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McCallum: Wildlife and wet roads

07/02/09 5:55PM By Mary McCallum
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(HOST) Vermont's extended rainy season has commentator Mary McCallum thinking about the different challenges it offers to drivers - and roadside wildlife.

(McCALLUM) Folks from away often ask how we Vermonters get used to the more scary aspects of winter driving. While maneuvering through snow squalls, black ice and freezing rain requires experience and inner calm, Mother Nature also dishes out some warm weather driving challenges.  Think mud.  Think drifting banks of dense fog.  Think FROGS.

Driving down a shiny wet Vermont road at night after warm spring and summer rains is like navigating through a minefield of amphibians.  My headlight beams catch wide-mouthed bullfrogs sitting placidly on the center yellow line.  I see their bulging eyes and I swerve.  More offenders leap elastically from the grassy edges in front of the car while tiny pyramid shaped frogs resembling sharp stones stare unmoving at oncoming tires.  I weave slowly homeward, skirting these hapless travelers while noting the body count of flattened frogs littering the asphalt.

There is a religion in India called Jainism that practices non-violence toward all forms of life, right down to the microscopic.  I have heard that some followers carry small brooms that they use to sweep the tiniest living creatures from the path before their feet fall.  While I'm no Jainist, I do pull over to cross all manner of critters from the road to safety on the other side.  I have hand carried painted turtles, frogs of all sizes, bulky brown toads, and yellow spotted salamanders.  On my walks I pick up delicate newts called red efts that rest like small carvings on the moist dirt roads.

A friend whose focus in life is animal rescue confides that she hits the breaks, executes sudden U-turns, and sprints to save all creatures large and small from oncoming traffic.  In these moments she has a burst of insight about her purpose in life.  "Saving this living thing at this moment is what I was put here on this earth to do," she tells me.
    
There are those who shake their heads and call this behavior eccentric, extremist and futile  But the fact is that wildlife doesn't stand a chance on our roadways.  Frogs, salamanders and turtles on their journey to breed or lay eggs are mowed down.  In high density areas thousands can perish in a single night beneath whizzing cars.

Scientists say that amphibian populations are losing ground, and some believe that roadkill is a real factor.  One study done in 2008 was titled, "Road Kill: Too Many Frogs Croak."  While tongue-in-cheek, the title makes clear the carnage on our highways.

It may seem fruitless for folks like me to continue saving frogs, toads and turtles one by one, but I can't help it.  I agree with Meister Eckhart, a thirteenth century theologian and mystic. He said "Every creature is a word of God."
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