VIOLA - Driving down a two-lane country highway, I saw up ahead a doe and her fawn standing off to the left. I slowed down and the doe ran across the pavement, but her fawn didn’t follow. I stopped, hoping no cars would race up the small hill on the other side or smack me from behind.
Sitting with the windows down, I silently encouraged the fawn to move across the road. Mama was now in the ditch on the right, watching me. Gingerly, the fawn put its tiny hooves on the road and began tiptoeing across.
To my surprise, when baby had crossed the center line, mama turned and leapt over the fence as gracefully as a world-class ballet dancer. Flawless, agile, and without a trace of effort.
But now baby was alone in the ditch, frantically racing along the barbed-wire fence, first one way, then the other. The anxious baby gave a shrill baaa-bbaaaa, sounding more like a little lamb than a scared spotted fawn.
Mama’s eyes remained on me, even as the baby made its displeasure known more and more loudly while dashing to and fro. Was I a threat? If so, I believe she was ready to defend her baby, even if only with a fake charge and hefty grunt.
Luckily no other cars came by, and what felt like 15 minutes later the fawn found a spot that satisfied her, ran nearly parallel, and whoosh!cleared the top fence wire. Reunited, mama and baby ran away safely, side by side.
Driving on, I thought about that scene and how lucky we are to witness these tense yet tender moments with our area wildlife.
It also reminded me of a day in early spring, when I’d phoned Dane to let him know I was almost at his house and to expect me any minute. As I was giving him my location, I said, “I gotta go, two turtles in the road. Bye,” and hung up hastily. I glanced in the rearview mirror before turning on my right blinker and pulling off the road, then looked back again before opening my door and scurrying out.
The turtle closest to me was my favorite kind, a painted turtle. I picked her up, was thankful when she didn’t pee on me, and set her down in the grass so she could be on her way.
A loud noise made me turn just in time to see a truck barreling toward me, going far too fast for the situation. I waved my arms frantically in a “slow down!” motion while pointing at the turtle that was now almost in the center of the road.
I watched in horror as the truck’s front wheel flattened the young turtle. The driver zoomed on by, throwing a hot rush of dirty wind on my face.
Waving my fist and yelling “You bastard!” seemed small and stupid. But I couldn't get over this person’s carelessness, to not even take his foot off the gas. It was infuriating. A slight shift of his steering wheel and the turtle would have gone on its way.
Later, when I told a girlfriend this story, she pointed out that perhaps the driver hadn’t seen the turtle, and at least I’d been able to save the first one. I nodded and let it go.
Nowadays, as I drive to and from Richland Center three days a week for work, sometimes on Highway 56, other times on Highway 14, in all kinds of weather, I find myself obsessively looking down the road.
Of course, I’m still scouring the countryside for my sandhill crane friends, or for new tiger lilies, or any bright orange butterfly weed, but my eyes keep returning to look ahead on the road itself. What might be there? What critter might be trying to cross? Who may need help?
And it dawned on me: I didn’t let it go. I had acknowledged that maybe the driver of the truck didn’t see the turtle, didn’t see my car pulled off the shoulder of the road, didn’t see me frantically waving both arms to get him to slow down and look. But I don’t think so.
I can see a wormahead on the road in a rainstorm, and move to avoid it.That bastard.