Sometimes I don’t want to know it, don’t want to see it, don’t want to hear about it. But it’s pretty hard to avoid when it’s literally in my path, these missteps, cruelties and realities of nature. “Nature is wont to hide herself,” wrote Greek philosopher Heraclitus. But nature can’t always hide its blood and death.
My snowshoe stride quickened down the steep hill, so much so that I was on the pile of rabbit fur and blood before I knew it. I stepped to the side and took in the scene of death, played out in darkness with only the night sky as witness. A rabbit had met its end, preyed upon most likely by an owl. The attacker left evidence behind in the sweep of wing tips in the snow. I stretched my hand across the imprint of wings; it was about that wide. There was little left of the rabbit except for grayish fur. And its blood in the snow.
Spend enough time outdoors and you will come across the harsh side of nature. I have snowshoed past a coyote’s body — a hump with scuzzy fur revealed as the snowpack melted in March, walked up on a dead fawn in spring, and stared at a dead cormorant floating past as I waded for bluegills in summer. I have come across more dead songbirds than I care to recall, including my only look at a rusty blackbird, struck down flying through from northern Canada during fall migration. Another bird, a juvenile catbird, cowered weakly along my running trail one summer’s day. When I returned to the spot minutes later, it lay lifeless.
One early spring I found the carcass of a deer draped over an old barbed wire fence. One of its back legs was entwined between two wires. How this could have happened still baffles me. I can only presume the deer got entangled crossing the fence, panicked and somehow flipped backwards into the death grip. For how long did the cruel demise on the fence play out?
We’re in winter now, and that’s a tough season on animals. In his book “Up North,” Sam Cook wrote, “Sometimes life in the woods isn’t pretty ... for many creatures, winter is not a postcard scene. It is a season to endure, a matter of survival.”
As I snowshoed away from the blood and fur, picking up the pace on the narrow trail I share mostly with deer, I noticed rabbit tracks heading in the opposite direction. Was that the rabbit hopping to its valley of ambush and death? I kept thinking of those tracks as I climbed the next hill.
Why think about it? Nature causes us to contemplate our own seasons of struggles, so many of them out of our control. Nature’s inherent determination to survive, the sheer strength it displays in this test of endurance, shows us the precious value it places on life. But life can be fragile, fleeting and tragic, as we see when we stumble across the lost battle.
Greschner, who retired from the Rice Lake Chronotype, may be reached at email@example.com.