Constant Companions

I distinctly remember the first time I realized that I would die.  I was about 9 or 10 and I was lying in bed at night, when suddenly this realization poured over me.  I am going to die someday.  The room spun.  My heart pounded. Surely, this couldn’t be possible.  Yet, not only was it possible – it was absolutely going to happen!

Sometimes I wonder if I think about death more than the average person.  It’s not that I have a morbid fascination with it.  Nor do I fear it.  But the knowledge of this universal truth compels me toward a respectful recognition of this point within the Circle of Life.

I feel a need to confront death and suffering head on.  This is difficult work, and it is a part of what draws me to working in wildlife rehabilitation.  I do not want to run, hide, or be in fear of the Truth.  I want to walk hand in hand with it, to welcome it, to be at peace with it.

A couple of days ago, I received the news that my beloved raccoon friend, Nyxie, had died.  She was a special patient at the wildlife rehabilitation center I work at, and her sweet, gentle disposition touched the hearts of all who knew her.

I was so crestfallen when I got the news, even though I knew it was best in the long run.  I took a walk down to the old cemetery near my house, and I saw a flock of turkeys coming up the path.  How apropos.  Turkeys somehow always remind me of the gifts of life and death.

I walked down to the weathered tombstones, the graves of townsfolk who witnessed the Revolutionary War, the Civil War, and the turn of the century.  Normally, I only walk to the edge of the cemetery. There is something that prevents me from entering.  I think it is just the knowledge that I am standing on the bones of lives that were once filled with vitality –  people who laughed, ate, slept, suffered, loved.  And now their skeletons lie flat and crumbling below my feet.

But I did not hesitate to enter the cemetery this time.  I looked at the headstones.  I looked at the surrounding forest.  I listened to the cars in the distance.  I smelled the autumn air. I felt Death and Life beside me, around me, inside me – constant companions and friends.  I felt grief. I felt the wind rustle. I felt my heart beat.  I felt peaceful.

On that note, I’d like to share one of my favorite excerpts from Johnny Muir:

“All the merry dwellers of the trees and streams, and the myriad swarms of the air, called into life by the sunbeam of a summer morning, go home through death, wings folded perhaps in the last red rays of sunset of the day they were first tried.  Trees towering in the sky, braving storms of centuries, flowers turning faces to the light for a single day or hour, having enjoyed their share of life’s feast – all alike passed on and away under the law of death and love.  Yet all are our brothers and they enjoy life as we do, share heaven’s blessings with us, die and are buried in hallowed ground, come with us out of eternity and return into eternity.”

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Nyxie had a gentle and loving demeanor that was very calming to be around.  She was a miracle of Nature, and she has now returned Home.

 

 

 

 

 

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The skunk under the bridge

The skunk under the bridge

The following is a guest post by Rob Fletcher, originally written for his blog At Your Best. It is about our experience rescuing a stranded skunk, and I couldn’t have written anything more perfect about this beautiful and poignant moment.   I’ve also included a video of some of the skunks I have been caring for at the wildlife rehabilitation facility that I volunteer at. Please enjoy. 

Another 90 degree summer day, another work day done, another evening summer swim in the books. I left the water at the base of the bridge of the Millers River and started up the bank when a movement behind me caught my eye. I turned and saw an adolescent skunk huddled on the concrete ledge about four feet off the ground. It peered at me for a moment then tucked its head back into its body, flattening itself against the wall and shaking lightly. A list of swear words had been spray painted sometime earlier in the summer above where it lay – a neat juxtaposition of the priorities of importance of animal and human realm.

I called Laura. Laura volunteers at a wildlife rehabilitation place locally and is studying to get her license – she’d know what to do, how to help. Then I sat on the bank looking at the skunk while waiting for Laura to arrive. It was beautiful. A white crown and broad white striping on its young back. It was quiet down there, just sitting and being near this scared, stressed, uncomplaining little animal. Something settled in me that moment.

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Young skunks having a meal at a wildlife rehabilitation facility. See below for video footage!

Laura arrived with a pet carrier, a broom, a blanket and a can of cat food. It took a while, cat food in carrier, open door, blanket over the carrier to create a safe, dark cave, and Laura quietly, calmly, patiently sweeping near the skunk until it finally backed into the cage. Laura carried it upstream and found a quiet spot in the woods near the water’s edge. She opened the carrier door but the skunk didn’t want to leave. She had to tilt it until it finally came out. As soon as it realized where it was it shuffled into the underbrush, vanishing to the human eye back into nature.

