This Spring, I created a walking path that wends through the trees and brush on my one-acre lot…leading towards the woods. One day, I happened upon an Eastern Box Turtle (Terrapene carolina carolina), who was laboriously scuttling across the path.
This turtle is a ‘land turtle’, and can live to be over 100 years old…so he may be around here longer than me…if he doesn’t succumb to his most dangerous predator…the automobile. I carefully picked him up to get a better look.
His plastron (the bottom part of a turtle’s shell), is hinged…allowing the turtle to completely enclose itself for protection, after pulling in its head and legs. The conservation status of the Eastern Box Turtle is threatened and vulnerable…so this one is free to roam my trail whenever he likes.
Seeing this turtle set me to thinking what other wildlife might be in the area. So…I bought a trail cam and attached it to one of the trees along the path. It has a motion sensor, and can take pictures when it’s dark outside, using a night vision flash. After it was in place for about a week, I removed the SIM memory card and plugged it into my computer to see if I caught anything. My first victim was a small White-tailed deer (Odocoileus virginianus)…a doe to be exact.
This morning, I again retrieved the SIM card to see if I bagged anything else during the week. While I was looking at the pictures…this next one startled me. A rather sinister-looking creature was evidently lurking about in the wee hours of the morning. I’m not sure what the range of the fabled Kentucky Hellhound is…but I’m hoping it hasn’t expanded into these parts.
Early this morning…sitting by an open window in the living room…everything outside was shrouded in dense fog. I was being kept company by the sounds of a solemn procession making its way overhead…the subdued and muffled whining and whirring of airplanes as they carefully made their approach into the Queen City to the north. Hundreds of people passing unsuspectingly over the silence and stillness below them.
As I quietly read my book, another procession took place right outside my window. A steady stream of ruby-throated hummingbirds made their way to the feeder that’s hanging out on the porch. When one finished topping off its tanks on the sweet red nectar…another arrived to take its place. While reading, I didn’t even have to look up to know they had arrived. I could sense their presence just by the humming of their speedy wings…a sound more akin to that of a very large bumble bee.
The feeder has three access ports, disguised as tiny, yellow five-petalled flowers. But, they all draw from the same reservoir that holds the red, sugary substance that the hummers love so much. So, I find it amusing that when each bird visits the feeder, they have to visit each of the three flowers in succession. Since I happened to be reading this morning about different spiritual paths, the birds’ behavior at the feeder seemed an apt metaphor for our own perception that, although we may see our own path as distinctly different from that of others, there is at the heart of each, an underlying unity and commonality.
At one point…taking a break from my reading…I looked out at the feeder, and was met with a very strange sight, something I’d not seen before. There was a solitary hummingbird perched atop the metal support from which the feeder was suspended. Its wings were completely still…its head and long beak moving from side to side in apparent nervousness. Slowly getting up to take a look outside, I noticed a flash of reddish-brown amongst the grasses and shrubs. There was a very tiny deer nibbling on some leafy greens. It was a fawn still speckled with spots…and seemingly all legs. Then I noticed two more deer…yearlings from the look of them. Out of the corner of my eye I saw still more movement by the edge of the woods. It was a mature doe standing guard…mother keeping an eye on the youngsters. The yearlings grazed on grass and foliage for a good twenty minutes. While its older siblings were eating, the little fawn leaped and pranced about, immensely enjoying itself on this fine misty Carolina morning. After a while…at Mom’s beckoning…they all darted off into the woods…but leaving me with a joyful sense of the sheer exhuberance of life…and gratitude for this brief early morning visit.
What would the world be, once bereft
Of wet and wildness? Let them be left,
Oh let them be left, wildness and wet;
Long live the weeds and the wilderness yet.
~Gerard Manley Hopkins
A steady, cool rain this morning in the Carolinas. Gray skies above…but all below is cloaked in spring green and wetness. Birds are singing, nonetheless. The soft coos of the mourning dove…the mysterious flute-like tones of the thrush emanating from some nonspecific location in the woods…the white-throated sparrow, sadly elegizing old Sam Peabody. The blue flag Irises just barely containing themselves…waiting expectantly for the warm rays of the sun to help them burst forth and contribute to the splendor of the world.
Then there is Esmeralda, the reddish-brown feral chicken, with her new suitor who arrived on the scene this week, a black and white rooster (who I’ve since named ‘Q’). They’ve been inseparable…as they wander about in the drizzle foraging for their sustenance…Q occasionally stopping in his tracks…flapping his wings…and then belting out his cock-a-doodle-doo, ostensibly warning off any would-be rivals.
