My tires rolled over a body as flat as a smashed coke can.
My neck craned, my nose crinkled, my eyes stared at a wrung rag of fur. An opossum. The lower edges of my eyelids began to prickle.
“Sad” suddenly turned into “mad.” You see, I had just spent years writing a book about roadkill. Everyday over a million animals lose their lives on the roads. I had been overwhelmed by the tragedy of it but also amazed at how scientists aren’t wasting those bodies. They scooped them up and made discoveries—squirmy parasites that are invading snake lungs, a new perspective on red wolf genetics, and the existence of contagious cancer.
Even more inspiring were the phenomenal efforts to prevent roadkill. Bridges are built for wildlife – they can now trot right over roads. Legions of volunteers serve as crossing guards, allowing cute little salamanders to make it across the pavement during breeding season. Citizens click pics to map where there are roadkill hot spots.
But there was no bridge built for this little possum. No group standing guard. No nobody. That April morning, I still didn’t know what to do when I saw a little guy like that.
Staring down at him, I recalled two other possums who lost their life on that stretch of road. This was a hot spot for possums. Why here? I glanced around. A lidless trash can gave me a wide-eyed stare.
A pizza box, a juice can, a clear baggie with a half-eaten strawberry—stuff spewed across the ground.
For years I’d been passing that trash can on my dog’s morning walk. I’d never made the connection. That trashy smell?
Like fresh-baked brownies to an opossum.
That gooey wrapper flapping against a fence post?
Like a fast food sign: Open! Open! Open!
Now, don’t get me wrong, I wasn’t blaming my neighbors. How were they to realize the impact of their lidless can? I had been studying roadkill for years and had just now put two and two together.
I pedaled faster, eager to get away from that sad spot.
All day images of that little possum kept bubbling up in my mind. Late in the afternoon some words bubbled up, “Knowledge is power.”
Then it hit me. I’d given years of my life researching a book about the tragedy of roadkill. To write Something Rotten, A Fresh Look at Roadkill, I had gathered knowledge from across the globe. But in doing all of that, I hadn’t followed one simple rule:
Think globally, act locally.
Simple acts save lives: picking up litter, driving slower, removing a rabbit’s body off the road. Every day, everyone can save an animal’s life.
I could save an animal’s life.
So with a trash bag in hand, I marched myself out my driveway and shared this story with my neighbor.
Heather L. Montgomery writes for kids who are wild about animals. An award-winning educator, Heather uses yuck appeal to engage young minds. She has authored over a dozen nonfiction books, including Bugs Don’t Hug and Unsolved Mysteries of Nature. Explore all of her titles at www.HeatherLMontgomery.com