The roadkill is gone from Danville Boulevard: the unintended good consequences of the coronavirus.
For as long as I have lived in Alamo, CA, but especially so the last ten years, I have always noticed the ungodly amount of roadkill on Danville Boulevard. Deer and fawn, raccoon families, coyotes, even a turtle, and hundreds of squirrels — all reduced to red spaghetti-like smears on black asphalt. It’s a harrowing sight — death. The final agonized mouth agape is tragically common to all natural beings it seems.
The two lane road spans some 20 miles between Walnut Creek and Pleasanton, changing names in Dublin to San Ramon Valley Blvd. To the west is the Las Trampas hill range and to the east are a mix of open space and urban development in the shadow of Mt. Diablo. It’s not hard to imagine a time when animals and indigenous people would have roamed a roadless landscape free of mechanical predators. The Boulevard was built in the early 1900’s after the Southern Pacific railway stop in Danville led to the town’s boom. And by the standards of those times, “boom” meant the human population doubled to nearly 5000 by 1950. Today the city has over 40,000 residents, sandwiched by other East Bay cities with as many or more people. Everyone trying to cram their vehicles and point them in some direction towards occupations in San Francisco and Silicon Valley. The history and numbers are trivial, if not useless. The reality is humans and cars have had a significant impact on Nature here. But now, amidst the coronavirus driven human hibernation, Nature is making a come back.
It’s been just a few weeks since the coronavirus pandemic hit California and the shelter-in-place orders were issued. But just days into this new, yet old, way of living the changes are detectable and welcomed. The sound of traffic on I-680 is almost gone, and so are the news helicopters that would hover incessantly to monitor it. The morning bumper to bumper that clogged Danville boulevard like the occluded arteries of many of its travelers, also gone. Gone too are the aggravated drivers, the angry faces and gestures, and the distracted ones — caught up in their devices in the name of “work.”
You can hear silence again.
I used to rarely hear birds chirping from my backyard. Now, as I write this under the plum tree, the birds are all I hear. The honk of innocent geese soaring in the air above is pleasant and has replaced truckers blaring their air horns. I hear kids in the street, playing at a safe distance from each other, and neighbors walking dogs talking to other neighbors doing the same. Danville Boulevard is empty in both directions at almost all hours of the day now. Some say it’s eerie — nah, it’s a relief. I can ride my bicycle without worry of being ran-over, as many of my friends have unfortunately experienced. I can send my daughter to the Iron Horse Trail, to pet the horses, without having to nervously watch her cross the road.
Two mallards, a mating pair in all likelihood, have been sitting all week on the brushy shoulder of the road. Today they are on the other side doing the same. Nothing un-natural threatens them.
While many agonize over the economic impacts of the pandemic, Nature is experiencing a bull market. She is breathing again in the loosening of the stranglehold man’s “civilization” has had on her for centuries. The effect is everywhere too. In China and India the skies have cleared from their perpetual asphyxiation; in Venice the canals are blue and dolphins have returned; and in India the Spotted Civit cat has been seen wandering the streets of Calcutta for the first time in over 30 years.
Emerson eloquently described these existential self-leveling effects of Nature:
“If the gatherer gathers too much, nature takes out of the man what she puts into his chest; swells the estate, but kills the owner. Nature hates monopolies and exceptions. The waves of the sea do not more speedily seek a level from their loftiest tossing, than the varieties of condition tend to equalize themselves.”
The pandemic of our times of course poses real hardships for us, and it is human nature to aim to resolve them. But there is good, for nothing in Nature is inherently and permanently bad. Even the coronavirus has an upside — allowing Nature to balance her books. While it may be unavoidable for us to dwell on the damage to our financial economy, we ought to rejoice in the resurgence of the Natural economy for it is sure to pay us dividends in due course.