Magazine article New Statesman (1996)

All Creaturely, Great and Small

Magazine article New Statesman (1996)

All Creaturely, Great and Small

Article excerpt

In 1989, Barry Lopez wrote a short book called Apologia, in which he described the ritual he had gradually developed of stopping for animals he found dead on the road and removing them, gently and with great care, to the safety of the verge.

To each dead creature he encountered, Lopez offered a few words of apology, something akin to a prayer, not only as "a mark of respect", but also as "a technique of awareness"--and, as any serious practitioner of religion will readily confirm, the end purpose of ritual is exactly this heightened awareness, in which the imagination is freed to reconnect with something larger than its usual concerns and, by so doing, to remember its moral and aesthetic responsibilities to the creaturely. There are those who will dismiss Lopez's ritual as a futile or romantic gesture but, to me, it is meaningful in several ways.

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First, on a practical level, to remove new roadkill from the path of future traffic is to help prevent further deaths: all too often, roadkill leads to roadkill as scavengers are struck down by high-speed vehicles while working the remains of the original victim. More importantly, however, it reminds us that, as Robert Louis Stevenson remarked in a letter to his friend Sidney Colvin: "It is the proof of intelligence, the proof of not being a barbarian, to be able to enter into something outside of oneself, something that does not touch one's next neighbour in the city omnibus."

To handle another animal in this way is to reassert one's own, usually concealed bond with the creaturely. Because such handling demands tact and real tenderness, it becomes a highly charged event, an assumption of responsibility and a declaration not of guilt, which is something else, but penitence.

Compare Lopez's Apologia with the Roadkill Bingo game, in which, as the name suggests, players score by spotting dead animals on the toad and ticking them off on a bingo card, the winner being the first to get five different animals in one row or column. …

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