At the Farm, the Animals Go On the Prowl

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Lightning came down like a wolf on the fold and blew the telephone box off the side of the house just now. Nature has been setting a bad example this weekend.

We were reading, with the dog on the floor between us, curled up upon himself like a chambered nautilus. The air cracked and the room flashed white. Lightning, firing in through the phone line, exploded around us like gas from the stove when the pilot light malfunctions.

Outside, where the lightning bolt had tunneled the air, stray leaves fluttered down from the maple tree, smelling of spent electricity. The leaves looked like the fluttering canary feathers in Sylvester and Tweety cartoons after the cat has gobbled a bird.

Everything's in a violent, cartoonish mood today.

In the attic above me, an animal has died. A carrion smell seeps through the ceiling. A squirrel, maybe. A raccoon? For a week, I heard something scuttling up there — as if to answer the clicking of my computer keyboard. I was amused to think the animals were weighing in with a contrary point of view. I assumed that a creature that had found its way into the attic would find its way out. Then the scuttling stopped, and in a day or two, the dead smell began. I must go up through the trap door in the ceiling in the hall and see if I can find the corpse.

A merlin has come to pose upon a post outside a kitchen window — dove-colored and innocent, until you look again and see it is no dove, but a merlin, that is, a pigeon-hawk. Yesterday, not far from the post, we found a catbird lying dead on its side, unmarked by struggle or wound. Perhaps it died of cardiac infarction or some other internal disaster, but I suspect the merlin.

Under the porch, we find a handful of motherless baby squirrels, alarmingly whitish and hairless, foetal and fumbling, wizened little old blind men. We put peanut butter out for them, and they eat it for a couple of days, but we have not seen them since Friday.

I thought the merlin had killed their mother. But then I saw her lounging around the maple, as if in a housecoat, and decided she's just a lousy mother. Or perhaps it was Mother who perished in the attic. Maybe the cats ate the baby squirrels — delicacies, no doubt, like sushi. The cats, fat as pashas, having yet to shed the opulent fur they acquired in the long cold winter, sit motionless, an hour at a time, under the maple, hoping to pounce on a careless songbird. But the cats will settle for red squirrels, which themselves lie in wait and hope to kill songbirds. We need some law and order around the farm; everyone's teeth and claws are dripping.

The cats bring offerings to us, neatly severed red squirrel tails that they lay ceremonially outside the kitchen door where we feed them. The cats leave the tails for us like tips for the waiter. My wife assembled a collection of a half dozen red squirrel tails, laid out in a row on a shelf in her office. But in the middle of the night, the mice came into the office and carried every one of the tails away.

An albino hawk has come to the valley. I like to watch him presiding over these complexities. I see him riding the air currents that curl up from the ridges on either side as the wind flows through the north-south valley. He was born a red-tailed hawk, but colored all white, a relatively rare occurrence but seen sufficiently often to earn the albino a short item in the bird books.

Now the storm is over, and the sun returns. The albino rides the light. At a certain angle, the bird becomes a radiance, a sort of feathered parhelion, a sundog. Yet at the core of the radiance you make out a dark center, the bird's skeleton and organs — in the way your hand looked to you when you were a child and you shined a flashlight beam through it, and through the translucence of your flesh, saw the dark blur of your bones.