Greenness…wetness…grayness…birds…flowers…all playing their part in ushering in the season.
It was a cool Sunday morning…following on the heels of a very sunny and warm Saturday. Not many more of these before the hot, humid air takes over. Last night, I was surprised. Sitting in the living room…in the dark…with the windows open wide…I noticed a brief flash of light outside down near the road. Too early, I thought…fireflies are my sure sign of Summer. But, this is April…surely they’re not yet out and about. As I stared into the blackness…I saw another…and yet another. Flickering on and then off…silently teleporting to a new location before repeating their cold, luminous signals to each other…gliding among the trees and shrubs. I can’t remember them appearing so early in the year…usually late May or early June. Lights peeping out of the darkness…maybe a sign of some sort?
This morning, I grabbed my walking stick and set out down the road for a walk. My destination was the creek that crosses the road about a half-mile from my house. It was still early, and the sun was slanting through the trees, highlighting dogwoods and red buds in full bloom. Birds were singing everywhere…all seemed to be right with the world on this beautiful Spring morning. My spirits were lifted.
When I arrived at the creek, the water was slowly meandering through its channel. I stopped for a while, peering into the woods along the creek, perhaps hoping to see some wildlife. I then crossed over to the other side of the road to look upstream. When I looked down, I saw something that momentarily took my breath away. Five or six feet below me… was a large white dog laying in the creek bed, its head partially submerged in the running water. There was a large blackish bruise on its hindquarters. Perhaps having been hit by a car on the highway, she had wandered off…dazed… into the woods? There was no collar with identification…nothing to link her to the outside world. I wondered what her life had been like…
When Belle, my Pomeranian, died several weeks ago, the animal hospital sent a little sympathy card that spoke of a Rainbow Bridge…a mythical place where deceased pets finally meet up with their loving owners, when they, too, pass on. It’s a nice thought…and it brings a smile to your face when you need it the most.
As I trudged the half-mile back to the house this morning…the wind suddenly taken out of me…I wondered, is there a Rainbow Bridge in store for this poor, nameless soul that ended up alone in the woods? I find myself these days in a borderland, half-way between civilization and the wild…just a mile of dirt-gravel road separating the two…a tiny remnant of what once covered this entire continent. And whether it’s pondering the one or two week life span of a firefly…or the lonely demise of a dog in the woods…or the strange nocturnal song of an owl…I’m grateful…just for being here in the first place…being a witness to something I don’t yet quite understand.
In her book, Loving What Is, Byron Katie writes:
If you want reality to be different than it is, you might as well try to teach a cat to bark. You can try and try, and in the end the cat will look up at you and say, “Meow.” Wanting reality to be different than it is is hopeless. You can spend the rest of your life trying to teach a cat to bark.
I’ve been ‘arguing’ with reality the past few days.
Last Thursday night at seven o’clock (coincidentally, my birthday), I received a call from the animal hospital where Belle, my 13-year old Pomeranian, was being cared for after suddenly becoming ill the day before…the vet thinking it might be a heart problem. I had visited earlier in the day, holding her in my lap for about an hour…having the feeling that this wasn’t going to turn out well. I left her to rest, hoping that she would feel better in the morning.
But later that evening, the vet called to say she wasn’t doing very well…her heart was racing…and she was gasping for breath. I jumped into the car and drove into town. In the darkness, I knocked on the side door of the animal hospital, and was let in. Belle was lying on an exam table…huffing oxygen from a tube held in front of her little nose. The vet spelled out the options for me…none of them really good…most requiring more suffering on Belle’s part. I tearfully gave the word, and within a few seconds…as I softly stroked her head and back…she was gone.
Born in Arkansas…Belle came into our lives when we lived in Florida on the Gulf. She moved with us back to California…walked the cliffs at Santa Cruz…saw the desert as we passed through Arizona on the way back to Florida…and then on to the Carolinas. Her journey is over now. She was a sweet and gentle spirit. I miss her…and the house is very quiet now without her.
We experience grief when we’re separated from something that we’re attached to. Over the past few years, I’ve continued to learn that arguing with reality doesn’t do any good whatsoever. But…it doesn’t make it any easier. And, it still raises a lot of questions in my mind…questions that I’m not sure have any satisfying answers…at least not in this life. I’m trying to love what is…because that’s all we’re really given.