Here and Gone as a Punchline
When I was a child. my family went on the long trips down the highway — trips of 4–7 hours one way were common during the summer — and bugs smashed against our windshield in swarms. Yellow smears of insect guts streamed, painted out by the wind. Some left disturbingly red splatters. My dad bought big gallon jugs of pink bug juice at old garages so the wipers could work off the insects while we drove.
I felt for those bugs. They had risen up from the abundantly wild ditches only to be murdered by our station wagon. We liked to go fast, had a greed for distances, and wanted to dominate time, and we could do it in a machine built to leave us as winners.
I thought about a joke kids told at school:
Q: What’s the last thing that goes through a bug’s mind when it hits your windshield?
A: His butt.
And that was non-human life here and gone as a punchline.
This year I noticed that there are less bugs. Markedly less bugs. I drove 750 km in the middle of summer and had a relatively clean windshield. I even got out to check the front of the car. We used to peel the bodies off the grill with an ice scraper to clean it up after a trip, but there wasn’t much there to see now.
I missed their sticky entrails gumming up my wipers, and I wondered where all of them went. I wanted to think they’d learned about the highway, that they needed to avoid the place above the asphalt with the heat waves, that they’d evolved to avoid collisions, but of course they didn’t.
I miss them, and missing them is terrifying.