Leaving the canyon this morning to have coffee with Lisa B. and Joe, I felt light hearted, eager to engage in interesting conversation with old friends who happen to be writers. Winding right, winding left, Marianne Williamson’s audio book, A Return to Love, streaming through the stereo of my KIA Soul, I focused on the road ahead and noticed a tan carcass in the opposite lane. Too small to be a coyote, too big to be a rabbit, I feared it was the desert kit fox I’d seen a few weeks prior.
Late one night I had been driving home, looking for glaring red eyes. This has become a habit of mine ever since I moved into SandCanyon a few years ago, partly for fear of a deer jumping in front of my car and partly because I love being surprised by the sight of a wild animal, even if only in the dark. That night, I was pleasantly surprised when, in plain view a desert kit fox, its tent-like ears standing at attention, fluffy, straight as an arrow tail, fused to its body. It was not unusual to see the retinal glare of a coyote, bobcat or deer but this fox was a first. I was delighted to have seen it and relieved that it did not run in my direction.
To see what remained of the fox crushed on the pavement made my stomach sink and my face feel heavy. I sighed and thought about the poor pulverized creature for the rest of the drive.
I sipped tea with Lisa and Joe, laughed, relayed stories about our families and what was, what is and what will be.
On my way home, as I entered the canyon, I felt a tug to stop when I neared the fox. Here I go again. I must be nuts, I thought. I mean, who stops to look at road kill? Well—me. I confess, I’d done it before, several times actually. There was the completely intact coyote which Jacob and I stopped to study a couple of years ago. He took a tooth home. What boy wouldn’t want a genuine coyote canine? I soaked it in bleach and it sits proudly on a small shelf in his room along with a collection of bones. You see, to Jacob, who nearly died at the age of six and lives with the reality of his deceased brother every day, death is not some far off thing. It is part of his young reality and thus far, he shows no fear of it.
Once, he begged me to stop at the sight of a dead bobcat. Its tail lifted from the concrete when the car ahead of us zoomed by which is how I first noticed it on the shoulder of The Old Road. I stopped the car, we got out, bag in gloved hand, and we took home a leg. I can’t believe I’m confessing to this, but that too, I bleached. Jacob wanted to reassemble the bones. You see, he and I have this thing about dead things. We are not afraid to see what death looks like. I suppose when you have almost died yourself death isn’t that scary. Moreover, there is something thrilling about seeing wild animals actually in the wild, even if their dead.
We study the details; the teeth (when can you open the mouth of a bobcat?); the color variations and texture of the fur (so much softer than you’d expect); the pads of their paws (who knows where they have been?).
Plus, there is this feeling of ingratitude to just drive by, especially when the animal is the size of my pet. My dog, Poochini, a nine pound Papillion, reminds me of a fox. I call him foxy quite often. So, stopping to see this wild canine was my way of paying tribute to a life not so distant from my own; a sort of relative.
As I approached the carcass on the tight two lane road, it occurred to me that this may not be the smartest thing I’d ever done. A pickup truck came from behind me, I stepped deep into the shoulder of the road, watched it pass and swerve to avoid running over the dead fox. I’d never seen anyone do that for a dead squirrel, a daily sight on this road. As I walked on, another truck came from behind, this one was bigger and more diesel sounding and it too crossed the double yellow line and swerved to avoid the already mutilated animal. This behavior interested me as crossing the double yellow line always seems so dangerous to me. Why take the risk? Which made me wonder: Why do we avoid dead things? Is it out of respect for the body? Out of our innate desire to prevent further damage? Fear of bloodying our own vehicle?
Whatever the reason, I continued walking toward the mess only to discover, it was beautiful.
The sand colored, slightly reddish under side of the fur, the shades of grey, striations of white separating the colors and the black tipped ears. Its sculpted face, petite, chiseled, perfection, only not any more. Now, it was crushed, tiny teeth splayed in incongruous directions. Internal organs no longer internal, I dragged the fox by its luxurious tail and apologized for the indignity as I did so. I gently slid the body to the side of the road where it can decay on the soft soil in peace, no longer a threat to on coming cars carrying unsuspecting passengers driven by those willing to cross double lines.