Monday, May 9, 2011

In the light of day

At last, the rains have let up. For how long, I do not know. Like every other creature, I will take what I get and try not to complain about it; after all, I cannot change it, so I might as well embrace it and come to terms with all it has to offer. So today, I choose to see, not the mud drying slowly in shady spots, but the deeply green forest all around my home. It's studded, even this early in the season, with the jewels of wild things blooming with abandon and triumph after a long, hard winter.

Only a few months ago, I could see a hundred yards down the drainage on the mountainside, where wild turkeys scratch and chortle. Now, that green veil has drawn a privacy curtain on the courting birds and their chosen territories.


This morning I took Ronnie to catch his ride to work very early. Coming back home through the woods, I saw a red eye highlighted by the headlights and knew that I would find the tracks of a large, tall buck whitetail deer when I got close to that spot in the dirt track. I was right; I leaned out the window in the still-dim of early morning, and shone my ever-present tiny flashlight on a set of deep-cut buck spoor in the spot where he had stood, alarmed by the passage of our old Jeep Cherokee.

With the window down, I could hear the calling of a whippoorwill, and drove on glad for the thick sweatshirt and t-shirt I'd put on, so I could listen to that priceless song of fertility. The gate creaked a bit when I unlocked it, and the dogs started bawling a welcome. I looked for the cottontail rabbit that's usually in a certain area of the road, but it wasn't there this morning. The dogs hushed when I got turned around and parked, leaving me to listen in the awe-inspiring deep of dawn to something I had not heard in months: the resonant call of a great horned owl. (Which fully explained the absence of the rabbit in its usual 'thumping' ground.)

A great horned owl is a creature close to my heart, and all by way of accident. When I was growing up on Hatton Creek, just outside Stanton, Kentucky, my Dad kept Beagles. Not bench dogs, show dogs, but real working rabbit hounds. They were his hobby, his country-boy-who-never-grew-up passion. He was a skilled trainer and enjoyed every facet it. From time to time, my brother and I (Sis had other things to do, usually) were drafted to assist. In order to do a census of the local rabbit population on his place, Dad would line us all three up on the dam of the lake he had built and set us all to hooting up the owls nearby. Owls can't be seen by day, though hawks can; Dad did a visual check constantly for predators of his precious training rabbits (safe from any real hunting, for the most part).

The odd thing, and one that took me a while to realize, is that each of us had a different owl voice! Dad had a gift for the warbling, eerie call of a screech owl, a small, hard-hunting bird of the night. That call will make the hairs rise on the back of the neck and try to crawl off... if you don't know what that ghostly sound is, for real. My brother did a barn owl, invariably. For some reason, the one I could do best -- and still can do on occasion -- is that of the great horned owl.

I smiled, listening to this one. I knew that if I called out to it in its own voice, its own owl dialect, it would call out, then come closer. And closer if I called out again, and so on. Until it was right above me. At each of its callings, it would soften that deep, gentle sound until coming close to a booming whisper. At that point, it would be right above me, looking down with eyes much more capable of seeing in the dark than my own, and wondering, no doubt what kind of silly looking owl had dared to invade its territory and even yell about it. I was glad that I no small puppies nor kittens exist near our house; the owls will quickly take them in lieu of a plump rabbit if that's what is available.

As always, nature has lessons to teach. Some of them are brutal, yes, but every single one of them is honest and true. Nature does not know how to lie. Nature merely continues on. It endures. We, as human beings, over-rate ourselves. We are a part of nature, not dieties. It would do us no harm to be still, to be quiet, and to listen instead of instigating forced change in the name of our own petty wants (I will not call those 'needs'; that would be incorrect). Not one of us will live and eat today, vegetarian or not, who does not consume something once also living. We cannot separate ourselves from what we really are.

Every day has a new set of lessons. The choice remains to us to listen to them. In grander nature, those who do not listen, who do not pay attention, die. Learning is something very necessary, and remembering what we learned is crucial.

We, as a species, can and do make choices for those around us. We care for our elderly (so do other species), we look for ways to ease our ills (so do other species), and we look for a way to carry on in the face of hardship. The hard part is to speak more softly when someone else holds forth, and to decide with cool reaction how to deal with the whole picture, even though we be seeking shadows among shadows. The truly hard part is to hold out during hard times, looking for greener pastures where it's safe to roam among the clover. Both sides of the picture must be considered.

And then, in the light of a new day, it becomes time to move on. Nothing is forever. Tomorrow, however, must be planned for regardless. Always, let there be hope.