Near There: The Fairview of Marsha Taylor
Tough Ol' Birds
Blue Moon on the Wing
Trips to the Shed
The Exuberance of Birds
The Optimist's Wager
Preface & Reader Response
The fox learned that there were humans who were greatly concerned about the welfare of the animals and the continuation of the animal way of life.
GATHERED AT THE POND
Chapters: I | II | III | IV | V
by Jerry Murley
One early morning Redrick, the red-headed gray fox, was caught in a live trap that the young road-walkers had set in their garden to catch garden marauders. Sometimes they ensnare two or three possums or raccoons in a row and take them miles away for release.
In his effort to escape the trap, which had become his cage, the fox cut himself on his hindquarters. When the young road-walkers found him the next morning, they were quite surprised to find an injured fox packed tightly in their trap. They took him to an animal healer nearby. While at the animal healer's home, the fox learned many new things about humans and the world beyond the pond.
The fox learned that there were humans who were greatly concerned about the welfare of the animals and the continuation of the animal way of life. He learned that there were threats to the animals beyond the environs of the pond – threats he could barely understand but sensed as serious by the tone and manner of human behavior. There were webs of humans, he gleaned, who were concerned about how human activity might threaten the animals, possibly even the existence of some kinds of animals. These other humans, these animal healers, were trying to do things to protect the animals – even the animals who robbed the gardens in the dark of night and who agitated the farm animals.
This experience – though lasting but part of a day, as the healer bandaged the fox's injury and the young road-walkers with thick-gloved hands took him back in the cage for release at the pond – bewildered and interested the fox. For he was well aware of the cautious co-existence between wild animals and the farmers. He knew of the many near escapes of animals such as himself from the hunters and trappers. He was familiar, too, with the trouble caused when a farmer made a change on his farm, creating barriers to food, drink, and safe shelter for animals. But he had not sensed as clearly the larger dangers which the animal healers were determined to thwart on behalf of the animals. And though more aware of them after the experience with the animal healer, he readily recognized that he could never completely understand the meaning of the day's events or the complex situation in the world beyond the pond.
Reflecting on his personal experience at the hands of the animal healer, Redrick recounted his simplest impressions first: "It did not hurt much. But it did feel odd to have my wounds licked by the cold fingers and tools of a human. Before he was done, the healer stuck me with a needle. And soon after that, the humans talked about the rabies that Gandy told us about that the farmer fears."
He shared his other observations, as well as his continuing, but vaguely developed, questions about what he had seen and heard: Why had the road-walkers taken him for healing? How did the healer learn his art of animal healing? Were the road-walkers among the world-beyond healers too? Why were there so many other human animal healers who acted as if their own way of life was at stake? The fox could not answer the questions posed by his brief encounter with the animal healer. As he fully related his tale and posed his questions, Bulward and Gandy, alone among the animals, were quickly moved and lost in thought.
Those other animals in attendance – Trina, Gwobbly, Bullfrog, and Snagnap – at first exchanged puzzled glances among themselves. But soon all those gathered at the pond were overtaken by the tale about humans who were actively and eagerly pursuing the tasks of healing for the welfare of the animals. Nature healing was something that most assumed nature did for itself.
The animals did not dwell long in internal ruminations on these novel matters. Worry cast into the distant future is not in their character. Complex inquiry is not a custom among the animals who dwell out in the air or in the water. They do not long linger on things that they cannot comprehend. The distraction of immediate concerns of livelihood and shelter have a more concentrating grip on their attention. The serenity of the pond – the rustle of autumn leaves and the falling of the waters – and their infinitely perplexing fellows – all so captivate their interest and imagination that the developments at large have little hold on their daily lives and commerce.
Snagnap, the alligator turtle, was first to reluctantly venture a public reaction. She blinked timidly in knowing response to the information brought by Redrick that was being pondered by her contemporaries. "I have watched the road-walkers do such healing things," she offered reservedly.
