By Morgan Heim
Who are these animals, their lights gone out? What journeys have fallen apart here? —Barry Lopez, Apologia
As the last rays of light licked the hillsides in rural Idaho, I arced around one bend in the highway that I came to call the death trap. In the span of two miles, I passed the bodies of seven animals: two deer, an elk, a badger, coyote, fox, and the massive, bristled body of a porcupine, its quills waving in the wind as I passed.
I, too, have been that driver. A pheasant, a bat, and a juvenile black-tailed prairie dog weigh heavily on my conscience. Hitting these animals almost made me cause accidents of my own, with tears blurring my vision and as I frantically pulled over to the side of the road. Their lives existed one moment and not the next because of me. Here I am, the conservation photographer.
The scale of death caused by roads is almost too much to imagine. The Humane Society of the United States estimates more than a million animals die on our roads each day. Deer alone account for roughly 1.3 million accidents a year and lead to billions of dollars in damages and injury. Researchers have listed wildlife-vehicle collisions to be one of the single, largest human causes of wildlife mortality in the world.
We have put barriers around our eyes and hearts. If we stopped to grieve for all of them, the world would cease to function. But I can’t help but feel I owe these animals something. So I began “A Last Leap Towards Flowers,” a series of fine art portraits of wildlife of all kinds, killed on our roads. Each portrait is made in situ and without manipulation except for the bed of flowers.
I don’t expect the world to stop driving. I have to drive to make the images. Perhaps this project can help, whether it’s to support funding for wildlife crossings or reduced speed zones, or simply to grow empathy.
I know these animals are long gone by the time I photograph them, but I can’t help wanting to give them one last moment of dignity and beauty. “A Last Leap Towards Flowers” began as, and remains, my way of saying “I wish you to have one last moment of light and promise to remember your journey.”
Find more of Morgan Heim’s conservation photography and videography at morganheim.com.