Laura thought that it may have been stuck up there a while. Skunks can climb a little bit , and it probably scrambled up to escape something attacking it. But the smooth surface of the concrete, surrounded almost entirely by water, probably made it too difficult to climb down. It was probably hungry and dehydrated, and definitely very stressed. I was proud of Laura – her first successful rescue mission.

I had had a good day of work previously – lots got accomplished. But nothing felt like the skunk experience. The work had me at one level, then the skunk helped me sink way down. Its quiet vulnerability released an internal wall and I felt such a deep tenderness. And to help, to be of use, felt so powerful. I could see why Laura is attracted to this kind of work.

And I was reminded again of the deep power of purpose – of aligning our actions with helping something beyond ourselves. Seeing vulnerability makes it easier to do. It unlocks that tenderness we’re all capable of. How can we be of use? How can we notice vulnerability around us? How can we let down our guards to show our vulnerability? Vulnerability is the cornerstone of trust, of connection. There is some part of each person we meet today that is huddled into itself, scared and shaking. After all, we are all animals.

Welcoming Winter

Welcoming Winter

I have a confession to make.  I have been dreading winter since the last dreamy, verdant weeks of summer.  But as summer turned to autumn and then autumn to winter, I have found myself befriending the cold, quiet days and the long, dark nights.  The air feels crisp and invigorating on my face during my contemplative wanderings through the woods.  There is a stillness that fills the forest, which I find peaceful and soothing, and the early nightfall gives me permission to rest and relax.

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A winter landscape as seen through my living room window

Winter seems to have arrived well before solstice this year, and we’ve been enjoying a tranquil frosted landscape here in western Massachusetts. By the time solstice rolled around, I found myself ready – and perhaps even slightly eager – to embrace the ups and downs of the season.  My attitude about winter surprised me, given the level of dread and loathing I previously felt.  However, there is wisdom in nature – even the parts we don’t favor – and that feels too precious a gift to squander.

On the first day of winter, I saw a truck strike a wild turkey while I was on my way to work.  It tottered across the road while the traffic kept moving.  I slowed to a stop on the side of the road where the turkey piteously hobbled to the shoulder and collapsed face down into a snow bank.

I grabbed a blanket from my car and slowly approached the turkey, arms outstretched, and gently wrapped it up and put it in my car.  My initial thought was that I would contact a wildlife rehabber, but my first glance at the turkey told me that it wasn’t likely to survive.  I didn’t see any blood, but I could see the life slipping away from its limp body.

I called work to say I was running late, then brought the turkey back home.  By then I could see that its spirit had left.  I carried the warm, lifeless body inside and placed it on the kitchen floor.  I have never seen a turkey up close like that before, and I was struck by how beautiful it was.   It was magnificent, with gleaming iridescent feathers.  They felt impossibly soft and thick as I ran my hands through them.  The wings were wide and striped with a remarkably intricate pattern.  How could such an impressive and beautiful animal exist right here in New England?

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Big, beautiful bird

I felt confused as mix of sorrow, anger, and awe coursed through me.  How could someone just hit an incredible creature like this and not stop or seem to care?

I decided to accept this sad event as a gift.  I sat next to the beautiful bird with loving admiration, seeking to honor it.

While I’ve never hunted or farmed, I do eat meat, and I realized that this gift was a opportunity for me to connect with the land in a new way.  And with Christmas right around the corner, I knew this turkey would go to good use.

I plucked and dressed the turkey on tarp in the kitchen, as Rob read instructions to me (thank goodness for the internet!).  It was an unforgettable experience – one that gave me a newfound respect for our animal brethren and for the lives that they give to us so that we may have sustenance.  I also gained a newfound respect for myself as I took responsibility for cleaning and preparing an animal to eat.  Having had no prior experience with that, I wasn’t sure it was something I could do, but it connected me to nature in a way that I have never experienced before.

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Plucking the turkey

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Removing the insides of the turkey – an experience I’m not likely to forget anytime soon. The “blood” on my shirt is not from the turkey – it’s fake blood leftover from Halloween!

Today is Christmas eve, and a magical layer of ice and snow drapes the trees like fine crystal.  As I glance out the window, I can see juncos hopping from the rooftop to a branch and then back again.  Later today, I will be roasting the turkey and, as always, I will be giving thanks for the sacredness of life and the miraculous wisdom and divine harmony of Nature.

Wishing you all a safe and Merry Christmas.

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The Sacredness of Life

It’s been a challenging week.  I’ve been struggling to go at a pace that my body doesn’t like.

Meanwhile, life around me is slowing down.  The leaves are starting to fall, the garden is winding down, and even the weeds seem to have stopped growing.  The days are getting shorter, animals are preparing for winter, and there is less energy all around.   Mother Nature is getting ready for the long winter’s rest ahead.  So why shouldn’t I?

