Tuesday, June 19, 2007

The Consolation of Good Intentions

"You really don't have to try to keep one more crow," he said with the patience in his voice barely covering the disdain for crow. My husband has a more clearly defined distinction between good guys and bad guys. Crows are unequivocally on the bad guy side. They will peck the eyes out of newborn lambs and eat their tongues. They will clog chimneys and infest the stockpile of grain. I know all this, but the dramatis personae on the farm is not as clear cut for me.

"I wasn't trying to save it," I vainly explain, "I just didn't think it was fair play to have two, well-fed cats hunting a lame crow." I was on shaky ground with this explanation because he is still only half convinced that feeding the cats is acceptable, but he is patient with me and protective as well. Farm life on the edge of the Pentland Firth often leaves me dangerously short of energy. I can see my husband watching me protectively out of the corner of his eye and more actively chiding me, "Where are your gloves? Your hands are as cold as ice." Once energy is lost either through a broken heart or too much cold and grey, it is difficult to get it back again.

All that played in the back of my mind as I gardened with my two rescued cats inside the walled garden. I checked the newly planted trees against the backdrop of the aging sycamore and ash trees. I waged a desultory war gainst nettles and bishop's weed and stood for a moment taking in the peppery sweet fragrance of lupins mixed with the soft sweet odor of stock. I noticed first that Sheba went stiff and hunkered down and then brother Solomon joined her in that hunting stance. This was not the play hunting they often occupy themselves with while I garden. Instead of mock battle with weed stalks and clumps of dirt, this posture was in earnest.

I followed the line of their gaze and heard the flutter of wings beneath the aging trees in the darkest corner of the walled garden. Having seen the cats destroy a house martin in a few moments, I, too sprang into action now. "Sheba, no." Cats are never very good at coming when called, and half-wild Sheba knows her food comes as much from her own efforts as from my feeding her. She does not even hear me let alone think whether to respond. I don't even try with Solomon, now crouching close behind his sister, but I try vainly to distract them both by interposing myself between the flutter and the hunting pair. By now I am close enough to see that is the same hopping crow that I had seen by the barn a few days ago. The crow had made it to the comparative safety of the trees and the walled garden. It didn't seem right for this crow to lose his fierce struggle for life.

I picked up a dry remnant of a branch to interpose between cat and crow. The crow just needed a little more time. He was cornered but managed to get up the wall. In a mad flurry of ambition his weakened wings took him to the top of the wall. Sheba was over the branch and nearly onto the crow. They both tumbled over the wall and I began resigning myself to the inevitable as I walked back out from under the trees.

On the other side of the wall was an ear splitting clatter of wings and cawing as Sheba was mobbed by all the crows within hearing of the lame crow's distress call. My sense of victim began to shift. Sheba shot back over the wall with nothing in her mouth and her tail slung low. She hurried back into the protection of the walled garden and her brother and me. I collected her and calmed her down and noticed a tiny beak-sized scratch dangerously near her eye. In a few breaths, we settled into our more usual routine and the crow and the epic battle on the wall was forgotten.

The next morning Solomon was at the back door to greet me. Sheba joined him and we all went to the cottage for their breakfast of store-bought cat food. When I came back, I saw the crow. I have no doubt it was the same one. At first I was struck by the glossy black beauty of the feathers. Because it was still I could see them in detail. It was lying upside down with tail and outspread wings against the wall of the house, head and chest on the damp ground of the close, its body making an awkward angle that only death could impose. In the middle of the shiny black chest was a single spot of red where the inside of the bird was revealed. It conjured in my mind those sacred heart of Jesus pictures.

I turned into the house. I would bury it later. I did not have the heart to face it just now. I was glad my husband was not there to see my disappointment. I accept nature red in tooth and claw and I cannot mourn long for one less crow in this world, but neither could I have stood impassive. If I had not saved Solomon and Sheba when their mother was taken from them--perhaps by a crow--then that crow might still be flapping about under the trees waiting for his feathers to grow back so that he could fly again. It is a cherished notion that we set in motion chains of causality with us at the center. We need to think that from time to time we are in charge. But cats, crows, lupins, and calves all slip in and out of our hands and all we can offer or aspire to is our intentions. I meant well with the crow in the garden and the kittens in the barn and that has to be enough.


At 2:14 AM, Anonymous ampiggy said...

Interestingly, Thad and I just watched the film Winged Migration, which shows the ways of nature too. As much as we humans like penguins and identify with them, one must admit that the skuas and albatrosses have to eat too. If you haven't seen that film, I highly recommend it.

At 9:50 PM, Blogger ZACL said...

The food chain and the animal chain of command are all featured in your article.

All of those events must have used up a fair bit of a emotional and physical energy, albeit a brief period.

At 8:58 AM, Blogger landgirl said...

Welcome back, zacl. Yup. Youy are right on the money about burnig up some energy in that little escapade. Last night cats followed me out to look after an expectant cow. I was trying to get her from the field into alittle paddock and she started moving and then stopped when she saw Solomon scuttering thru the grass. It's OK but I used up some energy then too retrieving the pesky adventurer.

At 3:06 PM, Blogger landgirl said...

ah ha // crows an d rooks are different //real crows are bloody minded and are a manace to new born lambs or even their mommas if they are cast on their backs and cannot get off unaided // rooks are friendlier and not a menace to lambs // rather they are a bit grubby and infest any where they can get a free feed // not to worry // scorrie //

At 7:32 PM, Blogger landgirl said...

Not even Bill Oddie could help me get sorted which black bird was which. A Rook doesn't have the same cachet as a crow, but I'll put in some overtime learning my birds.

At 1:10 AM, Anonymous ampiggy said...

This sounds very much like you. It is a fundamentally optimistic perspective. I almost misspelled "optimistic" and when I got it right I realized its root is optimus--best. I started to spell it opto... as in optometrist.

At 5:36 PM, Blogger landgirl said...

Ms piggy, I really love the inadvertent (perhaps?) pun-metaphor. Someone who is optimistic is also someone who has a certain vision opto-optimus. Hmm, that sounds like a character from an Asterix comic book.


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