Cold World

Originally published in Astonished: A Story of Healing and Finding Grace

It’s a gorgeous, sunny winter Sunday day-of-rest, and I plan to go for a walk looking for “the deep down of things,” as Gerard Manley Hopkins so beautifully put it. The roads are clear and free of ice and I want to take advantage. But once I’m in my hermitage after brunch, the easy chair beckons, and after I doze off, I’m startled awake by a thump and a squeal. I see through the side window a little bunny charging up the hill in a flurry of sand, tufts of fur floating. As my heart buzzes with adrenaline, I’ve an eerie feeling there’s more out there to see, and it’s the reason I’m here and not hiking.

My legs are stuck in cement as I reluctantly drag myself out of the chair to the window. Up the hill beside the hermitage about ten feet away stands a giant hawk, its wings spread along the ground wide as a compact car’s fender. Its head tilts and cranes three hundred and sixty degrees, its hawk eyes scanning. Suddenly it jumps, or is it a stomp? It does it again then heaves a large dead rabbit dangling by its shoulders into the sky.

I slam my palms to my eyes and yell, “No no no no no no no,” stomping back and forth, trying to be an eraser.

I talk myself down. I tell myself, God wants you to see this.

The hawk has lowered the rabbit onto a patch of snow on a north-facing hill thirty yards away. It’s standing next to the carcass, lifting one leg thick with white feathers and shaking it as though something’s stuck to its claw, then lifting the other and doing the same. Next it shrugs its shoulders and tilts its head from side to side. It repeats the sequence maybe ten times before hopping on the rabbit and tearing off hunks of fur then flesh.

This is what I say to God: Are you kidding me? I was awakened from sleep by a rapist, remember? Did I really have to be awakened by a murderous raptor? Are you trying to traumatize me into facing the ways of the world you made, where every living creature is a victim of, eaten by, other living creatures—except for people. We kill each other for the fun of it. You said the meek shall inherit the earth. What I want to know is, When?

A few days later, it snows during the night, and at dawn, I see a baby bunny, which must be the one that escaped in the flurry of sand. Now it occurs to me that the dead rabbit was its mother. It’s at the edge of the wooden platform outside my window, facing me; its ears pinned to its head, its eyes half closed, not moving. It’s numbingly cold out and the bunny doesn’t move a whisker all day. When it still hasn’t moved by the next morning, I conclude it, too, is suffering from PTSD; near comatose from a broken heart, mourning its mother, mortally depressed, too sad to live.

The next morning it opens its eyes, perks up its ears and turns them like antennae. I follow their direction and see on the top of a pinion tree, the hawk! I grab my hair and stomp back and forth again. All this little bunny wants is to eat and hop and shit and pee and one day have sex. I’ve never seen it even close its eyes because if it relaxes for a second it will be mauled to death. It probably never sleeps. I look at the bunny, its eyes big; I look at the hawk; its beady eyes scanning.

I think, I’m witnessing the law of the world, the law of nature. The hawk has to eat. It can’t help being a carnivore. I should not intervene. But then I think, I don’t care. I’m part of nature, too. I charge out the door, the screen bangs against the house, I step into the snow in my slippers and run toward the tree, flailing my arms making a hissing sound. And the hawk flies away.

The bunny perks up. It hops around and nibbles plants. When it snows it makes a little burrow in it; when there’s no snow it makes a burrow in the same spot in the sand. I look for the bunny as soon as I wake up; I look for the bunny when I return from prayer, or chores, a hike, or anywhere. From its tracks in the snow and the sand, I see that it wanders off in every direction, and sometimes shelters under the platform.

The bunny and I never interact, yet the little rabbit is my treasured companion all winter. Until one sumptuous May twilight. The winds have died down, the air is rosy from the sunset, and the bunny stands five feet away, facing me, which it has never done before. I’m at the window with the light on, wondering if the bunny sees me. If it may have been aware all along that I’ve been its friend since the dead of winter. Because, I could swear, it’s looking at me.

It stands on its hind legs, stretches its ears as tall as they’ll go, and then elongates its face as though it’s printed on silly putty. The bunny stays like that for what feels like a full minute, then charges to the right, stops on a dime; charges to the left; charges back to center, jumps high in the air, and stands on its hind legs facing me again, stretching its ears and face. It remains that way perfectly still for a half minute. Then it zig-zags first this way then that, and repeats the whole thing all over again: a rite of spring, a mating dance, a dance of pure jubilation, freedom, adventure, joy? And then it runs into the prairie.

I never see it again.

Here’s the thing: It’s easy to see God in a bunny.

Here’s the other thing: It’s just as easy to see God in a hawk.

Comments are closed.