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A writer sees with writer-eyes. Eyes that make snapshots of everything. Sometimes those shots are full of joy; sometimes, full of tragedy.
I had both kinds of kept-images this weekend. Life and death in 48 hours.
On Saturday evening, an unfamiliar whistle called me out into the approaching dusk. A rising birdcall, over and over. I looked up to the side of my little Arkansas stone-clad ranch house. Something was clinging to the stone. Something that flew to the ground five feet from where I stood.
A baby owl.
The thing was adorable. Wonderful. A little greyish thing, streaked with brown, maybe eight inches tall. Still full of baby fuzz and just-fledged clumsiness. He sat on the ground for several minutes, seemingly uncertain about what to do next. Then he lifted on owl-silent wings and flew to my one remaining peach tree. Started calling again. Called all night. Called all the next night. An explanation of why I’ve seen the female out at unusual hours: baby-owl mouths to feed.
Yesterday morning, then, the downside of natural wonder.
The rancher across my little go-nowhere road has been haying the field. Doing it in sections, one swath, then another, one day then the next. A cattle pasture is left to grow tall when the cows are moved to another field. Perhaps that was the reason for the tragedy.
Two uncommon things, there. Both were telling. A massive flock of vultures. A gathering that only appears when something is newly-born. Or dead. The little bones, the tawny bits torn between the scavengers, the tiny rib cage suggested the sad thing that dinner was.
Beside the buzzards a doe, standing. Watching. Mourning. If I had ever doubted that an animal could mourn, I will doubt no longer. This strong brown doe looked stunned. Her mouth was open, an approximation of human grief. Her tail lay low, not its characteristic white flag. She didn’t seem to know what to do with herself. As a person might not.
A few times, as I watched, she would come back to herself. Charge the gathered birds. Challenge them. Try to run them off. As if she held on to the hopeless hope that she might save the little thing that was, even at a distance, so clearly beyond saving. Deer, like people, can find the acceptance of death impossible.
No way to know whether the fawn was lost to the hay mower or to the birds that wait for newborns; that have been known to kill fresh calves. But this…I couldn’t watch any longer. I couldn’t make the image go away.
That’s why this post is about nature, not writing. It’s a writerly tribute to a sadness and a joy. The things that happen in the turning of a day.