Sunday, 10 May 2015

A Moment Between Life and Death

I knew this moment would come and am more surprised it's taken so long than anything else. 

We moved not long ago to a light airy maisonette beside a park. Our sizeable garden is bordered by trees, full of squirrels and birds. As Spring blossomed, the trees grew young leaf and the birds were busy.

We have two cats. I knew one day they would bring back a bird.

They started modestly with a couple of mice and sometimes an earthworm. Then this afternoon, they suddenly produced three baby birds. Two had already been despatched, either by the mother cat who brings home her catches or her now grown-up kitten. Piglet saw the mother cat bring one in through the catflap still alive and howled to me as I put the two little corpses in the bin. (The days when I soloemnly buried these casualties of cat ownership are long gone.) 

I went and picked up the fledgling. It was quite old but not old enough to fly. It sat in my gently curled fingers, a bundle of feathers barely big enough to contain the rapid beating of its heart. Piglet howled that it couldn't go in the bin. She insisted it should go back to its nest but I had no idea where the nest could be, we are surrounded by coppices full of robins and sparrows and blue tits and magpies and starlings and even a wren. 

Eventually I took it round to the trees and put it on the ground under the holly bush. Wild romantic thoughts flitted through my mind of keeping it and trying to feed it (with what?). I knew this would only mean it died slowly in front of our eyes. 

The tiny bird shuffled rapidly along the ground through dried dead leaves larger than it was. I left it to an unknown fate. "Perhaps it will survive," I said to Piglet. We both knew I was lying. We would rather not know the truth. 

Piglet is quite old now, so I explained Darwin's theory of survival of the fittest. I'm not a romantic thinker, I'm a humanist. I don't think animals have the same level of consciousness. I explained to Piglet that we can't blame the cats. They are driven to what they do, it's how they are. We can't lock them in the house for their evil crime that was not against nature, it was entirely in line with their nature, with Nature red in tooth and claw.

Robert Graves describes The Cool Web of language, he believed children experience the world more intensely, while for us, "There's a cool web of language winds us in/Retreat from too much joy or too much fear." Perhaps my words tempered the shock for Piglet, came between her and the sudden death before her eyes.

We are Buddhists (not very good ones!). For us the world is all a web, not cool; hot, bloody, sparkling, interlinked. For us, the bird, the trees, the cats, the earth, the sky are one. It's all unwound in chaos. For a moment as I put the bird in the leaves, I had an anthropomorphic horror, thinking of it there alone, getting cold as night comes in, hungry. Birds are not like us, they don't have the same consciousness. It wasn't alone, it was in the leaves, under the trees, with the sound of the wind and other birds around. 

I thought for a moment, too, that the other birds, who were swiftly killed by the cats, were luckier. Then, that each little spark of life deserves its moment in the hot web of life, its full agonising moment, that makes up that little strand of Life. The dark of death defines those little sparking moments. 

I didn't exactly cry, and if I did, I knew it wasn't for the little bird. I used to live in a house that was more confined, a smaller garden surrounded by a lane and busy road. We had mice but only once or twice a bird, and never fledglings. We never such a brutal reminder of the rich tapestry of life - and death, the dark that sets off the golden threads. For a brief spell, I've been immersed in it, a raw consciousness of life and death, of a natural world which is not cruel but indifferent to whether you can take your chances or miss them. I still like to live next to the park, the trees, the many birds. I still love the cats, who are not indifferent - often grumpy, shy of other people, sometimes suddenly coming to curl close to one of us - their chosen humans, and purr and sleep in our laps. 

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