Gardens at Effingham: Where Cats Write the Tales

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Paradise Lost


From the Journals of Most Beloved

November 17, 2019

Sunday, cold now, but beautiful and sunny today

I found a dead bird today, vertical descent and upside down in the suet round house feeder, the one under the awning and cornering the sweet bay magnolia against the house. 

I found it quite by accident. Shock made me motionless, breath held, life suspended, my life suspended over the upending of this delicate bird.

How sad for such a strong one born with wings to fly, to die in such an unnatural position. Although really, what is a natural position in which to frame the arc of a bird’s death? Wings bear weight, and breadth, for only so long, flight inherent in the lift and swoosh upward, ascent gliding course and construct of all things its life. 

And then this—paralyzed acrobatics belonging to predator birds, big birds —hawks, falcons, owls—on such a small slim body. Though not so slim, when by proportion, two suet cakes could squeeze the life out of the little bird.

Did it dip down to eat suet? Dip in through the caged openings, big enough for small birds but not large enough to let big birds come in? Where, fully centered, sweet suet cakes, plump with fat and berries, became the gulped joy of Carolina wrens, chickadees, a female downy woodpecker, and small finches.

Is this what happened? Perhaps the bird was sick? Starving? Just plain stuck? Did it reach so far down because the suet tasted sweeter near the bottom, lodged between that just right place and its own death?

Feral cats, hungry themselves, lie completely still— waiting, waiting, patient because to wait—and to pause, to appear motionless—means to eat. And in so these cats’ eating, these birds’ demise? Is death life? Is life death? Is there a difference?

I know only this still small shock, this harsh blunt of a horrible (hideous) truth—that nature runs wild. Wild against my intent to care for and maintain life in my gardens. Wild against my will. Wild without my permission. 

And in an artful arc of my brush against this garden canvas, I find pain in color—and a hideous descent of all I intended to make divine. And so like bird, death in flight, upside down and strangled, I find a most loathsome urge, guttural choke my own throat, to cry out—how awful this is, how haunting this is, how I shan’t be able to sleep tonight. 

But I cannot speak. Nor breathe. For in sacred gardens, this moment lingers, my profaned art, decried, desecrated, ruined. 

A bird’s life ruined. And the slow sick rise that where placed my heart, my art depends on life without the descent, arc of color without the necessary flourish of denouement. In ache, my own, a small bird’s love stays still. My beloved then, and my beloved still.

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