Near home it’s squirrels. Even on the rough-pocketed side streets, it’s squirrels, and often with the crows pecking at the corpse. “I have a theory,” I tell Kris. “I think the crows raise the squirrels. They nurture them. They bring them to fatness. Then, when they’re good and ready, they herd the squirrels into traffic. Squirrel is a delicacy for crows. That’s my theory.”
Sometimes it’s cats, too, but not very often. Cats are generally smarter than that. They don’t freeze in the face of oncoming traffic the way a squirrel does. Cats get it when they’re making some mad dash across traffic. They’re too cocky about their speed and agility, and they don’t quite make it.
There aren’t many cats around our place, but once you get toward Canby, it’s the cats for sure. Just on the bluff, near the fruit stand and the trailer park, that’s where you start to see them. And then down toward the Foursquare Church, and certainly after driving through town, heading out into the country again. The cats hit me in the gut. “That was somebody’s pet,” I think. “That was Toto or Simon or Nemo.”
But once you get through town, it’s more than the cats. Mostly it’s skunks and coons, depending on the time of year. It used to be the possums, but frankly I don’t see them much anymore. But I see the skunks and the coons. The coons make me sad — though not like the cats — because I think of them as smart. It makes me sadder still when it’s not one coon, but two, as it sometimes is. Sometimes it’s one coon in the middle of the road and one coon at the side. “Husband and wife?” I wonder. “Do coons mate for life?”
Today, at the bottom of Good’s Bridge, it was a deer, lumped in the middle of the road. I came upon it fast in the melting light, and at first I thought it was a body. A human body. But it was a deer, a small doe, slumped and bleeding from the head. It was in the center of the road, which is a good thing, because otherwise maybe it would have been human bodies, too, and twisted metal and shattered glass.
It was a deer at almost the precise spot where a week ago it had been a horse. I didn’t know it was a horse. I drove past in the morning, and it was a mound on the side of the road, like a pile of barkdust maybe, or a pile of dirt. It was covered in some crazy-quilt blanket, and I thought, “That’s odd.” But I didn’t know it was a horse until Nick got to work and said, “Did you see the horse?” “What horse?” I said. “The one at the bottom of Good’s Bridge,” he said, and then I knew it wasn’t a pile of barkdust or a pile of dirt.
But you know what it never is? It’s never dogs. I don’t get that. It must be dogs sometimes — I hit a dog once. But why isn’t it ever dogs on the road? Do people pull them off? Maybe they’re just not let loose outside like they used to be.
About a month ago, I drove from Custom Box to Sandy, by way of Estacada. Turning off the highway, heading up the hill toward Sandy, traffic had slowed to a crawl. “What gives?” I wondered, but then I saw: up ahead two dogs — a silky Golden Retriever and some little mixed mutt — were strolling down the middle of the road, following the striped line. It was like they were out for a pleasant walk after lunch. The Golden Retriever walked evenly, following the striped line; the little mixed mutt orbited around it. Traffic in my lane crawled along behind. Oncoming traffic came barreling around a blind corner to halt abruptly and then creep past the pair. That’s how it went: a car came barreling around the blind corner, and I held my breath because I was sure one of the dogs would get it, but the car would brake hard, stop, and then creep past. The dogs didn’t care. Traffic followed the dogs for a quarter mile before the pair found a side street they preferred and ambled off to find whatever it is they were looking for.
I wonder why it’s never dogs.