By Montgomery J. Granger
Author of “Saving Grace at Guantanamo Bay: A Memoir of a Citizen Warrior,” and three times mobilized retired U.S Army Reserve Medical Service Corps. Major. Reviews and bio available at http://sbpra.com/montgomeryjgranger/ Blog: http://savinggraceatguantanamobay.com
It’s not as glamorous as it sounds. Road kill is a way of life on the winding, twisting, beautiful country roads of the East End. I travel them daily, and mainly on the back roads to and from Sag Harbor each weekday. My first trip down Noyack Road into the Harbor reminded me of the quaint roads off of California Highway 1, between Big Sur and Santa Cruz. Only there you would see majestic sequoias and redwoods instead of the statuesque pines and cedars that dot and cluster along the North Shore of the South Fork.
When I first started driving out East I was four years removed from my time in Iraq. I found the drive refreshing and relaxing, and reminding me of my early motorcycle riding days. I really love to drive, and it is my preferred method of travel, and Being from Southern California and having a father who was into motorcycles, I grew up on bikes, Yamaha’s mostly. My first bike though was my father’s 1958 German Zundap, a 250cc two stroke project that was a “mountain climber” with lots of torque. The clutch plates were rusted together when he gave it to me, and the inside of the gas tank had rust as well. It took two weeks of nearly constant work to get it running. It was a pleasure to ride as it had great power for such a small engine, and because it was a vintage bike it turned lots of heads, which often started great conversations with pure strangers about bikes and riding and oh, the places we’d been!
It’s not like I hadn’t encountered road kill before. I’d ridden my eventual last bike, a white and red Yamaha Seca 550, from coast-to-coast several times during my college years in the south, riding back to California occasionally on college breaks, and working summer camps in California and New England (now those roads are incredible; like rollercoasters for motorcycles, and very similar to those in Noyack). From raccoons to armadillos to squirrels, jack rabbits, deer and ‘possum; the occasional dog, or cat, and sometimes undetermined dead animals littered the roadways I travelled, like fur and flesh trash on the side of the road, in the middle of the road, all over the road.
What bothers me about the Noyack road kill is the sheer volume of it, at least one or two a day, and sometimes more in the high season. Most of us are desensitized to road kill. We see it, avoid it, and then continue on about our business, quickly pushing the unpleasant images out of our mind lest we actually let the scene sink in and then let it affect our emotions and psyche. Nary a thought to the orphaned little one’s perhaps left behind, or the furry partner of the departed. Nothing we can do about it, right? We’re not going to actually stop, clean it up, and then bury it, or otherwise dispose of it properly. It’s usually a dead wild animal, claimed by natural selection of a modern kind. Right?
In Europe, several countries have constructed eco-bridges. These new leases on life for wild animals, separated from natural migration and feeding grounds by man’s asphalt and concrete intrusions, are large and wide bridges covered with grass, shrubs, trees and other flora, creating an inviting and safe passage over deadly roadways. The perfect solution to road kill, yet discovered on the East End.
In the summer, when the East End transforms into Italy, with its Alpha Romeos, Ferraris, Lamborghinis, and Maseratis, I wonder how many of their bumpers, fenders, grills and windshields contribute to the sometimes multiple road kill I pass by daily? The correlation to the number of road kill victims I see in the summer as opposed to the winter is obviously tied to the weather and the cycle of animal activity. But the large number of automobiles contributes as well; beautiful, expensive, luscious automobiles, with blood stained tires, and splattered guts on the fenders and exhaust pipes.
Ever since the road trips I took in Iraq, back in 2004-2005, from Baghdad to Al Basra and Abu Ghraib and back; from Baquba and Ashraf to Camp Anaconda and back, we NEVER ignored road kill, for road kill could take us with them. Dead goats and donkeys were worst of all. Always alone, and bulging at the belly, they could easily be hiding an improvised explosive device (IED). Even when I was just a Highly Mobile Multi-Wheeled Vehicle (“Humvee”) passenger and not driving, one’s eyes scanned the roadsides ahead with dreadful foreboding, as a method of survival.
A dead animal on the side of the road in Iraq could be hiding an IED, so we noticed everything, coming and going, to and from our Forward Operating Bases, because our lives depended on it. On the East End, your life is potentially only really in danger from road kill if it’s a deer or you swerve to miss something much smaller. Squirrels, ‘coons, ‘possum, and the like, really stand no chance head on, and can’t really harm most vehicles. I have been fortunate up to now not to have contributed to the road kill ranks in the Hamptons, nor ever struck a deer, though, like most of us, I can recall numerous harrowing close encounters with them. Noyack animal victims & suicides aren’t packin’ TNT, C-4 explosives, or wired artillery shells, and that should be a relief, but try telling that to the Iraq side of my brain.
My daily trips on Noyack Road are bitter sweet. I enjoy the summer country rides, taking pleasure in the sweet air, warm breezes and water views peeking through the trees and occasional clearings, but I never pass road kill without noticing. I cringe, and then find myself, even for a brief but terrible moment, back on the dusty burning roads of Iraq, praying the dead carcass doesn’t have an IED in it, with my name on it.