my faith in us as a forgivable species. Those poor toads lie pasted to pavement thin as cardboard. We poor fools drive on without noticing. How much we destroy, pretending to innocence behind our windshield wipers and headlights leading us home safely for the night.

(Written 4-12-11)

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