An indelicate balance

May 31, 2007 by susan

Susan writes

Well, it's a curious life on this island, where news is reduced to a trickle. People imagine me lounging in a hammock, cooled by Lake Huron’s stirring breeze, but it’s not like that. Mostly, I’m in the garden. And this time of year that means endlessly pulling weeds from very rocky soil, weeds with spidery tentacles that twine their way through razor-thin crevasses, the little hairy roots clinging with the tenacity of lint to Velcro, the long tap roots like a sword in stone. I have the worn and dirt-crusted hands of a vole.

The trade-off is that my head is entirely out of the political world and into the earth – well, almost. This morning I noticed that I still had a little sign in our window from last summer that said, “Had enough? Vote Democrat in 2006” and I tore it down with a snort. “Had enough? Try self-immolation.” More, of course.

That got me to thinking about how Vietnam and Iraq -- the wars not the countries -- are alike and different, and how some Buddhist monks in Vietnam doused themselves with gasoline and struck a match, taking their own lives to call attention to all the other innocent lives being lost. And how those who take their own lives in Iraq – or Spain or high over NYC – tend to take 20 or 200 or 2000 other lives with them, a difference that pisses me off.

But the burning monks stayed with me. What if every day in the evening news we saw another American self-immolating in front of the White House? Now there’s a protest I could sign up for. Sort of. On some days. Okay, not. But it would be much more rewarding and effective than electing more Democrats, even if I didn't get to see the results. I mean, we're not seeing any results anyway so . . .

But back to the natural world where the mind floats free. I hack into a dirt clump with my hand hoe and accidentally split a splendid shiny earthworm in two. A robin, whose trilling in the Cedar tree I’d been admiring moments before, hops boldly onto the rock in front of me and snaps up half of the writhing worm. Then, driving my shovel into a rare hummock of soil, I see it erupt with frantic ants, clutching their eggs and rushing helter-skelter into the underbrush, like refugees being driven out by war or famine. Later, the resettled ants are back, tugging at the now shriveled other half of the worm. Life goes on.

At lunch a strange noise erupts outside. Out on the lawn a crow has pounced on a baby rabbit and the rabbit is screeching like the dying soprano in a Wagner opera. The mother bunny appears and makes futile dashes at the crow, who drops the baby for an instant, the baby squirting away only to be caught two seconds later and held down by the crow's feet, then stilled by the pecking beak like an ice pick, stab, stab, until there's nothing but a little furry slipper and a mother bunny watching from the edge of the yard.

Mind you, there are hundreds of bunnies and they lay waste to my tender annuals, sawing through cosmos one day and snap dragons the next, ignoring perennials until they're starting to bloom, then slicing them at the base just as the perfect white bell flower appears. I'm constantly pitching small stones at them and spraying the rocks with commercially bottled wolf piss (where do they get that?) to discourage their appetites.

Even so, watching the mother bunny sit by helplessly as one of her 250 children is gored to death by the bloody beak of a hungry crow was unbearable. There’s either an awesome pattern in all of this or the world is just one big violent food chain. As my mother used to say, if there is a god, he has some very weird ideas.

But it was the helplessness of the mother bunny that got me, how she sat motionless and watched the gruesome carnage she was powerless to stop. Even in the garden, it seems, the world is never far from the images at hand.

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barbara aka babs (not verified) | May 31, 2007 - 6:35pm

I really resonated to this one, Susan. For starters, we live in a small house surrounded by multiple gardens. David is the master gardener and I am his apprentice. The adorable bunnies believe our gardens are a smorgasbord, planted solely for their enjoyment. So over time, I have come to have a less than welcoming attitude about them.

That said, your description of the bunny's death struggle with the crow (we have crows, hawks and owls who cruise our property in search of snacks), and the mother's inability to intervene is heart-breaking if you allow your mind to transport the metaphor to, oh, say Iraq.

I'm not gonna belabor this. You know where I'm going with it.

What's the source of "There must be a god who weeps"? Bunnies, babies, women, men, civilians, soldiers, Mr. MacGregor's nemesis. Gaaaah!


susan | May 31, 2007 - 10:19pm

Babs writes: "That said, your description of the bunny's death struggle with the crow (we have crows, hawks and owls who cruise our property in search of snacks), and the mother's inability to intervene is heart-breaking if you allow your mind to transport the metaphor to, oh, say Iraq."

I thought maybe I was a little too on-the-nose with the metaphor. But the comments on the C-Line of late seem to have something to do with our helplessness in the face of slaughter, even though we made a few dashes to stop it --like the 2004 (failed) elections and the 2006 ("successful") elections.
Things have to get better, no?


perhansa (not verified) | June 1, 2007 - 9:26am

Living in the pseudo-wild of "Little Walden" we get to see the circle of life/death play out regularly. We sometimes joke that there is a "serial killer" in the neighborhood as we find remnants of carcases and meals scattered about for days on end. We have Red-Shouldered Hawks, Red Fox, and a variety of predators (including human hunters--you can shoot on your property out here) about and I've seen the killing first hand on numerous occasion, including a hawk with a large snake in tow; Intricate spiders webs with dinner ensnared and hopelessly struggling; rampant ticks looking for a host; Bats hunting the mosquitos at dusk; ravaged birds nests with violated eggs. The "Lion King" kind of softened the bit about the circle of life being the circle of death and consumption as well. Anyone who lives close to nature is familiar with the realities of "nature, red in tooth and claw." More than 99% of all the species that have ever inhabited the earth are now extinct. Intelligent design?
As Woody Allen said, "If there is a god he's a terrible underachiever."

In addition to Poets recommendation, I also suggest James Hillman's book, A Terrible Love of War, for another perspective on how deeply ingrained killing, war, and violence are in the human psyche and culture.