The other night, at the top of our capacious hill in Oregon,
At dusk. The bottom of our hill is suburbia but the whole
Top of the hill is thick woodland and thicket and meadow.
You would be surprised at how a hill stays wild if nobody
Wants to make money from it. There are coyotes and deer
Up there, and owls and hawks, and runners report bobcats,
Which are filed in the police log as if they are delinquents.
Up through the woods they go, the woman and the elk-like
Dog, and just at the top they hear a shrill desperate scream.
You could tell it was a creature being killed, she said later.
You could tell right away it wasn’t a person. For an instant
I thought maybe it was an owl. Then we heard it again and
Both the dog and I shrank away and left. It was despairing;
It was so clearly the last sound that being would ever make
In this life. Usually the house wolf runs toward all possible
Meat but in this case he and the woman left the scene right
Quick. Our son, who is as fascinated by animals as his dad,
Played the cries of various beings in distress for his mother,
And we identified the screamer as a brush rabbit, who very
Probably was being slain by a coyote. So there is the lesson
Learned, and somehow it is refreshing to understand a little
More of the wild lives of our hill. But I keep thinking about
The rabbit. Who was that being? What were his stupendous
Moments in life? Did he see his children being born? Could
He warble in a way that made other rabbits lose it laughing?
Was he a young buck full of himself who went out to attack
A coyote? Was he a sage, a thief, a saint, a murderous thug?
So very much we so don’t know about what we don’t know.
A rabbit dies one night, on a hill, and a woman and a former
Wolf hear his or her last utterances, in that form, in this time.
And to think there are folks who claim there are no miracles.
Brian Doyle is the editor of Portland Magazine at the University of Portland and the author, most recently, of a novella, Cat’s Foot.
Last week, I stepped outside to find a wren dead on my deck, perhaps a victim of a cat. A small pile of greyish and brownish feathers, a few fragile bones, an eye already lightless. Holding it, I wondered how many thousands of miles it had flown in its lifetime of migrating south, then back north again. What storms it had endured. What nests it had built and where. How it had navigated the air currents; crossed the Great Lakes; what everything had looked like as it rode the currents; what roads or shopping mall rooftops it had recognised from other trips. So much loss lying in my palm.