Slowly he (I assumed it was a he) climbed over the dirt ridge. At the top, almost he fell backwards. At the last moment a puff of wind sent him fluttering down the far side. It was obvious he couldn’t fly anymore, but valiently he struggled on. Intent on some goal that I could only imagine.
Yesterday morning I found myself sitting at a concrete picnic table staring at the ground. For nearly an hour I simply sat and observed. After about ten minutes I was able to pick out the raven tracks from the jumble of impressions in the tan colored dirt that covered our campsite.
Years of camping had trained my children well. The ravens had come while we slept to scour the area for anything edible, or shiny. Our campsite, in the early morning was a collection of campchairs and not much else. Maybe I should move to a camp chair. . .No, the table is fine.
I heard the buzzing of a bee fly past on its way to wherever bees needed to be in the morning. I didn’t need to be anywhere.
The sun was casting oversized shadows across the ridges and valleys that were the leftover footprints of my nine children that had come with us on this family vacation. The tiny footprints were from my grandchildren.
The traveller I’d noted earlier once again set off across a the distinctive criss cross pattern that was from my daughter’s flip flops. He beat his wings, casting a shadow three times his size as the sun continued casting spotlights through the branches of the juniper and pondarosa pines.
I considered where he might be trying to get to. Was he injured, or just old? Was he suffering?
I thought about that last question for a long time. If he was injured, and that was the reason he wasn’t flying, should I help him? Could I help him? I didn’t even know where he was going. How could I help him get there? Should I put him out of his misery?
In Disney films, any animal that talks, is not food. Rewatch The Lion King. Timone and Pumba eat grubs, but the grubs don’t talk. They don’t have faces, we never get to know them.
Now think of the movie the Fox and the Hound. There’s a worm that two of the characters who are birds constantly attempt to catch and eat. But, the inch worm has a face. We see his fear at being eaten. we see him escape time after time. We root for him to survive. He never gets eaten.
I had come to care about this insect. Something I would swat at without thinking if it were to land on my arm, was now important to me. If he was hurt and suffering would it be more humane to simple end his suffering? But, what if he knew he was dying. Suppose, he’d lived a long life and after surviving being eaten by a bird, or swatted by a human, this was his final journey. He was devoting the last of his life to achieve the goal of. . .what? Crossing the bootprint?
Who was I to say? Was it even right for me to think about “saving” him? What made me the arbiter of when his life should end?
I’m an early riser. Yesterday was no exception. I got up and walked the quarter mile down to the showers at Mather Campground inside Grand Canyon National Park. Now I was back in my campsite. But, I had nothing to keep me occupied. I had no cell service. (My phone has been turned off since we got here last Thursday.) I don’t have a book, or even a piece of paper to read.
I was forced to simply sit. Sit and think and observe. I saw a sparrow fly by and then another bird with blue feathers. A chickidee? Now, why would I assume that it was that bird? Maybe I should Google chickidee. . .oh that’s right. No cell service. It’s a pretty bird, in any case.
I sat there for about an hour. I listened to the campground, and the forest wake up. I watched the sun continue to shorten the shadows as it climbed into the Arizona sky. And I observed. An ant. A squirrel. The birds.
And one brave little insect playing out the end of his existance struggling across yesterday’s footprints.
Rodney M Bliss is an author, columnist and IT Consultant. His blog updates every weekday. He lives in Pleasant Grove, UT with his lovely wife, thirteen children and grandchildren.
(c) 2018 Rodney M Bliss, all rights reserved