Transfixed by the Headlights of the Hurtling Machine

     by Derrick Jensen

When I’m on the road, I always carry a baseball bat in the back of my truck to use each time I see a snake. If the snake is sunning herself, I stop the truck and use the bat to shoo her to safety. Sometimes, if the snake is especially sluggish, I loop her over the bat and carry her out of traffic. If she’s already dead I don’t use the bat at all, but carry her to my truck, then take her to some quiet spot where she can lie to decompose with dignity.

But most often when I stop I have to use the bat not to save the snake but kill her. Too many times I’ve seen them live and writhing with broken backs, flattened vertebrae, even crushed heads.

I hate cars, and what they do. I do not so much mind killing, if there is a purpose; if, for example, I’m going to eat what I kill. But I despise this incidental killing that comes each time a soft and living body happens to be in our way. Such a killing is without purpose, and often even without awareness. I have driven through swarms of mating mayflies, and have seen a windshield turn red blotch by blotch as it strikes engorged mosquitos. I once saw a migration of salamanders destroyed by heavy traffic in a late evening rain. I leapt from my car and ran to carry as many as I could from one side of the road to the other, but for every one I grabbed there were fifty who made it not much further than the first white line.

A couple of years ago someone dropped off a huge white rabbit near my home. Knowing the cruelty of abandoning pets into the wild and the stupidity of introducing exotics did not lessen my enjoyment of watching him cavort with the local cottontails a third his size. But I often worried. If at one hundred yards I could easily pick him out from among the jumbled rocks that were his home, how much more easily would he be seen by coyotes or hawks? Each time I saw him I was surprised anew at his capacity to live in the wild.

I needn’t have worried about predators. One day I walked to get my mail, and saw him dead and stiff in the center of the road. I was saddened, and as I carried him away to where he could at last be eaten by coyotes, I considered my shock of recognition at his death. I had, as I believe happens constantly in our culture–in our time of the final grinding away at what shreds of ecological integrity still remain intact–been fearing precisely the wrong thing. I had been fearing a natural death. But in one way or another, most of us living today–human and nonhuman alike–will not die the natural death that has been the birthright of every being since life began. Instead we will find ourselves struck down–like the rabbit, like the snakes, like the cat whose skull I had to crush after his spine was severed by the shiny fender of a speeding car–incidental victims of the modern, industrial, mechanical economy. This is no less true for the starving billions of humans than it is for the salmon incidentally ground up in the turbines of dams, and no less true for those who die of chemically-induced cancers than it is for the mayflies I killed by the thousands, blithely driving from one place to another.

All of us today stand as if transfixed by the headlights of the hurtling machine that inevitably will destroy us and all others in its path. Oh, we move slightly to the left or slightly to the right, but I think, as I carefully place the rabbit in a tufted hollow at the base of a tree, that even to the last, most of us have no idea what it is that’s killing us.

Originally published in the September/October 1998 issue of “The Road-RIPorter.”  Republished in the January-March 2007 issue of “Carbusters.”

8 thoughts on “Transfixed by the Headlights of the Hurtling Machine”

  1. I stop and gently remove the remains to a quiet place in the woods.i say how sorry i am for this to have happened.i cant let the bodies be further desacrated.in sorrow i imagine the last moments or minutes or hours of the innocent.

  2. Until recently i felt something was wrong with me for feeling sad and sick about so much senseless death,how angry i felt about people and cars….since ive read the myth of human supremacy and am now reading deep green resistance,and prof gary francione i dont feel so helpless,alone and confused.
    Thank you lirre keith,derrick jensen,prof.gary francione for showing me the way.
    Colleen tearle XO

  3. Glad to hear. I have long stopped for snakes, both alive and dead. The already dead or immobilized to get their bodies off the rd so scavengers don’t also get hit. The alive ones, especially the venomous (rattlesnakes in the west of NA) cuz they are so important to the ecosystem, and because many drivers will deliberately run over a snake, esp a rattler.

  4. Picking up squirrels mostly.it is strange to me that human animals disregard the lives of nonhuman animals….shamefully i have to say that as a child i was deeply affected by deaths of nonhumans,and somewhere along the way i became desensitized and lost my connection with lives nonhuman and finaly with my own species.ridiculed for being over sensative,angry at being bullied i became hard and selfish.i lost my way and now that ive come back i see….all the time wasted,all the opportunities to be compassionate unrecognized…..Jason,i have always loved snakes and lizzards and frogs,since i was little.my neighbors demonize skunks.they set traps for them from spring through fall and it is perfectly legal fot them to do so.i do my best to spray prediter urine and get out early in the am and release them.ive been threatened with tresspass althoug no one has called the police yet.i called wild life people,conservation people and they just want to know if the animals are being freed elsewhere,you see,its illegal to,move them,they must be destroyed.we are bordered by conservation land….ironicly that is why we have so many nonhumans here to begin with.these people poison their lawns with round up to kill grubs,they have landscapers do most of the yard work and they have the right as property owners to exterminate these “nuisance animals”.on line nuisance animal removal calls them pests as in racoons are destructive and we can remove these pests etc….using the word pest as a stand in for the actual name of the species.its a case of human animals creating a subhuman catagory for all these other non human animals so they can justify their destruction and the destruction of thier homes so they can have a fucking lawn and it makes sense to them.unqustioned belief in their supremacy and rights no matter the suffering or the cost to others.what they fail to see is that ultimately they destroy the future of all of us.
    Im off on a tear here.so,what do i do now? Ranting may feel better but ultimately it changes nothing.i WILL find a path of direct action and i hope it is the last thing i do.i owe…..this is a miniscule bit of the injustice perpetrated on the wild world.i have lived a life of priviledge not even knowing it.so, i owe….okay thats all for now.
    Peace and love

  5. I remember hearing a person on radio who said that his wife who is Native American, always stops at the place of an animal killed in the road and does a ritual. I have thought about that over many years every time I pass a dead animal in the road. I say a little thought/prayer that their suffering was brief, and that they are in a better place.

  6. Ive lost count of nonhuman persons ive witnessed in death.among them have been a little baby raccoon,still warm on a morning,yesterday a small fisher cat,possums,sguirrels,large raccoons…..now they are advertising a coyote hunt,prizes for most and biggest,come on,i live on cape cod.its like shooting fish in a barrel.going out to destroy a blind today….i cant stop them but i can make them pay…..

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