Monday, August 18, 2008
Life, Death, and a Fisher in the Night
We have a fisher. And I don’t use the possessive verb have lightly; I have been thinking quite a bit about owning and belonging. The fisher is not a pet, it doesn’t live in our house, we don’t own it, but perhaps we own each other. The fisher lives here, on the same piece of land that we do. We share space. Thus we belong to each other.
Last night, soon after having fallen asleep, we, my daughters and I, awoke to a blood-curdling scream outside our bedroom windows. Wikipedia states “fishers are known for one of their calls, which is often said to sound like a child screaming, and can be mistaken for someone in dire need of help.” I would say that this is fairly accurate, if not understated. The girls instantly woke up and started crying. I jumped out of bed, adrenaline surging, and raced downstairs to make sure that our cat was inside (we lost his brother to a fisher last summer). The screams continued and made me think of the Native American war cry: continuous screams that trigger that primordial fear of “I am prey and death is imminent”. The war cry must have been learned from the fishers.
Our cat didn’t come when I called and the screams continued. I called outside and the screaming animal seemed to answer me back – from right over the railing of the front porch into the dark. I called frantically again inside and our cat lazily walked out of his sleeping spot in the basement. The scream that had answered me had been the last.
I hugged my cat and started to cry. The girls stood sleepily in the kitchen, the youngest crying and saying that she didn’t like fishers. I cried and didn’t want to stop. It reminded me of the beginning of the film “Like Water for Chocolate” where the character begins crying while chopping onions and then can’t stop. Tears from fisher-induced death can do the same thing.
My grandmother is dying. So I began crying in relief that my kitty was okay and then for the animal that lost its life and then for my Nana who is dying and then for the overwhelming mystery of life and death itself. I thought about the people, animals, places, and even some plants that are mine and for whom I cry. I thought about the earth that is mine, it is the space that we all share, and I cried for the grief that so overwhelms me. I fell asleep as my little daughter clung to me, scared from the real noises of death lurking outside her window.
Then the morning came as they do … bright, clear, beautiful. The breeze was warm and sweet as I walked through the wet grass of our tame looking yard. The sun glistened exquisitely on the dew-covered clumps of white fur (probably skunk) left behind from the night’s carnage. The birds sang.
And I did what I needed to do. Some might fear nature after hearing the war cry of a fisher; I needed to dive in. I went, alone, to the woods down the road. I walked in a place where clumps of fur on the path are so common that I don’t often think of the death that brought it there. I walked and breathed. I smelled the mud and felt the insects of our wet summer. Our wet summer has brought so much life. There have been more baby birds this summer than I have ever seen before. The foxes come to eat fallen peaches from our trees. A literal flock of dragon flies, their wings shimmering, flew in yesterday’s evening sun diving and swooping to eat the bounty of insects. The dragonflies were mine to love for their shear beauty; the insect massacre a mere prop. And I walked along the forest path, taking in all beauty as mine, stamping my feet and singing out loud as I passed the spot that often (and today particularly) smells of animal musk, and I thought how the fisher is keeping the small population in check during a time when rabies is on the rise. Our fisher is helping keep our land, mine and its, healthy.
I crossed over to the hemlock part of the woods where the squirrels are the guardians, chattering and cursing and chasing all in good time. I was not surprised when I surprised a squirrel that circled its hemlock and began cursing me. But then it surprised me. My eyes took a moment to understand that the small thing less than an arm’s length away, the small damp thing with half closed eyes clinging for dear life to the side of the hemlock was a newborn squirrel and that its mother was the one enraged with me.
I backed up. I looked down. This was a tender, private moment that I had stepped into. Mama kept cursing and I kept moving away until finally I was far enough. Mama ran down the tree, picked baby up in her mouth, and sped away. I leaned up against a tree and began crying again. Some days are like that: the poignancy of life and death seem to be everywhere. When the tears dried I looked up again surprised to see that I was not alone. Directly in front of me, through the trees in the pond, was a floating log lined with six fat geese preening themselves. Seemingly concerned only with their wings and tail feathers, the near miss of baby and mother squirrel eluded them - as the present moment whirled all around.