I have been reflecting this afternoon on my constant struggle with being present, living in the moment. Here I am living in such close proximity to a world where every being is completely adapted and evolved to survive or perish, and those who survive become a thread into a continuing story of life and change in this vast, wild land. Yet I find myself living in my own bubble, consumed by worries about marriage, finance, life in a new community.
A friend invited to me to cook dinner at his cabin last night. In between stirring chicken and vegetables and chopping garlic, we watched the feeders in his backyard, a hidden, micro-world revealed and unfolding before our eyes from the safe blind of his windows. Families of dark-eyed junco, chestnut-backed chickadee, and pine siskin bounced from feeder to feeder, feeder to ground, ground to branch, branch to feeder. A fluffed up baby chickadee cried for assistance in finding the perfect seed to eat and pecked at bits of wood, its beak still holding onto a whisper of yellow and orange, and its tiny legs wobbling delicately and tentatively on the slight, wooden beams framing the platform feeder.
Just inches from our eyes, a young hummingbird perched and drank for long moments at a time from the window feeder, its little tongue flicking and wings fluttering in an effort to keep its balance. My friend described the scene only a few weeks before, as the young hummingbird fledglings first discovered the feeder and learned by trial and error how to find the holes in the feeder to attain the nectar within.
Later in the evening, while I lay on the couch, resting limbs weary from hours of standing and walking around a cruise ship all day, he told me of a wintery day he crossed Icy Passage to hunt deer with a friend on Pleasant Island. Hunters from town have a habit of passing by the island by boat and shooting at anything that moves within the forest. On this particular day, he found a young fawn whose leg had been shot and dangled limp and bleeding from its body. His friend encouraged him to shoot it, so it would die more readily and suffer less through the harsh winter months, which would certainly kill it if he did not. Just as he was preparing to shoot this deer, its twin came up and rested its head on its sibling’s back, both staring back at him. He found himself temporarily unable to shoot. When the healthy fawn departed, he shot the young deer. Though aiming for the head, he hit its neck, and it fell bleeding into the snow, licking its lips and blinking its eyes, staring straight ahead. At what? He shot it a second time and watched it fade away, knowing he would not go hunting again. While the search for the animals could be invigorating, he could not bear to kill them.
This story moved me to tears. I find that as I get older, I have more and more difficulty with death, whether it is a part of the natural world by which I live on the periphery and especially when by the hand of man. Yet, the choices I make every day by virtue of living on this planet have far-reaching consequences. I mulled over these thoughts as I lay in bed that night and fell asleep and awoke to the image of the two deer on Pleasant Island. I felt uneasy and saddened, though I knew that the deer would likely not have survived the winter. Does death affect me so strongly because I worry about losing those who are close to me in my own life? Or is it the loss of a child for a parent, human or other? It seems my sensitivity grows stronger still at the needless loss of life of animals so attuned to their surroundings by the careless hand of man.
This afternoon, I walked from park headquarters to the VIS to meet a group of students coming in from a tour vessel, when I heard tinkling, trilling sounds from the young alders growing like a maze along the side of the path. I paused and saw a young fluffball of a bird flitting about in the upper reaches of an alder. I focused my binoculars on it and watched it land, bobbing forward and back like a tightrope walker in training. It was so strange to stand and watch this young creature with so many odds against it, knowing that soon I would continue walking and let my own thoughts and worries take over once again. For that brief moment, I experienced a respite from my own inner struggle with life and anxiety, and I was present with this creature. I hardly expect that this young orange-crowned warbler was aware of my presence, so focused was it on feeding from the cow parsnip flowers. Yet my heart reached out to this young fledgling, and as I continued down the path, I worried for it, hoping it would survive and live in and around the forest around my home in Bartlett Cove.