Flat ‘jacks’ and squished critters

I recently saw something that brought back a few unusual memories of things that used to be relatively common, but now not so much: I’m talking about road-kill and how the nature of it changes over time and from place to place.

jackrabbitWhen I was growing up in Utah in the 1950s and 60s, and occasionally traveled throughout the Intermountain West, it was very common to see lots of road-kill on highways — usually jackrabbits…and depending on how busy the road was, before long the unfortunate jacks would be totally flattened.

In fact, in driving across parts of the Great Basin at night it wasn’t unusual for many cars to hit a couple: You’d be going along and, all of a sudden, there’d be a thump, and if you hadn’t actually seen the thing, that’s how you knew you’d nailed it. Apparently, car lights would dazzle or hypnotize the creatures so they wouldn’t even get out of the way. Some stretches of highway were covered with such flattened, furry reminders.

Hitting any critter much bigger than a jackrabbit could do serious damage to a car, and I consider myself fortunate to have narrowly missed, for example, a bobcat that darted across the road one snowy night near Park City, Utah, that scared the heck out of us as jamming on the brakes put the car into an icy slide, as well as a deer one night that bounded in front of our pickup truck near Price, Utah.

I also remember one morning years ago I had just come out of the Wilson Tunnel and was driving down the Likelike Highway toward Kaneohe. I was suddenly shocked and caught off-guard when a big dog jumped over the median barrier and ran right in front of my car. There was no way I could avoid hitting it. The dog tumbled down the highway as I braked, and then scrambled up and darted into the banana patch. I felt terrible…that is, until I had a chance to see that hitting the dog did a fair amount of damage to the fender of my relatively new Honda Accord. Then I was upset at whoever would let their dog run around up there. Over the years I’ve also seen road-kill deer and other larger animals…and I can just imagine what those impacts must have been like. In fact, I remember my dad telling me how people had been killed when their cars hit cows.

Now days, I’m not sure if there are far fewer jackrabbits, or if today’s interstate highways discourage them from crossing the road…but in my occasional travels to the U.S. mainland I no longer notice many “flat-jacks,” however, I recall seeing a couple of smooshed porcupines near Bryce Canyon.

Flash back to the time I was a Mormon missionary in 1965 on the island of Tutuila, American Samoa: There were tons of big toads all over the island. I think it was one of those biological experiments gone bad, where someone thought the toads would eat mosquitoes. Maybe they did, but I doubt if anyone foresaw the total mess they made when they’d get squished in the road every day — especially after a good rain, and it rained a lot in Tutuila. It was so gross having to walk along such roads, sidestepping the squished toads which, of course, smelled rank and looked worse until they finally dried up…and, unlike the “thump” of hitting jackrabbits, the toads would literally “pop.”

There were also quite a few “bufo frogs” or toads in Hawaii in those days and, likewise, the streets of Laie would occasionally be covered with their messy remains. I’m glad to say we don’t see that any more over here…or, at least, I can’t remember the last time I did.

Of course, the type of animals falling victime to road-kill changes depending on the location, so it shouldn’t have surprised Sally and I when we saw a couple of big, dead kangaroos on the side of the highways in Australia…but it did. They even have road signs there indicating people should watch out for for the kangas.

Today, whenever I see road-kill on Oahu — especially cats and dogs (not so much the wild chickens) — I feel sorry for the animals. I feel sorry for the people who hit them: For example, I always feel bad when my car hits a bird, and if you’re like me, even though it didn’t do any good, I always duck the micro-second before impact. I also feel sorry for the owners who lose pets this way…and also a little upset they didn’t take better care of them.

But for the life of me, I can’t imagine why all those poor, squished mongooses we still see around here just had to scurry across the road right in front of all those cars and trucks.

— Originally published September 1, 2009


  1. About 10 years ago my friend created a lot of roadkill traveling across the states. The 1st jackrabbit he hit, he stopped and got out. The second one he hit caused him some anxiety. After the 4th or 5th one, he started to get used to it.
    When I went to live on Oahu in 1971, my friend and I stayed with some people in Wahiawa. When we arrived home from the beach at dusk, there were toads all over the front lawn. It kinda creeped me out walking past them up to the front door.
    Some memories like that from so long ago almost seem like fiction. Seems so weird.
    I also remember the sounds of crickets buzzing along the side of the road out in the country there. We would be riding in the back of the truck sharing a loaf of Hawaiian bread. Good memory.

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