Personal Statement: The Goose Incident

Illustration by Megan Mulholland
Illustration by Megan Mulholland Buy this photo

By Taylor Wizner, Daily News Editor
Published September 22, 2013

I must confess: a few weeks ago, I ran over a goose.

It feels cathartic to write, although, I’m pretty sure accidentally killing an animal is not a crime.

It happened on the worst day. I was just driving back from a meeting that I had been terribly late to after getting lost. It wasn’t until I reached the street, adjacent to the lake and only a few blocks away from my home, that I felt at ease. The windows down, a good song on the radio, I was finally relaxed.

So when I reached the bend in the road, and saw the geese blocking the way, I didn’t think twice. There were geese on this road all the time and they usually moved out of the way. I slowed the car and when they started to fly upwards I picked up speed again.

Then, all at once, I hit the goose. The bird’s companions quickly ascended into the sky toward the lake, but this one was at the end of the pack and changed direction. It was slowly flapping its wings toward the median, not the lake, and before I realized, my side of the car collided with the bird, ripping its body beneath me.

When you hit an animal mid-air, you really hit it three times. The first hit is the front of the car, and the next hits are when it rolls underneath each set of tires. The time in-between feels like an eternity; you know its coming and you can’t do anything.

Out of breath, I drove to the next turn around and pulled over. I couldn’t look back but cowardly eyeballed the road to my right where I saw a few black feathers sadly trail away in the wind. My first instinct was paranoia. Someone had seen, and knew, what I did.

I drove to my parents’ house, called my mother and crawled under the covers to cry a little.

People run over animals in the street all the time. I heard something like every second an animal is killed by a moving vehicle.

For example, in Yellowstone National Park, six bears are killed every year from cars crashing into them. That’s more than the number of human fatalities caused by bear attacks, which average to about three each year (in all of North America.).

I’ve been in cars that have run over animals before, and each time it happens I am completely surprised.

One time on a road trip, a girl ran over a raccoon as if it was nothing and kept moving. Afterwards, she explained pensively, “I didn’t see it until it was too late. I couldn’t have swerved.”

I knew it was wrong of me, but I assumed people who hit animals on roads were not alert, or saw the animal and ran it over without a care. In that moment of panic before impact, I figured people still had time to make a choice. Did my friend mean she physically wasn’t able to swerve, or that she wouldn’t because it would have been too dangerous?

That day was like any normal, bright morning. There was no fog, no roadblocks and no curving streets. I had not paused when the bird changed directions. I merely hit the thing and left.

This same summer, I interned at an endangered-species nonprofit in Washington, D.C. I spent over three months studying policy initiatives that would better protect endangered species in North America. I read news reports of hunters in Colorado who shot and killed a gray wolf cub after its federal protections had been cut.

I also had learned how to protect backyard birds that fly into the shiny windows that create the illusion of tree branches. In one meeting I attended, one employee explained how to put up window decals so that the bird can discern the difference between the window and the trees. Afterwards, another employee mentioned how birds die from hitting the window, not so much because of the impact, but because of the stress from not being able to understand where the pain came from. The man noted that you could save the bird by cupping it in your palms or placing it in a small box. The warmth supposedly calms it enough until it can fly away without injuring itself again.

My days interning were filled with unexpected pockets of interesting information. I grew to have much admiration for the animal life around. I even purchased a D.C. bird book so that I might be able to identify some of the species wandering outside my office.

But just a few weeks later, the same mindful driver, the vegetarian and wildlife advocate, ran over a bird without a moment’s hesitation. It was almost too easy.

The event left me with a crisis of conscience. I kept replaying the incident in my head. Why didn’t I swerve? How could I just run the poor, helpless animal over and keep going? I heard the soft ‘thump thump’ over and over.

Things like this happen all the time. They are in your control to stop, but you don’t always stop because of the way we think and the nature of our daily routines. I expected I would not hit the bird. I expected it would fly away.

And I should have for all accounts. The other geese around my bird did fly away. This one just happened to be on that busy road, it happened to be indecisive, a slow flier. It turned left instead of right.

Taylor is an LSA junior.