I’m ashamed to admit it: I am now officially an ecoterrorist.

We received the license and registration for the new ATV in the mail this week, so yesterday I finally took the machine out for a nice, long ride. Early into the excursion, I rounded a corner and saw a tiny flash of brown fur dart in front of the quad. I swerved evasively at the same time the little furry thing changed its course, and I couldn’t tell if I’d successfully avoided it. I looked back to check but in so doing veered off course and let my right-side wheels roll into soft, deep snow. The wheels spun, I cranked the bars hard to get back on the trail and gunned the motor. The quad bogged down to a stop, spraying about the mud that was beneath the snow. I sawed on the handlebars and bounced up and down and side-to-side to achieve traction.

No luck, I was stuck.

Since I was stopped anyway, I figured I’d walk back to check on the furry blur I’d seen. I followed my tracks to the last corner I’d taken, and OMIGOD, I killed a squirrel.

The little critter was pressed head down into the snow in the middle of my tire track. As I approached him, I realized his legs were twitching a bit. Oh no- was I going to have to put him out of his misery? Were these just the last spasms of a dying creature?

With my gloved hand, I bent down to gently pick him out of the snow. Now that he had some air, I could see he was actually far from dead. He was certainly not having any of this big evil human picking him up. I set him down before he wiggled completely out of my hand. He scrambled away, but he wasn’t right. He made it about a foot before falling over on his side, breathing hard. My earlier relief at seeing him so feisty had changed to concern, as he was clearly not darting away and up a tree as a healthy squirrel would.

I tried to pick him up again, and again he freaked out and struggled. I set him down and he scrambled a few more inches in a lopsided fashion before stopping again to rest. I thought I wasn’t going to do him much good by picking him up again, so I gently nudged him towards a tree at the edge of the trail. He scrambled and fell over again. He just lay there next to a root, panicked, panting. Awwww, man.

Feeling thoroughly useless, I returned to the quad to see what I could do about getting unstuck. Over the next few minutes, I found a tree to anchor the winch cable and pulled the ATV out of the deep hole I’d dug it into. After I’d gotten the machine back onto a firm surface and finished re-spooling the cable, I went back to see how the little rodent was doing.

He was gone.

I did some rough math this evening to figure how much weight actually ran over him. Because the snow on the trail was soft and the quad’s got fairly fat tires, I figure he probably had about 220 lbs directly on him for an instant, until he was fully pressed into the snow, after which it would be 10lbs as the snow around him was supporting the rest of it. Considering he probably weighs less than 1lb, that still couldn’t have been pleasant.

I don’t know how the little guy’s going to fare in the wild with his injuries. I hope he just needs to rest a bit and maybe nurse some sprains. I wish him luck and apologize profusely for ruining his day.