I am both of these women.
The first one opens the living room drapes, sees it happening, and screams for her husband. He doesn’t answer. She slaps the palm of her hand against the glass pane over and over again until her hand throbs. She isn’t thinking straight. The window is double-glazed and the combatants cannot hear her.
“Stop. Oh no, stop.” The voice makes a choking kind of scream.
“What’s wrong?” Finally, her husband.
“Out there; they’re killing it; you have to make them stop.” That voice again, not crying tears but strident and desperate. Wailing despair.
That’s my voice, she realizes.
Her husband is out there now, yelling at them. It makes no difference. The red racer snake continues to move slowly across the yard. A ground squirrel pounces, bites it, claws it. The snake’s skin is torn in places. Red racer does not speed up with each new attack. A curve-billed thrasher is also there, grabbing the snake’s tail in its beak, tugging, squawking.
The woman cannot bear to watch this assault on her beautiful snake.
The second woman is napping. This time it’s her husband who calls for her, from outside the
bedroom window, “Come now. Snake.”
She’s barely awake but ever since that summer when her snake was attacked—maybe even died from the injuries—there have been very few snakes around, so she hurries to the front of the house, eager to see this one. Her husband meets her in the kitchen.
“Where?” she asks.
“The bluebird box.”
She runs outside. There is a thick pink and burgundy rope stretching from a branch of the piñon tree into the opening of the bluebird box. There are ash-throated flycatcher chicks in there. Were. Her mind knows it is already over for the birds.
“Make it stop,” she yells. It’s that same strident voice, that same wailing. She cannot watch this and goes inside. She feels sick and her voice won’t stop screaming. “No, not the chicks. Oh no, not the chicks.” She has her head between her hands and she bends double to roar her anguish.
The woman cannot bear to watch this attack on her beautiful birds.
I am both of these women. And in both situations I am wrong.
I love my little parcel of land and everything about it. It is piñon-juniper woodland outside Santa Fe, New Mexico. I sketch its wildflowers; I feed its birds; I watch its bees and bobcats and lizards. I do everything possible to make my acre and a half an urban refuge.
I have learned to love its snakes, ever since the moving van ran over a garter snake in our driveway the day we moved in. I found the limp body later, slipped a stick under it, and moved it out of the sun. The year the red racers showed up, I watched one hunt a kangaroo rat. I vaguely knew they would help control the rodent population. I could set fewer mouse traps. I championed “my” snakes in the same way I rooted for other critters on our property. Did I forget to cheer for the rats?
I have watched a Cooper’s hawk kill a mourning dove by chasing it into one of our living room picture windows. I’ve seen another one gut a robin. I don’t wail at the hawk. I’m not upset when bird after bird kills bug after bug. I didn’t scream at the wolf in Yellowstone, breakfasting on a kill. I didn’t rail against the grizzly bear and her two cubs savaging the bison carcass. I felt privileged to watch. But it takes seeing a snake I love consume a bird I love in the middle of my “refuge” to show me the extent of my wrong thinking. These are not my pets. This is not entertainment. We are not at Disney Santa Fe.
I am seeing wild. I should be smart enough to respect it while it still remains, while it is right here in front of me.
It is not my place to love them or hate them.