Autumn is perhaps the most poignant season, in my opinion.  These crisp, sweet days remind us of less complicated times, as we try to savor the fleeting burst of color across the landscape.  Things around us are going dormant or dying, leaving behind a quiet and familiar melancholy.

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It’s hard to accept things dying, even when it’s part of nature’s flow.  It’s even harder to accept when it seems that there is no reason for it.

This past week, a deer was brought to the wildlife rehabilitation facility I volunteer at.  It had been hit by a car; its back was broken and one of its legs was broken and bent in an unnatural direction.  It had only been there a short while before I arrived, but already an animal control officer was arriving to take it away and alleviate it’s suffering.

The deer cried piteously as it was carried away in a blanket.   It was loaded into the back of a truck, and there it lay – helpless as it suffered through its last moments of life on earth.

Why should any creature suffer so needlessly?  That is, without a doubt, one of the great mysteries of life.

After the injured deer was carried away, I went to feed the two remaining fawns.  I was so struck by their beauty and fragility as they sucked at the bottles of milk with the golden autumn sunlight flashing in their eyes, on their long, lovely lashes, and on their coarse, tawny hair.

Coming face to face with suffering is very difficult, but it makes the Sacredness of Life all the more evident.  It gives me the urge to  care for my earth-home and cherish my fellow living beings.  The grass, the ferns, the squirrels, the oaks, the rivers, the turkeys, the beetles, the moths, the coyotes, the rabbits, the pines, the soil, the blue jays, the bumblebees, and everything else that is a part of this living, breathing world – I offer my tender gratitude to you.

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I Saved a Life Today

I found a shivering, half submerged mouse in my toilet bowl today.  From the look of things, I’m guessing it had been there for an hour or two.  It probably had struggled futilely to scramble out, and then given up, too scared and cold to keep fighting.

I pulled it out with a container and patted it gently with a towel, trying to dry its soaked, matted fur.  I sat with it and tried to comfort it as best as I could.  Then I put the mouse in a small box with my heating pad and some towels.  The mouse curled up with dim eyes, like the life essence was leaving its tiny little body.

About an hour later, I opened the box, and the mouse scurried under the heating pad.  Further investigation revealed that it had dried off and I could see the Light of Life in its eyes once more.  I took the box outside (away from the house!) and the mouse scampered hurriedly away.

I don’t know if the mouse will survive, but I do know that nothing deserves to die alone and cold in a toilet bowl.

An hour or two after the mouse episode, I was watching some wild turkeys in my yard.  They had been there for hours, and a few of them were laying down in some dried leaves by the edge of my yard while the others foraged for food.

The turkeys come through the yard pretty much every day.  There used to be thirteen, but I only counted eleven today.  Furthermore, I noticed that one had sustained an injury and was hopping lamely on one leg.  My guess is that a predator took a couple of the birds, and that the injured one had narrowly escaped.

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Turkeys in the yard

I felt sad watching the injured turkey, because I know that in all likelihood, it won’t survive.  I watched it foraging, and I held a deep love and appreciation for it, its beauty, and the knowledge that it will become sustenance for another living creature.

As someone who is involved with wildlife rehabilitation, it can be hard to know when to step in, and when to let nature take its course.  Did I have an urge to help that turkey?  Of course.  Why did I help the mouse and not the turkey?  Well, for one thing, I probably couldn’t catch that turkey even if I tried, and it probably would have done more damage than good anyway.

I know I can’t save everything.  I have seen and will continue to see animals suffer and die.  It is painful, especially when it is the result of human activity (e.g., when an animal is hit by a car).  Yet, it is also poignant, and in Nature, nothing ever goes to waste.

It is my Life’s Work to strive to honor and respect all living things.  In a human-centric world, I feel a personal calling to rejoice in the value and sacredness of our fellow living beings.  All living things have significance and play an important role in the great web of life.

I’ve been having a lazy day today, and found myself feeling guilty for not accomplishing more. But then I thought to myself, “I saved a life today.”  Today, I looked into the eyes of another living creature, and saw the gift of life.  Today, I watched butterflies feed on miraculous garden blooms and listened appreciatively to the wind in the trees.  Today, I felt the preciousness of each moment as I watched a flock of turkeys.  Maybe that’s enough.

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Raccoon Rescue: Departures and Arrivals

Whew!  What a day!

As some of you know, I volunteer on Tuesdays at a wildlife rehab facility.  Today, we released 3 of the raccoons that we have raised for the past year.   Loaded up in cages in the back of the van, we drove them out to a carefully selected site.  My heart went out to them as I could hear them scratching frantically at the cages, desperate to get out.  Poor babies!

