8/12/21: Weird experiment day!
Today I am going through every page I have in Life is a Fountain and adding something hopefully relevant to it from the annals of Clerkmanifesto. It’s my desperate attempt to freshen up everything after being away for a couple weeks. So here you go:
I killed a rabbit.
I was driving home in my murdermobile when I came onto Highway 280. Note that it was a highway. I was traveling at about 50 mph when a rabbit leaped in front of my car. I don’t know why. He was just beginning a relatively long journey across four lanes of roaring traffic when I hit him. One can surmise he wanted badly to die. But I might be looking for a way out from under all the… blood on my hands.
Now I am become Death, the destroyer of worlds.
Did I have time to put on brakes? I guess I could have slammed them, and if I did it quickly enough then the braking would have commenced meaninglessly just after my smearing of the small animal beneath my car. Could I have swerved? Only if I wanted to hit him better. The actual thought I had in the half second after the rabbit appeared in front of my car and the point of my bringing quick and ragged death to him was “Just don’t panic, make sure the wheels don’t hit him, and if he lies low…” I think I was on the lie low part when I felt the undercarriage of the car grab him by the ears, or back, or head, hideously hurl him to the ground, and bounce him bloodily between the car and the highway before leaving his pulped and ruined corpse behind me.
It’s amazing how much one can feel from the seat of a car. Though I suppose it’s nothing like what one can feel from the underside of a car.
I don’t actually know how guilty to feel. Something turns in my stomach as I write. But do you want to know what’s in my stomach as I write? Some ground up cow. How did that get there?
Grape, in my small but clear headed audience, raises his hand.
“Do you remember…?”
Oh, of course I remember Grape. That was always part of this story. You see, I was an accessory to a rabbit murder once before, many decades ago. Grape and I were driving home from a backpacking trip. Grape was driving. The sun was setting in the long California desert. A jackrabbit rushed the road. Grape did what he could, but, “kerpluckt”, the wheel smushed the poor wee hopper. A stunned silence fell on we tired nature lovers. Grape was devastated. I felt probably exactly the same way as I do now at my own inadvertent rabbit murder, 30 years and the lifetimes of billions of rabbits later. We did not say much for awhile. That he could not avoid this accident was but little succor when we mused on it. We stopped for gas.
We went into the gas station. A devastated Grape said to the station clerk “I feel terrible. I just ran over a rabbit.”
“Aw, man.” The clerk replied “There’s so many rabbits around here we go out shooting them for fun.”
Well, I’ll have you know there are quite a few rabbits around here in the spring too. Not that I was running that one over for fun.
I’ve eaten rabbit a couple times. Both of them were at very fancy restaurants. At no point was I wracked with guilt. It didn’t occur to me to feel guilt. Though, considering it now, why not. Go ahead and feel a little guilt, all the storied chefs and rabbit ranchers and rabbit butchers in the world cannot strain out the fact that those rabbits deaths go on my account. Yes, somewhere there is a great heavenly (or hellish) list of all the animals we killed or caused to die. Oh what a list. And to make one feel worse about it when one looks at the list the list doesn’t say, like, “Mosquitoes: 18,265” No indeed. Each one is personally listed, with a name, like “Lucretia, Mosquito, 2 days old. She just had kids. She was happy.”
How do they know she was happy? They know everything.
Speaking of driving deaths. Once I was driving home with my friend Matthew, across the Dakotas. We were beset by plagues on our way home. First were locusts. We had to use windshield wipers. They coated the front of the car. But that was nothing. The rains came, and then the frogs. Ah god, the frogs. For some reason they poured out onto the highway in countless thousands. “Thumpity, thumpitithumpitithump tump tump tum, pup pup pup.” To drive was to kill them in the hundreds, maybe more. We pulled over. Look at all the frogs! Look at all the dead frogs we ran over. Should we just sit here forever by the side of the road? No. We drove on. If we drove slow we killed them slower for a long time. If we drove fast we killed them all at once, for miles and miles of murder. Hundreds of frogs. Thousands of frogs. All with names and written with blood on our souls.
So what is a mere rabbit to all those frogs?
Yesterday I went out photographing. Not the kind of photographing I’ve been doing these days; of books and pictures, computer screens and backgrounds, but more traditional photography, with my fancy zoom camera, out in the gardens and River Gorges of Saint Minneapolis.
They didn’t come out that well.
Sometimes they do, sometimes they don’t.
I saw the largest bee I have ever seen in my life. It was nearly the size of my fist. I was in a prairie flower garden. The bee was shy, which surely was a reflection of personality rather than mortal fear, since I think it could kill anything it wanted to with a stinger the size of the sword of Damocles.
Although, naturally, he would be disinclined to use such a thing.
I did take dozens of pictures of less shy bees.
They all looked gorgeous in the camera. But at home they were all blurry.
There were butterflies like thick jewels, lounging on flowers, and when I tried to photograph them they lifted into the air and swirled around me. It was beautiful.
I like animals.
