We live near a reservoir which butts up to a beautiful woodland area, packed with wildlife. Although our yard is fenced in, we can see the water from our deck. During the day, the area is filled with pedestrians and their dogs walking the trails. At night, after the college students have sufficiently partied and stumbled home, the air is filled with the sounds of coyotes, frogs… life everywhere.
I have encountered a beaver, muskrat, deer, a couple of blue racers, geese, and many other birds and bugs here. There is a myriad of plant life providing nourishment and shelter to all of these many beings. In our own yard lives a massive oak tree whom we call Velda. She’s a stunner, and she has this undeniable and palpable benevolent presence. I am so grateful for her and to her.
Knowing that trees are connected, I wonder how Velda was affected by the city cutting down another old one last November? I was really upset by this killing. This big beauty was covered in vines and was absolutely teeming with birds in the springtime. I had a great view from my bedroom window, and the cats adored watching the busyness of life occurring on that trunk. I watched as they sawed and took the tree, piece by piece until only a stump remained. Although I wanted to, I couldn’t do anything about it but feel the range of emotions I had. It just seemed so unfair. Then on Thanksgiving Day, workers came and ground the stump into mulch. It was really, really sad. The mulchy remains are still where the tree once stood, now home to some burrowing creature.
Recently, we noticed the dogs getting more excited than normal in the backyard. At first, we weren’t sure what they were after. Often, it’s the regularly visiting fox squirrels causing the stir, but they tend to stay on the deck when chasing those sassy little things. I thought maybe they’d spotted a mouse. The house we live in is really old, with lots of old house issues, and is susceptible to invasions here and there. Just the other night, Henry caught one and brought it into the living room. He promptly dropped it and it got away, so naturally, he and Lumi were hunting all night long and well into the morning. They wore themselves out and didn’t come downstairs all day. Long after they both went to sleep, the little mouse came out from its hiding place and lingered under the window sill behind the vacuum that hadn’t been put away yet. I keep a plastic shoebox of random doodads near my chair. I dumped it out and somehow managed to scoop the little creature up before it could make a run for it. I took it out to the bushes and set it free.
There were other possibilities. Last year, my mom’s dog, Max, attacked a snake. I was able to get her away from him, moving her with a stick to a spot out of his reach, and then I shuffled both dogs inside. I thought she was mortally wounded at first, as a long string of apparent blobs hung from her, but I was wrong. The blobs were tiny, adorable coiled up babies, seemingly fully formed, but still in their sacs and not yet ready for the hard world they were thrust into. None of them survived.
That day, I learned that:
1. some snakes give live birth, such as the garter snake I encountered.
2. baby snakes are really, really cute, and my instinct to “protect baby” was still present even for a reptile (<3).
3. they can spontaneously expel their young when attacked in order to make themselves faster – a sad but potent defense mechanism.
But the commotion this year wasn’t snakes either — it was bunnies.
Max and Clara found a nest under the deck and ousted them from hiding. I am not sure where Mama was, but there were three babies in total. Two survived, having run to Velda. They ran straight to her roots, flattening themselves against her trunk. For the second time that day, I emptied a plastic shoebox of its contents. I held the wild bunnies in my hands only for moments to gently shuttle them closer to their nest under the deck. In shock, they didn’t fight me a bit until it was time to take them out of the box. The dying baby I held to my chest, petting her head as she took her last labored breath.
I buried her near the mulched stump of the old tree where the burrowing creature now lives, and found that the fuzzy discarded shells of magnolia buds everywhere looked, rather serendipitously, like bunny ears.
When things like this happen, we are challenged to find a reason for them. I think it comes down to the fact that wherever life is present, so is death. Springtime, though filled with newness, is often filled with pain as well. We can try to avoid it, but we will fail because it’s inevitable that we will be touched in some way by loss. The animal world knows it well and takes nothing for granted.
It is both a privilege and a hindrance to us to be so tightly bound to our conveniences. So here’s to Nature – the great Mother, the great Teacher, the great Reminder – that death is guaranteed, but not necessarily today, so go and find your joy already. Revel in it. And when you find the sadness at its end, drink that in, too.