If you're not sure whether you suffer from control delusions, start a garden. Farm animals? They're right out. Attempting to get involved with the life cycle whether plant or animal will quickly teach you a key truth: you are virtually powerless. Your hand in the process is merely tinkering at best, or interference at worst.
I say this not with any deep or lasting pain. Mostly because I've failed so much lately that I've come to accept how truly ineffectual I am as a force of nature. (The goats ate all the cabbages. The tomatoes fell over and never ripened. The peppers and eggplant yielded a couple pathetic fruits then gave up.)
The point is, more bunnies have died.
When Chestnut gave birth again last week, her kindling numbered five. Three golden babies and two ebony ones. One of the dark bunnies was much, much smaller than the others. (S)he looked underdeveloped. Labored breathing. The next morning I found the littlest one at the bottom of the bundle: warm, cozy, but dead.
A day later, the second little black bunny died. It, too, was smaller. At such a young age and with such an accelerated life cycle, it's difficult to determine whether the growth stopped before death or because of it.
This morning, improbably—I would have said "impossibly," except for the fact that it happened—one of the golden babies was on the kitchen floor, several feet away from the closed and locked cat carrier we've used as a nest box.
Mama was still enclosed inside with the other two babies. Not even the Fort Knox nursery we'd set up could keep all the babies safe and warm.
As we placed the lone and suffering golden baby under a heat lamp, holding it, examining its little body, trying to feed it half and half with a medicine dropper, we couldn't see any obvious answers. Had Chestnut decided not to feed this one? Or was it also weak and underdeveloped, so she pushed it out of the nest? And most perplexingly...how??
We stroked the baby with our fingertips, trying to keep life going by sheer force of stimulation—keep the body moving so as to keep it living—gently exhaling warmth and breath over it from time to time. Because on almost every TV show I've ever seen all you have to do is pound someone on the chest and want it really bad in order for them to come back to life. After awhile the baby started to move around a little more, it's tiny tongue and jaw quivering—a revival? But, no. Instead, it was The Surge. That last burst of energy from the deflating bubble of life.
And thus concludes the dramatic retelling of what happened this morning.
It's all true, of course, but nobody shed any tears. We've seen enough death now to know there's no agency for us. Not really. Our influence is small. Mostly we're just witnesses.
Oh, Erin! You're so deep and profound! Whatever. If anything I'm just becoming more objective. A long time ago I wrote a not-great short story, but a single phrase from it has hung around in my mind: "the equanimity of trees." I think that's what I'm moving toward. Don't get me wrong; I still care. I still enjoy participating. You're not going to find a large box of chickens and goats labeled "free" on the side of the road. (Although I do currently have a sick chicken quarantined in a box. Also, Patrick the duck is on thin ice: he needs to settle down and keep his beak to himself.) No, this isn't about giving up or anything.
Trees, it turns out, aren't so stoic. Did you know trees sleep? Plants respond to stimuli. Opening, closing. Leaves and branches reach up and out, then draw down and in. The Earth breathes. And autumn, fall, while beautiful, is not merely a time of death: it's murder. Trees purposefully cut off their leaves to preserve themselves. When you put it in human terms, it's pretty violent.
At the end of the day, if trees were people, they'd be sociopaths. The truth is we can't ever have the full equanimity of trees—of rabbits, even, who can lose family members and still enjoy breakfast all the same. We can't, because we have the capacity to question. Plants, animals, embryos, they're all sacred because they're all alive. But they do not ask questions.
Leaves die, for sure, but they're not really gone. They fall to the base of the tree, sheltering the roots, holding water, attracting worms and bugs whose castings enrich the soil, the leaves themselves composting and giving back nutrients to the very tree from which they fell. Dead isn't really dead, just different.
The equanimity of trees, of nature really, isn't cold or callous. It is patience.
None of this is new or insightful. It's just new to me. Shows how inexperienced and —pun alert!—green I am when it comes to the natural cycles of life.
For all the collected knowledge, the wonders that science has illuminated, none of it is wisdom. It's all observation and interpretation. It's even art and beauty. For me, actual wisdom is accepting the mysteries. Accepting that we might know about gravity, but we don't understand it. Accepting that time is relative, that the laws of physics are true (except when they're not), and that I certainly have no control over any of it.
I've got a tiny golden rabbit to bury today. I don't feel sad, really. Humbled, more like. I've witnessed the mysteries, I have asked why, and I have the sense to know I'll never find an answer. The answers are bigger than any of us. And I'm okay with that. There's always next season.