August 25, 2011

Between Life and Death, No Balance

Out of its cardboard carrier, the red-tailed hawk heads for the trees
M. and I were on the road again this past morning to the Raptor Center in Pueblo, not bringing in an injured bird this time but with the happier chore of releasing a rehabilitated red-tailed hawk back to its home range in the Wet Mountain Valley.

At the edge of the prairie, some little birds (horned larks?) flew up from the road, and one thudded into the windshield right in front of M.'s face, stopping her mid-sentence.

A life for a life? I felt like an ambulance driver running down a pedestrian.

We ate brunch at the Coyote Grille, then went next door and picked up our hawk, already caught and boxed by one of the Raptor Center volunteers.

Driving into the mountains, I ran over a little ground squirrel that darted in front of the Jeep. They do that. The crows and ravens will clean it up, I tell myself. Balance,

A few more curves, and there is a porcupine lying in the road. OK, it needs to be moved off the asphalt if any scavengers are going to deal with it.

I parked and pulled on the welder's gloves that I had brought in case I needed to handle the bird (which I did not). I walked up to the porky—and it was still alive.

It looked to have been scraped or dragged by a car—quills missing from its back—and its hind legs were limp, not working.

Quick decision: I carried it off the road into the grass, drew my pistol, and shot it.

Porcupine quills in my glove.
Dad, an old-school forester, killed every porcupine he saw. They damaged the pine trees, the Forest Service's cash crop.  When I was old enough to shoot it, he would hand me his revolver. Then I got to be a little older and decided that maybe not every porky deserved immediate execution. But I did not think any wildlife rehabber could have saved this one.It was weak and immobile.

We had a somber drive to the Lake DeWeese State Wildlife Area, where I carried the boxed hawk off out of sight of the road, slit the tape, and whoa! it was ready to go!

The hawk flew up into a ponderosa pine tree and flapped its wings as it adjusted its position. After months in the big flight cage, where all the perches are fixed, maybe it needed to readjust to flexible tree branches.

We drove into Westcliffe and bought some homemade goat cheese at the farmers' market. Back into the world of human commerce.

Half a day, 120 miles driven. Three small deaths, one second chance for a hawk. It is probably a mistake to impose any desire for a meaning when you are dealing with wild lives.

UPDATE: Read more on death and the other-than-human world in the October 2013 Animist Blog Carnival.

3 comments:

Midwest Chick said...

Sounds like you had quite the day of ups and downs. Sounds like you were in the right place though to make it so an animal didn't have to continue to suffer on an asphalt road.

Janeen said...

The desire I see in many people to avoid any contact with animal death or suffering seems to me to be rooted more in a kind of shallow, unexamined self righteousness and contrived innocence than in a genuine desire to revere and understand life.

naturebum said...

Just recently I happened across a kangaroo that had been hit by a car and left for dead. The poor animal had a broken back and crumpled rear leg, splintered in obscene angles.
The sorry wretch was struggling to move off the road, (which obviously couldn't and wouldn't happen considering injuries) fear in eyes.
I wielded a heavy log to the head as quickly and powerfully as I could muster.
Thankfully, the animal passed from misery quickly.
Unfortunately, as distateful as this act of violence was on my part, the act of ignoring the roo by the motorist (or me) and leaving it to suffer, or for someone else to take care of, is just as violent and distasteful.