Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Playing God

In Daniel Quinn's Ishmael, the role of "the gods" is to decide who should live and who should die. Most critters leave that up to God, but us people like to take it into our own hands...or at least dwell in the illusion that we're doing so.

A little while ago, I went to fetch a couple black tubs. They were laying on the ground under some 6' tall arbovitae trees that I had tried to rescue from someone's yard waste pile...they had been dug up by the roots to make room for different land scaping. Those people decided they trees should die. I decided they should live...if they wanted to. I heeled them in and watered them, but it looks like they are dying anyhow. I want to play God, but I'm not omnipotent.

When I turned a tub over, I shrieked in surprise. Not one but two 4' snakes were coiled in it! They were racers of some sort, bluish/slatey/olive on top, with bright yellow bellies. Slender heads, barely larger around than their necks.

One raced off, the other stayed a few minutes in the tub, poking its nose over the edge in different directions. It never stopped vibrating the tip of its tail like a rattlesnake...had it been in dry leaves, I would have certainly been concerned.

When it leaped out of the tub, it headed up an arborvitae. Instant pandemonium ensued! Feathers flew, and female cardinal erupted out of the shrub into my face and fluttered to a nearby fence, chucking a loud warning call.

I looked in the bush, cautiously. Sure enough, there was a nest with 2 eggs and a new hatchling...and the snake, poised to have a savory lunch. I grabbed at the snake and he moved off to another arborvitae, waiting for me to leave so he could eat. I decided the baby birds should live a bit longer. So I grabbed his tail (I happened to have on leather gloves) and in one swift motion yanked him out of the tree and threw him into the grass some ways away.

He lost no time in racing back to the tree and trying to climb again. This time, I used a board to flip him out into the open where I could step on his back (gently...I wanted him to live, too). Then I got him by the head and picked him up. What a beautiful thing!

I took him off to a pasture area far from the arborvitae, not too near any dense shrubs where songbirds might be nesting. I flung him as far as I could over the fence. He lay there looking at me for a few minutes before I went back to check the nest.

The cardinal was still sounding her alarm. Was the other snake attacking the nest now? Oh, the cat has been lying there watching the whole drama. So really, I have only saved the baby birds from the snake in order that the cat might eat them when they leave the nest...or the cat might snag their parents.

I picked up the cat and brought it in the house and gave it some food.

I had decreed to a volunteer earlier in the day that the crispy trees, now turning brown, could be dug up again and consigned to the burn pile, but we never got around to it. That procrastination unintentionally saved the life of the tree's residents, undiscovered at that time. Had my friend tackled the removal, I doubt she would have realized that the bird's presence indicated a nest. The trees don't seem big enough for a nest...but it IS just the kind of low, bushy site that cardinals prefer.

Everyone wants to eat everything else, or so it sometimes seems. Who should live and who should die? I can interfere, but I can't guarantee long safe lives for those baby birds any more than I can for myself.

And really, any day is a good day to die when one is at peace with God. I think it is mainly humans that truly fear death...we don't trust God enough, and we aren't enough at peace with God most of the time. So often we hear or read about people "saving" lives...but all that really happens is lives are prolonged, and allowed to end in a different manner.

Little by little, I will work to eliminate the term "" from my speech. In honor of a cardinal family that was given reprieve many times in one afternoon, but will surely perish someday, sooner or later.

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