Fortunately, their distress was short lived, and well worth the end result: freedom.  As we opened the cages, my heart soared at seeing these amazing animals being returned to their true home in the wild.  This is where they belong.  Never has anything been more obvious, more naturally beautiful and right.  They were so happy, so free, so wild, so gleeful and excited.  We watched as they explored their new surroundings – climbing trees, scrambling over rocks, drinking from a stream, taking in all the sights, sounds, and scents.  At last, it came time to say goodbye, but it was with full heart, knowing that these friends were finally home.

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The gateway to freedom!

Back in the van, we had one more stop: to the vet with our porcupine friend, Lucille.  Now, I am here to tell you that taking a porcupine to the vet is no easy task.  I carried the cage in and set it down on the table, where we proceeded to throw a blanket over her, lift her out, and hold her down – all while wearing reeeeallly thick gloves.

Lucille was hit and dragged by a plow back in December.  The fur and quills on her back were completely scraped off, and she has appeared to have some issues with her eye sight.  Thankfully, her quills and fur have been growing back quite nicely, but we haven’t been too sure about her eyes.  Unfortunately, the vet confirmed that Lucille is blind.  We are not sure what we can do for her eyes to restore vision, but we will try to help her as best we can.

After our trip to the vet, it was time to feed our new arrivals: 6 baby raccoons.  These are from 2 separate litters.  In one family, the mother was relocated without realizing there were babies. In the other family, the mother was killed by an exterminator (which, unfortunately, is a standard practice).

The babies arrived just a couple weeks old, with their eyes still shut, and grieving for their mother.   Needless to say, they need a lot of love and care (which they are getting)!  Right now, they are only about 6 to 8 inches long, but you wouldn’t believe the racket they can make!  And of course, they are cute beyond words!

Now the day is done, and I’m completely worn out.  I’m out on my patio listening to the song of the whippoorwill and the yapping of coyotes, thinking about the cycle of life and how it goes on and on.   We are born, we get older, and eventually, we all go free.  This is the way of the world, and the Divine Harmony of Life.

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Home at last

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Free and wild

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Going to take a drink!

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The view is great from up here!

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A bouquet of babies

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Time for feeding

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Snuggle time!

 

 

 

 

 

 

Saying Goodbye Too Soon

Saying Goodbye Too Soon

I am absolutely grief stricken.  Today I found out that my beloved fox friend, Daryl, was senselessly shot and killed.

Daryl was found as an orphaned baby with his eyes barely open, and he had been lovingly cared for at Medicine Mammals wildlife rehabilitation facility until his release a few weeks ago.

Daryl was 5 months old, and he was still learning the ropes of being on his own, and he could sometimes still be seen hanging around Medicine Mammals.  He loved to “help” the volunteers, and he would run in giddy circles around me as I made the rounds to feed the animals.  Of course, I’d wind up stopping to play with him, sometimes even getting down on all fours to romp around.  Those moments were magical, as I could see the spark of pure joy in his eyes,  and feel the exuberance of life in his soul.

I had especially been looking forward to seeing him when I arrived today.  When I got the news, I was just devastated.

I fed and watered the animals in a daze.  There was no gleeful friend to accompany me, no silly fox grin, no soft light making his fur glow.  And there never will be again.

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Daryl giving a playful love bite to Loril.  (His love bites did not hurt.)

While I took care of the animals, a new patient arrived – a baby raccoon with a badly infected face.  His eyes, unrecognizable as eyes, were gummed over black thumbprints, and his nose was glazed over and festering, making breathing almost impossible.  He had a puncture wound on the top of his nose, and smelled of dying flesh.

Loril, the director, gave him some painkiller and I helped to retrieve some other medicines.  But ultimately, Loril decided that she needed the help of a vet.

I drove as she held the poor suffering baby, and with each mile and each minute, it became clearer that the raccoon needed our help to transition to the other side.  And so, once at the vet’s, we spent the last few moments of this young raccoon’s life holding him, loving him, and honoring him.

So, death came to my doorstep twice today – once as a senseless killing, and once filled with suffering.  What do I do with this?  How do I come to terms with it?  For death is certainly a part of life, and suffering is universal.

When I think of Daryl, I feel beside myself with grief, flush with anger, and hollow with disbelief all at the same time.  But when I reach beyond that, I know that more than anything, I want to honor the sweet, curious, playful spirit that he was.

May we remember that we are not the only ones here on this earth.  Each and every living being is beautiful and sacred, and deserves to be honored with love and respect.

Rest in peace, dear Daryl.  Be at peace, little raccoon.  I hold you in my heart.

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