I heard owls. Cardinals appeared but did not wait for me to line them up in my viewfinder. Chipmunks darted about. Turkey vultures soared overhead. It was lovely.
So I took pictures of nothing.
I added in the animals later.
My birding walk yesterday started innocently enough. I was just down to the river path and not 50 yards along when a bird with a red head flew right in front of me. Then another. I don’t usually see groups of this bird, which I call a “Red-headed Woodpecker” because it is, it turns out, by sheer luck, called that. But there were at least five of these birds flitting about in the trees, a bit restlessly as far as I could tell, and probably up to something. But I didn’t stay to see how it all turned out.
After all, I had to move on to the geese, though I didn’t know that’s what I was doing at the time. Yes, more than one geese. There were 16 million geese I was moving on to, though I didn’t make a careful count of them. And the surprising thing about encountering 16 million geese is that I almost didn’t see them at all. In the Winter around here most of the action is in the trees up over the Mississippi River Gorge, or in the sky above me, so I don’t spend much time peering down into the dark, half-frozen waters. But something caught my eye, below me. Magically I found myself looking down upon a string of elegant geese, on a flyway journey down the Mississippi.
Bjork put it best:
A train of pearls
Cabin by cabin,
Is shot precisely
Across an ocean.
Actually, she wasn’t talking about geese, but I’d really rather not go into that.
And watching those precise and steady and tireless and graceful birds the half frozen bed of the river came into my focus. And there I was stunned to find that it was
Full of birds, bobbing in the water, nearly blotting out the ice. A savanna of birds, like from some epic nature documentary of some place you will never go to and never be at at the right time and that it is all too late now to ever see because the natural world is only a shell of its former self. But lo, there were geese, and geese, and geese, and a million more geese, and I’m pretty sure I saw three or four ducks because it was a party.
No, seriously, it was a party.
And then there was a turkey in my path.
I am acquainted with two flocks of turkeys. The northern flock, by the U, is made of giant, Pleistocene sized turkeys who blot out the sun while merely lumbering around on someone’s front lawn. The southern flock is regular sized turkeys but an unusual lot of them. This was a southern turkey who thus felt more approachable. But he didn’t want to be petted and ran across the street to gambol about in the snow with 18 other turkey friends of his.
And then something screamed, a hideous cry.
That was a blue jay.
I didn’t linger. Oddly, on the whole walk, I just lingered once, but it hasn’t happened yet. And it didn’t happen when a tan, almost yellow bird, twenty feet across, wingtip to wingtip, both fell and lifted out of the trees ten feet to my left, sending a kind of force wave into my soul. A hawk. The largest hawk I have ever seen, sinking towards the river to acquire speed only to rise heavily into the sky, strength and massivity balanced into something perfectly useful.
And that was it. I appeared to be done with the birds and was nearing where my path turns from the river. I started to think of how I would write about it all. And as I was crossing over the I-94 Freeway I wondered at how strange it was to see all the birds I ever see but not to see an example of one of my regular wonders, the bald eagle.
Which is when, exactly then, a bald eagle rose up from over Highway 94, which was over the river, and this bird just cleared the balustrade of the bridge I was on, and just cleared my head as well, surprising us both, and then flung wildly up into the air.
And I stopped, I finally stopped. And I laughed.
This one is called:
After spilling our collected kitchen compost onto our kitchen floor I went out for my accustomed walk. But realizing, after a bit of desultory rambling, that the whole day was mine to do with what I liked, I decided to go far and feed the mosquitoes. I ventured past all the pretty houses and flowering yards of my neighbors and plunged into the pockets of deep woods tucked into the Mississippi River bluffs.
“Come for me mosquitoes. Wax fat.” And they did. In their lightness and clouds, their quiet hungers and mellow bobbing in damp airs.
Scourge of mankind, disease bringer, pestilence of the North and South and Center. Oh squishable, whackable mosquito! Mighty hunter, lover of water, vampire, magician. Who are we to complain? We are all admiration for killers; lions bringing down zebras, a pack of wolves stalking the caribou herds, the owl, wings spread wide and plunging on some unsuspecting mouse. Why must everything die all the time? The mosquito doesn’t think anything has to die. She sees all the meat on the hoof just as we do. But she translates us into trees, and plucks our blood like fruit. We can surely spare a bare drop of blood easier than our lives. And she leaves us the gift of an itch, to remember her by. Then she goes and has a few hundred children.
The rest of the time she eats the nectar of flowers.
I sound so calm about it, but in the thick of the mosquito swarms I resorted to running on the damp trails, flailing my hands like a madman.
And what about the blood I lost?
It’s okay. I found wild raspberries, a great bank of them. The ripe ones were black and small. They grew scattered, on a sunny hillside, and I picked a handful to eat. They gave me the strength of my blood back. Then I picked some more and ate them because I liked them.
One or two of them were just the right ripeness, and delicious, but those were the rare ones. Mostly they were just good, tart, tasty, but not delicious. Do you know what was delicious?
Just ask the mosquitoes.