The other day as Sweetheart Al and I were driving home from the grocery store, the brown paper bags on our back seat full of fruit and vegetables, milk and bread and plenty of coffee ice cream, we saw a coyote in the field, intensely focused on something in the weeds.
"Lunch," Al said, "or a late breakfast."
This morning, driving back from my workout at the gym, I interrupted a small fox stalking a mourning dove. While the dove got easily away when my car approached, the fox ran behind a gate and stared angrily in my direction.
And that stare got me to thinking. Rural life is all about food. Finding it, killing it and eating it. Or growing it and harvesting it and eating it.
Everything has to eat to stay alive. And what we eat is one another. It’s a rather unappetizing realization.
Sweetheart and I find most of our food at the grocery or farmer’s market. It’s generally neatly packaged. We don’t have to hunt it down and kill and clean it. We don’t have to pick it and clean it. We just grab it in its lovely packaging and toss it in the cart.
But our house hare finds his food in our yard and along the drive, and the local deer, coyotes, foxes, bobcats and mountain lions have to work harder to get their meals. No wonder they all look so sleek and well-muscled.
When we first moved in here, the deer herds still slept right next to our house. They spent their nights right below our bedroom window.
One morning, while Al was showering and I was sleeping in, I was awakened by the sound of a deer in great distress. It sounded like he was coughing, like he had a stick caught in his throat or something. "What is wrong with that deer?" I thought as the awful sound continued.
I got up and looked out our bedroom window. Right below, were about six deer, all staring in the direction of the coughing, gagging sound. I couldn’t see anything, but suddenly I heard a deep rumble (the kind I’d heard often in nature films, when a big cat is killing its prey). I gasped at what I was hearing, and stared wide-eyed in the direction of the noise. Then I heard the crunch of bones, and the coughing sound stopped.
Even as I write this, I feel the shock and horror I felt then.
I ran into the bathroom, crying, "I just heard a deer get slaughtered! There’s a mountain lion in our yard killing deer!"
Al came out wearing his towel and we both stood at the window, trying to see the deer or the mountain lion or something. But the herd below our bedroom was gone, and we couldn’t see or hear anything.
Al got dressed and headed out for the day.
"You’re not going out there?" I said. "There’s a killer mountain lion out there."
"He’s not hungry now," Sweetheart replied, as he put on his Stetson.
That "welcome to the country" event remains freshly horrifying no matter how many years go by.
And yet, eating to ease our hunger, eating so we can continue to live is a practice we share in common with all humans as well as with animals, birds, fish, insects and other living creatures.
This is our story here on planet earth.
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