Friday, May 21, 2010

Signs of Life: Gator Lizards and Baby Rabbits

I’m just…a bridge between here and there, the world that is seen and the world that is unseen...Jo Kyung Ran from Words Without Borders: The World Through the Eyes of Writers

Through the glass paneled kitchen door, I spy my son, boots first, then grass-stained knees, then one outstretched wrist from which something dangles, then the rest of him sidling down the steep hill above our house, where, during autumn, pie-sized fallen maple leaves, numinous tan and plastered wetly to the bank, bring light into the house.

I step out on the deck and ask, with that casual voice critical to adopt with small children carrying potentially dead or potentially still-living but damaged reptiles, “What have you got there?”

“I saw the cat chewing on this…” he says. “It is totally dead, though,” he adds, holding it out to me. I’m not convinced, so when he flops it flat on the deck railing and goes in search of his camera, I lean down even with the lizard’s blue-green body, which though entirely intact, sports a disturbing rumple just after its neck. Its two front forelegs are laying underneath him as if he’s gliding along in water. I blow gently on the side of his head, and sure enough, he closes his eyelid ever so slowly.

When my son returns, we discuss, in the light of this new evidence: Should we let the cats finish him off? Leave him on the railing to die in peace? Which choice the most humane? Each question punctuated by the lizard’s three or four tiny displays of life, well—pain--as he opens his jaws wide, limps out his tongue, then hinges incrementally back up.

“Well,” my son says, “I guess I’ll bury him.” “Well,” I answer, “let’s leave him a bit longer.” Leaving out the rest of the sentence--though I think it—let’s not bury him alive. In the absence of finding his camera, my son goes in the house, takes a sheet of paper out of my computer tray, and asks, “How do you spell Gator Lizard?” He records the date and the time, and goes outside with the measuring tape, careful not to touch the lizard as he stretches out the ruler. When he’s finished recording its length, he draws a line on the page and disappears back up the hill in search of other creatures.

I remember too, my parent’s indulgence, allowing me one summer in Illinois to eye-dropper feed one surviving baby rabbit from a litter damaged by the farmer’s mower. Mom and Dad must have known (as I did with my son’s lizard) that there was little chance it would live, but they let me believe.

I remember the snow silver of its fur, brown underneath, each tuft of fur finer than my little sister’s hair, the pale pink petal folds of its twin ears, the liquid rind of its eyes looking at me as the drops of milk slid along the dropper against the shut seam of its mouth.

And just before I left to brush my teeth, the little rabbit hopped furiously around and around the border of the cardboard box. “Look, Dad,” I said, convinced all was well, the rabbit on the mend. So when morning came, and with it, no motion from the box, I didn’t understand.

But I remember gradually settling on this: sometimes signs of life are in actuality, signs of leaving. And it helped, walking out across the field with my Dad and a shovel, to go dig a hole, the cold metal of the shovel handle a good distraction from the longing for the rabbit to not have gotten separated from its mother in the first place.

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