Updated: Sep 17, 2019
Mouse is gone. Today, he didn’t creep from the fir bough pile to snatch the raisins I left for him before I climbed into my perch overlooking the clover field. I’d watch quietly as first his pink but graying nose, then his whiskers, then his one good eye would poke from the home he’d built. His ears, one tall and proud, the other cut and torn (and maybe even chewed upon) would twitch and turn and listen well.
When confident that Fox was gone, and that Owl was not about, he’d scurry-limp the two l-o-n-g feet to the pine stump and sniff the raisins for a while, then roll one with his nose till finally he was comfortable, then begin to feed.
Each night last week this replayed itself. The Hunter in his tree, waiting to deliver death to the prey he sought while Hunted found manna left on a stump by his doorway. How strange! Waiting to kill, even eager to, yet the fate of this little mouse has infused itself into my brain, to the very core, and it is he I think of when I am away from here.
He has suffered. Most wild things do. Three nights back Owl screeched from the top of the ridge while Mouse was feasting and even in his aging, gimpy legs, found the strength to reach his hole in two leaps of fright. I imagined how his heart must pound, how his breath must scrape against his throat while he hangs in fear, not knowing if he gets to live or die. Or, if Owl passes him by this time, if his death will come tomorrow from Fox or Coyote. Or Hunger. Or Cold.
Cold is worst. How I shake in this perch of mine when the cool damp nights approach. And I merely need to climb down and turn to home, where the soft glowing windows announce the warmth within as I walk the final yards. But Mouse? He huddles beneath the fir and shakes and shivers and waits for dawn, when Sun will warm the woods again and let him live another day.
But tonight, he’s gone. My arrow goes un-nocked as I await his nose. It doesn’t come. The raisins sit uneaten. The clover field sits unseen as afternoon slips into evening, as Sun departs the sky and lets Cold creep down the ridge. Yes, Mouse is gone.
As I walk toward my own bough pile I imagine Fox at his door, then dismiss the thought. The boughs were not disturbed. More likely, Owl. In the first gray streaks of day, when Mouse clambered into the coming warmth, still too chilled and numb to fear, Owl came. With a rush of wings and perhaps a joyous screech, Owl found a raisin of his own, and Mouse was gone.
Death one day will come for me. Will it be quick like Owl’s talons as He squeezes out the life within, or will death linger and slither slowly down, like cold creeping down the ridge? I hope for the swiftness of Owl. But I hope not to hear his wings or his joyous screech. Let him pounce on me when my belly is full of a raisin’s gift, content and warm, and walking toward my home. Selfishly, I hope for a better end than Mouse likely had.
I drop the last raisins from my pocket in the grass outside my door and step into the warm embrace of home. Yes, I hope for Owl. But not tonight…