Want to play Chicken?

Living in the countryside is not all joy. One thing I’ve had to come to terms with is the degree of roadkill, most of which are pheasants. Trust me, they are not the brightest of creatures. A friend once hit one and rang to tell me the accident had killed the car’s radiator and decapitated the bird. Said friend stressed his unhappiness. My reply was, “I’m sure the bird wasn’t too happy either.”

At the time I didn’t understand how they ‘pop out’ onto the road. It’s amazing and heart-stopping. Blink and you’d miss it, might not even know you’d hit something or what. If you make eye contact, the bird blinks back and ignores the tonnage of metal bearing down on it as if its never been startled and has the assurance of immortality the like of which humans only dream.

Yes, I’ve visited the countryside many times, but when it’s a holiday, we choose the best of weathers; maybe we never came when there were many pheasants about, or maybe we never stayed where they were so prevalent. In one small stretch of road a few weeks ago we counted at least 10 dead pheasants, all recently killed. While I believe many drivers need to slow down and stop over-taking (particularly on blind spots — I never realised how dangerous driving in the countryside can be, road-wise, until living here), there are moments when killing an innocent animal going about its business cannot be avoided, of course. This happens in towns, but it’s the sheer number of dead things we’ve seen that’s eye-opening. We slowed for a pheasant the other week and had drivers staring at us as if to ask why. My question is, why not? Accidents happen but if we can avoid an animal without danger to ourselves or anyone else, we will. It’s called compassion and respect, a thing lacking in all society. Quite a few pheasants owe their continued existence to my husband’s keen driving. The closest we’ve come was to push one along as it tried at the last second to fly away. We stopped; it continued across the road…though I’d be surprised if it didn’t have a bruise or two.

As for the tradition of the Boxing Day hunt, we’re told by laughing locals that’s an excuse for those who take part to have an annual ‘p***-up’. Before anyone objects and contacts me to dispute this or in anger, these are not my words but the words of those whom I don’t know, have lived here far longer than I have and were likely even born here. Doesn’t throw a better light on the hunt even if it alters perspective. I’m also informed by these same folks that the ‘rule’ with pheasants is if you do run one over, you can’t stop and go back to pick it up, but the person behind can have it. I’m guessing this is to stop people running them down on purpose.

And as for altering viewpoints, let’s link back to the friend and the radiator.To those who are in so much of a hurry that the risk of hitting a wild animal doesn’t make the driver take it just a little bit slower…the damage and expense to the car proved extensive; all because of a pheasant. Imagine what the damage could be if it were a deer. Might be an accident from which nothing walks away. Now does anyone want to play chicken?