Blood On Our Hands
I open the blinds to find that a heavy fog has settled during the night. We are inside a cloud so heavy with wet that I can see the tiny droplets swirling around, settling on branches where they group together until there are enough to carry the droplets to earth. It is soft and quiet and it shows no sign of the madness of the night before, and only I know that the mist contains tears.
Living on a farm, or in the woods away from urban life is beautiful in so many ways. Our guests often comment on the beauty of it, how blessed we are to be here and how different it feels to be away from town and I agree. It is different and lovely and most certainly a blessing but a life in the woods is not without its difficulties. Photos of serenity; grand old barns, cattle grazing before a mountainous tree covered backdrop, a pure, clear stream slipping over mossy rocks… they tell the story but in those barns and trees, hiding watching and waiting there lies a foe.
I learned early that co-existing with nature is crucial in order for our planet to survive and having a window into the natural world was a great gift that is often overlooked. Highways cut through the mountains and carloads of people drive these roads every day never really seeing, never knowing how many eyes are looking back but I digress.
I want to tell you about what it can be like, what it is often like to live out in the boondocks, and what happens to those trying to carve out a life within the trees. At night, the sound of the creek echoes below. The night birds call and all the little creatures of the forest move about. It is mostly serene to my ears, until there is a burst of sound outside the window. It is a chicken crying out and the thumping of wings and bodies inside the small coop right outside our back door. We launch ourselves from the blankets and run for the door, grabbing the rifle on the way.
We are outside but not fast enough as the possum exits the coop with a small body in its mouth. Candace chases it, hearing the crunch of tiny bones as it tries to run away. I run back in for a flashlight and when I return Candace is standing in the yard, holding the traumatized chicken. I scan with the flashlight and the possum is no more than eighteen inches from her, mouth agape and covered in feathers. She moves away and I fire and fire as it runs, over the fence and down into the deep dark of the trees. It escapes.
Slowly, with dread we open the coop. Another body lies on its side and two more are missing. Our grief cracks open the silence like prisoners breaking rock. Innocent pets, tiny helpless animals have paid the price at the hands of a brutal, relentless killer. It does not come to eat. It kills and kills until there is nothing left leaving an ugly picture of its existence. Had it been left to finish its task, the possum would have torn bits away, leaving some with only the holes that killed it. We find and check the remaining chickens. One is dead and one is dying. We help her to pass quickly and she does not fight it.
Losing a pet to a wild thing is hard. Neighbors dogs have been carried away by coyotes and chickens are lost to hawks and possums, mink and raccoon throughout this valley and beyond. It happens more than you can imagine. Their cunning and determination makes them an unbeatable foe. It will happen again. It always does. We look away for a moment and death rushes in. Sometimes we get a chance to fight back and barn and shed walls display the pelts of those who went too far and came to close. I admit, I am glad when a possum is dead in a pool of blood at my feet and I feel nothing for them. I pass sentence. I am the reaper when I must be.
Comfy in your neighborhood, perhaps you grimace. Perhaps you judge. Judge at breakfast as you enjoy your eggs and bacon. A farmer somewhere protected their animals and raised them so you could eat and you don’t know what it can be like to suddenly lose them, farm animal or not. Think of this too, as you wind your way down a country road, past a farm big or small with cows, goats, sheep, pigs and chickens. We all have holes in our hearts and blood on our hands. We keep going, and because we do there is food on the table in every home, every restaurant, and every market. The bloody cycle goes on and we are all a part of it. Whether you are the hand that holds the spoon or the knife, a bit of that blood is always on your hands.