I have never seen wings so vast and so near.
The blur on the side of the road became something big moving against the bank and the brush. It rose, struggling, and became an enormous bird – a turkey vulture I thought at first, disturbed from road kill, but its talons hung low beneath its body with the weight of something. Turkey vultures cannot carry. Now I knew it was an enormous raptor, its size magnified by the enclosed perspective, the frame of low hanging trees. Its wings straining, opening and closing with great effort, it flew beneath the ceiling of thick branches, some red thing hanging from it. It veered to the right into an opening and in the fluidity of the movement dropped its baggage which thumped and bounced once on the macadam — a grey squirrel with the top of its head cracked open, wearing its blood like a hat. When I came back along the same road two hours later, the squirrel was gone.
At home I looked at drawings and photos and believe I had seen an immature red-tail hawk, one that had been startled and had not iron-gripped its prey sufficiently. It was probably only learning how to complete its lifelong mission – “my manners are tearing off heads.”
I had also been busy.
The first rat took the bait in the trap. I only had to pick up the platform, pry open the hammer and empty the rat into a bag. I killed the second in the garden with a shovel. Both were juveniles. I caught the third in a live trap, an adult. I hunched over and stared at it; back and forth, it shook and turned within.
I put together a contraption made of two wooden posts, a tilted garbage can and a plastic outdoor chair. The posts steadied the can which rested on the seat of the chair. I filled the can with buckets of water.
While I worked, I considered another option, but trying to shoot a .22 through a steel cage brought up ugly thoughts of ricochets and then trying to explain such a bullet wound in an emergency room.
A part of my attention was spent in not trying to think about what I was about to do, in trying to evade my calm labor in balancing the can and hauling water. My empathetic vision kept placing me in the cage as it slid down and under.
I thought about driving a few miles and releasing it in a field far from a house, but suppose it wormed its way out of the cage while I was driving – a rat hurtling off windows, running under the seat, a rat in my lap. Suppose it just found its way back in a rat-journey of epic proportions, a Lassie Come Home of ratdom.
Thick work gloves on my hands, I picked up the cage and placed it on the incline of the can and released it into the water and turned and walked away. The can balanced inside the garden where its dumping would do some good; in a drought, every drop of water counts.