Sometimes the young road-walkers participate in animal and nature healing in indirect ways. Once while walking they observed Snagnap out on the roadside near the creek to lay her eggs in the wet black soil. Thinking they knew the precise location of the newly deposited turtle eggs, they built a stick, branch, and grass fence around the site to protect it from others who use the road. The young road-walkers are particularly vigilant about accidental human incursion into animal habitat. They try to leave signs of animal reproductive and feeding activity that other humans may not have time, skill, or inclination to notice without some aid. For the most part, they trust the humans in the area who are not trophy hunters. They have faith that others of their species do care about the welfare of nature and the animals and that others will do what is in their power to do to protect the animals and the animal habitat from casual and wasteful interference. The young road-walkers' general aim is to preserve the balanced functioning of nature. This aspiration for natural justice is their modest call to arms. The planting and tending of native trees is another of their simple acts of civil obedience to the summons of nature.
Without a drop of sentiment, Bulward instantly offered other tenuously related examples of human healing behavior in times past and present. He recalled a few of the animal people he had encountered by the road. Two stood out who live near the yellow-rock posts in the twin curves of the road up the north hollow. The first and oldest is the tall, sturdy neighboring farmer with "a grip like a vise and a deep voice" who comes to visit the pond's owner and ask his farming advice. The second is the chair-walker, the man whose family can be heard playing up the road. "He has upper arms the size of a baby calf's neck and spends many days throwing pointed stick birds at colorful rings on a stack of hay."
In effect, Bulward continued in this vein to assert that both of these neighborhood humans connect with animals in ways that the pond's farmer does not. Their powerful presence and confident touch assure and temper the animals in ways that other humans do not. The farmer cares for his stock with steady and skilled husbandry, matter-of-factly focused on his family's livelihood. Though these two neighboring men, both former warriors familiar with the jungle, practice good stewardship toward nature and its animals, they act as if they admire the animals – as if they see animals as majestic links to a firmer reality. They have particular regard for birds and trees. Their command differs; their response to signs of fear differs. The animals sense such differences. Bulward clearly wanted such men defending his kind if nature really did need human help for its healing.
Gandy seized on this opportunity for free association and digression. Striking a lighter note, he broke his repose as well, saying, "The humans are a curious lot. They are! The road-walkers often interrupt my morning solitude down in the creek. I have to trouble myself and fly away and then not long after here they come again."
Moving along with this mood shift, Bulward shuffled his legs, chewed some hay, then bellowed, "They look different every time they appear, depending on the weather. The young road-walker man sometimes tries to mimic the call of the bulls. It is so silly and annoying, but a little interesting, too."
Croak and croak again, seconded Bullfrog. "He does the same to me in the early morning when I feel the full glory of my species and sex. His croak is like something you would hear in the midst of dreadful illness."
"Still," said Gandy, "these humans are devoting some of their concern and time to us. There must be something in it for them. But what? The fact that they are doing this healing of wounds is natural. That they, in large numbers, aim to heal the world we live in alarms me a bit. How do beings make such changes? We should not frightened ourselves, but perhaps we should all be more watchful of all humans who frequent the pond."
Unexpectedly, with her usual calm and uncommon sense, Trina, the elegant tree frog, added a few thoughts that left all at the pond silent and more content. "My kind has suffered much and moved great distances because of changes in our world. Perhaps this has happened before, but this is something that I know is happening in our time. Even now new frogs are entering this wonderful area that we call home. They come with tales of extreme heat and cold, of excessive water and too little water, of pestilence and invasive species, of new unheard-of predators – all of which made life in the old places in the old ways untenable. I am happy every day for the life that we have here at the pond. We are the most fortunate of creatures to inhabit this paradise of abundant and diverse life. The nights in the clear air that I hear, from the moist folds of this very tree, that the pond is overflowing and the creek is running; that my voice combines with the full-throated call and response of the frogs, insects, and owls – those are the grandest moments of my life. No life is small or short or overburdened that has such wonders in it. We should never fear healing change that conserves what we truly require and hold dear in our hearts."