Day before yesterday I was out back, walking with Dan as I often do, through the small woodland to the east, that opens up to a wide, gorgeous vista of pasture, hawthorn-lined winding stream and a horizon of farflung, misty Hills… walking, a little uncomfortably, as my boots sank to the ankle in newly softened snow, as my feet slipped from time to time on slushy stone beneath the melting mantle of white. Winter has finally begun to fade, and the inevitable transition time is both joyous and messy, energizing and stinky – spring, like any birth is filled with contrasting energies and sensations. For Daniel, it seems, the joy greatly outweighs any perception of difficulty – he sinks, once in awhile, to his shoulders in a soft bank of snow, looks furtively toward me as if to see if I’ve noticed – and on he goes. The more it all melts, the more stinky wet earth he can revel in, the happier he is. I walk alongside him in admiration and amusement.
I love these woods, I think I’ve said that. The Hills really – although, at times (like right now) they are so haunted as to be almost too painful to bear. As we walk, Danny oblivious to ought but the smells, I feel the ghosts all around and within me – the hopes I carried up here 21 years ago, the house I first lived in, in a place called The Swamp – the dream of a family I once felt, when first with my partner, and his little house with his sister – the loss of John, the loss of Lila, the traumatic death of Luke. Time starts to tunnel for me – it’s as thought I can feel, palpably, the pain, hope, sorrow, joy and happiness of all these years, loves, dreams and defeats, all at once, as I walk through slushy trails and try not to slip. But you know, I try to stay balanced and grateful. Somedays it’s too easy..other days, especially around April, not so much.
Still, somehow, the forest always heals.
Often, the walk into the forest is mixed up with fragments of workstuff, anger, petty concerns about my daily life, the pressure of a never ending to-do list, but the walk back is clear, pure and unfettered by monkey-mind. It takes a half hour amongst the pines to get myself sorted; then I can feel, again, not just whirl about in my head, like a maniac. It’s always a disappointment to know I have to return to the maelstrom – but I’ve chosen much of this, and the rest, the parts I didn’t – whoever said life was going to be simple, fair, or easy?
So – day before yesterday, I am walking back from the sit-spot at the end of the trail, calmed and contented, when I see her. I’m not sure how Dan missed her lifeless body, lying facedown in the snow beside a recently cut hemlock – overwhelmed, perhaps, by other intrigues – or maybe, as it’s always possible, I was meant to stand still a moment in prayer. I wish I’d had a camera, but then I think – why? Her little body, tail across her back in what struck me as a gesture of farewell, will stay with me, I won’t need a record. A small dead squirrel, just a step off the trail; unusual. What was she doing there, amongst the piles of severed branches, the lush green against the pure white snow, a bloody streak of black that seemed so out of place?
And then it hit; the waves of empathy, universal love and some kind of …knowledge about this individual, what hr life was like and how she died… I have never really known where it comes from, but it’s there; I’m riveted, standing over the small black body – not just feeling sadness , but knowing her life. Before I roll her over to see the bullet hole straight through her body, I know; this tree was her home – and I know, too, by her enlarged teats there were babies in the nest with her. I dare not go to look for them. I am overwhelmed with pain.
This is a small wooded area, that stops abruptly and opens to pasture and meadow, as I described above. I feel, no I know, how happy this wild being was in her tree. Other areas nearby are rife with animal activity – bear scat and claw marks on trees; wolf, coyote and deer fur against favored rubs, occasional carcasses and quills from porcupines; beaver-chewed tree stumps, much, much birdsong. But this little part of the local forest is quieter. It’s owned by a local who has no qualms killing a den of foxes, two parents and a litter of kits; chopping down a venerable old oak, spraying herbicides (legal and outlawed varieties) everywhere, targeting goldenrod and wild carrot and Solomon’s Seal. Here in this place, animals, though present, have learned to be scarce.Few visit regularly and fewer still, make their home. I bless the land every single time I pass through.
I can feel my little squirrel rejoicing in what she experienced as her quiet,safe home in this tree.
So few predators. So wild and sweet. I can feel her exuberant, clever squirrel-like happiness.
And then the gunshot.
So, I ask myself, weeping, why did he need to kill her? Was it not enough to take her home and, most likely in March, her young ones in their nest? Why kill her as well? And leave her bloody body tail up, face down in the snow.
Honestly? this was a tragedy. It was for her, anyway – and I can feel it. Don’t go telling me to consider what squirrel-medicine means; I’ve learned some from them over the years, but this isn’t about me.It’s not about how I should start hoarding a little and on and on. It’s about how my species thinks of and treats the Others.
Danny catches up, I leash him and have to coax vigorously to get him away. We have to go home now, anyway; the sun is dropping, I have to get dinner started, and everyone fed.
I’ll come back, I say to myself, come back without Dan, I’ll lay a wreath here, say a prayer. But part of me knows I won’t, that I can’t stand the empathy and I go nowhere without Dan. So I carry the pain home with me, a sharp hurt in my solar plexus. I know a million squirrels die every day. I know I can’t save everyone. But it’s the story here that hurts – her innocent love of her life, and trust in this bit of the wild. And the callous taking of it all from her, like it was nothing.
I send you my love, little tree-dweller…shadow-tail, iora glas, atchidamoy…clever one, tail -in- the- air. You deserved much better.
I carry you with me, now too. I keep your memory within.