Saturday, December 11, 2010

Small Things

I was reading and could not be interrupted by odd sounds or my imaginings. It was the late night of a spring evening. With my ear near an open window, I was prone to distractions. I don’t recall what it was I was reading, but I found I was interrupted by the sound of very dim meowing, like that of kittens. But I had no kittens. The sounds were weak, and they seemed so impossibly distant that I dismissed them as figments of my imagination, or perhaps as the calling of some yet unknown-to-me creature of the desert that surrounds my home. I heard them again the next evening, smaller and weaker still.

Later the next day, as I was patrolling the perimeter of my fenced yard, I discovered a kit rabbit, a nestling, lying on the ground. Flies were crawling on its lifeless body. It was cold and stiff with wound marks; I thought of my tomcat. I had seen him lurking about.

It was a warm day and I held its body, cold and stiff in my hand. I raised my eyes and saw at a short distance another kit, also lying still on the ground. And in a line though the first and the second, there lay a third on a compost heap. It too was still. The second was badly wounded but alive, the third was un-wounded but very weak. They were so young their eyes were still closed. I asked myself, “What catastrophe could have urged these small things from their warm den and into the terrible light of day and torture?”

I looked about for an answer and turning, realized the line through the three pointed to a gate in my fence. Along that line was a well-worn path to a small gap at the base. The opening was just large enough to allow a hungry mother rabbit to gain access to an Eden of green forage, an oasis in the desert. But why were these three here on the hard ground? Why had they left their warm den and the comfort of their mother only to be mauled by my cats and pecked by ravens?

I had often seen the adult rabbits grazing in the yard. And there, I speculate, the mother had met its demise in the jaws of my dog. The mother gone, the kits would have begun to starve and, after crying out in hunger to lifeless ears, they would have gone in search of her warm milk. Up from the warm familial burrow and out into the night, on wobbly legs they crept, following her scent. The first, the bravest and strongest, followed by the others, wobbled uncertainly, blindly into the dark, and exposed themselves.

I found them, one dead, one wounded, one whole…but very weak. I knew, however, the hopelessness of their situation. I had tried in the past to care for the soft delicate things brought to me by my cats in the cage of their teeth. The cats release them grudgingly to me only for me to see them die shortly after of their injuries; I try but they fail. I knew if I touched the kits, I would be bonded with them, so delicate, small, and blind. And so, as to not touch them, I used a stick and the pan of a shovel to lift them from the ground. I carried them into the desert, a short distance from my home to a place where I left dead chickens and such…a designated sacrifice place. I gently lay them down onto the barren, sandy earth among the white-thorn and paintbrush scrubs.

It was evening and growing dark when I left them. I thought nothing of it. I left them there and went about my activities and then to bed and then to sleep. But sleep is seldom a steady place; the troubles of the day well-up and present. And so I dreamed... myself high above the scene…where I saw a dark landscape of spots of scrub and a little house, all illuminated by the cold light of the blue giants. And on the perimeter, something dark and sinister moved toward the sacrifices.

I awoke with a start. I leapt from my bed, hurried on my robe and slippers, grabbed the flashlight and dog leash. The dog, hearing the sound of the leash lifted, was already out of his house and ready to go. I snapped it on and was pulled out of the gate in his wake. His nose was to the ground, towing me along with the vacuum of its suction. He sucked and sneezed and chuffed at the wild scents. My flashlight showed him the direction until we were at the sacrifice…but they were gone. I urged the dog to search an ever widening area, but found no sign of the small, soft bodies. The beast had come and gone. The sacrifice was over.

Even the beasts of the field must be fed. They too have their empty stomachs and their hungry young. Do they not too deserve a harvest? I assumed my chances of successfully saving the unharmed, weak one to be very small. I made that calculation in the cold light of past experience, and I’m certain that it was correct. But, though the chance was very small, I should have made the attempt to save one small, helpless thing…if not for its sake…then for my own.

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