. . .but words are all I have.
The Christchurch shooting takes my breath away. I want to call it "inhuman" but it can only be human; no other species feels the need to destroy life for theoretical reasons. Quoting Mark Twain: "Man is the only animal who blushes, or needs to." But I'm far beyond blushing, I'm sick at heart.
Religion should have no place in this discussion but sadly it does; these people, good people at their house of worship, were targeted solely because of their religion. I was glad to see the American White House join other nations in condemning it -- far too often our President seems to look the other way when the violence isn't directed toward white Christians.
Rain today, temps up to 55 degrees Fahrenheit. The piles of snow at the end of my drive (up to my shoulders) are beginning to shrink, though it will take time. The remaining snow is transforming from smooth bright white to serrated shades of brown and gray and black. Bits of fallen branches are beginning to poke out, and I can measure the general snow cover against the wire mesh around one of my hosta patches, as it emerges one row at a time. This winter has been an unusually ungrateful guest, staying too long and leaving behind a lot of debris and disorder.
That’s been especially true with the long cold last few months -- immediately after Christmas we changed from the sort of mild winter in which it seemed it would never snow and the lakes would never freeze, to a super-cold spell and snow that has become a record amount. Sometimes, when I noticed the unending undulating mounds of snow throughout the city, the phrase came to mind, “at the mountains of madness.” That may take a bit of explaining. Beyond the simple frustrations and irritations of a growing sense of cabin fever, the snow reminded me of the cover of a paperback version of H.P. Lovecraft’s novella of the same name; that cover, on a story set in the Antarctic, shows a series of tall white snow-covered, wind-sculpted cliffs, edged with shadows, illuminated by sunlight but set against a pale grey sky of clouds. Beyond those cliffs lay a world of danger and struggle.
Sort of sums up the winter that (I hope) was.
As I write this I have a lovebird perched on my shoulder. Most of the time he just stares off into space, though on occasion he gently nips at my ear, either preening it or out of boredom or for the hell of it, I suppose (I don't claim to think in "bird"). Once in awhile he will nip too hard and I'll brush him away, sometimes with a mild oath. He'll fly off to his perch, and later on settle back onto my shoulder, all forgiven on both sides.
It's a relationship we have, based on earned trust. I couldn't persuade him with words to come close to me if he hadn't learned to trust me.
Out back lives a rabbit with a damaged back leg. She's staked out the area around our back porch as her own, and watches for me to refill the bird feeder so she can scrounge among the droppings. She's also learned to watch for the opening of the back door or the flicker of the porch light, knowing I will be offering her something, a cracker perhaps, or some lettuce leavings. She's gotten to the point now where she will accept things from my hand, after some gentle coaxing. But that's the limit, we have our boundaries. I could never persuade her to come near if I hadn't given her reason and time to trust me.
Then there are the squirrels. Our relationship is contentious. They rob the feeder, I chase them off. They watch me carefully, evaluating what I might do. No way I could persuade them to come too close, they have formed their (correct) opinion, and my words and tone are irrelevant to their actions. They get as close as they dare, but are always ready to bolt. That's our relationship.
Finally there are -- I'm sure there are because there always are -- the mice in our basement. I rarely see them when they are healthy, though I find dead or dying ones (poison) sometimes, and I think I hear them scurry and scratch. They fear me, and with good reason, we are enemies. There is no way honeyed words could get them to show themselves to me.
It's not really that way with people. If we listen, we are willing to be persuaded, and I think more often than not can be convinced to disregard the evidence of our experience and to trust what we are told. "This time it will be different," or, perhaps, "No, it's not the way you remember it." Or even, simply, "trust me."
We people like to say that actions speak louder than words, but I suspect it's those species without words (e.g. every other species) that evaluate us by what we do, not by what we say.
Which makes it an honor to be trusted by our pets and outside visitors and, in an inverted sense, to be distrusted by those who have learned we are not to be trusted. At least we all know where we stand.
I came across an absolutely perfect word the other day: Crepuscular, which means pertaining to twilight, or as an adjective, involved with twilight, as in"he was a crepuscular creature, most active in the time immediately after sundown." The word is from from the Latin word for "twilight", but it calls to mind the word creep, in that I can picture someone or some menacing creature crawling around in the near darkness -- even though creep is from a Middle English or Germanic word related to the concept of "lowdown."
I think one could write a whole story, or even a book, about such a creature, titling it simply, "The Crepuscular."
Of course, The Crepuscular Creatures would be a perfect name for a rock band.
I sometimes watch the way my backyard rabbits and squirrels scrounge for fallen birdseed in this winter of deep snow. Two or three rabbits graze contentedly until one tries to horn in on another's stash. Then ears go back, they lunge and snap and jump until one backs way off. Only to edge his way back in later, and it starts again. Squirrels are the same, fighting first with the rabbits, then with each other, moving to this dance of dominance, all drawing and mostly respecting the lines of their social order.
But when a strange sound occurs, or a shadow passes overhead (or a door opens), all freeze momentarily, then dash to safety. The rules are forgotten, their little society momentarily collapses, it's all for oneself. Things slowly coalesce again, back to routine, as though nothing ever happened. "Nothing to see here, folks, go about your business."
Sometimes I'm not the only watcher. More than once I've seen a hawk perched in a nearby tree, watching with raptor intensity. I doubt he gives a tinker's damn about their little society. He's sizing them up, no doubt admiring the ample size of the dominant ones, checking out escape routes, and working out the vector factors of his degree of hunger and his likelihood of success. All too often (from the rabbit or squirrel perspective) the snow's too deep or the distance too far, and one little beast will never again take a stand or steal a bite. Unless they first catch sight of his preceding shadow and safely bolt for cover.
Late at night, the stillness is sometimes broken by the somber hoots of a barred or great horned owl. Those must be the worst; I can only imagine the terror of a sudden whoosh wings from nowhere, followed by the sharp pierce of talons and beak and, if fortunate enough, the fast descent into deepest dark oblivion.
Sometimes I think that's exactly how we are. We fight to find and keep our place, mostly live by the rules we develop. We have to be on guard, and prioritize, sometimes keep our heads down, sometimes relax. When a crisis comes, we do what we must, and when it passes, we go back to our daily lives.
All the while we're being watched by sharp-eyed hawks of fate and chance, poised to come from nowhere, and fast,though if we're careful enough, observant enough, we sense the coming shadow and safely dash for cover, if we're fit enough and it's close enough.
But there are also owls, sinister watchers of the night, who see where we can't see, and may at any descend at any moment, dragging us from dark to dark, away from our little society, forever.
Separate names with a comma.