Experiments in quantity
a new sort of post I'm trying out for your assessment
Starting with this one, I am going to try some more experimental, shorter type posts. I will still do the longer and more polished essays, but these shorter, more frequent ones will be briefer dispatches, notes, ordinary things that happened and what I thought about them. Things may not really mean anything in these posts, and I don’t expect to synthesize much, but I hope you like them. Let me know what you think. Here’s the first one, about a stuck animal.
On the very last bit of the return leg of my run the other day, I saw a disturbance in the water of the swamp right beside the road. It was a decisive, animate movement of something diving. I stopped, and a beaver’s head surfaced. I could hear it breathing, and at first thought how cool it was that I was close enough to hear it breathing, but then thought something wasn’t quite right about that. A beaver wouldn’t usually stick around and let me listen to it breathe. More likely, it would give a decisive tail slap of alarm and be gone.
I stood a while, trying to figure out what was going on. The beaver lunged and dove, but then resurfaced again in the same spot. It did this several times. When it was still, concentric rings emanated out from its head like its whole body was vibrating, and it was breathing hard. I stepped over the guardrail to see if I could get a better look at what was going on, and the animal looked at me, its tiny eye as wide and terrified as it could be, showing a halo of white. It was clearly stuck somehow, trapped in something underwater.
When I got home, I told my husband, and he offered to call the police since they sometimes come and handle these things. Once, an officer came when there was a half-paralyzed, growling woodchuck in the garden with a gaping wound over its hind end. The cop came and tried to shoot it once and missed, but said he hadn’t missed, and said instead that sometimes the shot was so good and direct and true that the bullet just passed right through the animal’s brain without doing any damage. I nodded when he said this magical thing, and then I knelt behind the woodpile where the woodchuck was hiding and poked it with a metal pole so it would show its head more clearly for the officer on the other side. I still find it ludicrous that the cop fired at the woodchuck while I was crouched behind it about eight feet away. It was a terrible idea in retrospect, but maybe I was convinced that the bullet would pass directly through me without doing any damage as well. The second shot took and the woodchuck died and I buried it.
When my husband called about the beaver, the sheriff’s office answered since they were handling all the local phone calls to police that day. They said they’d send someone by. A while after that, we briefly heard a siren from the direction of the swamp, but then nothing after that—no mercy gunshot anyway. Just the usual hunter gunfire from the distant woods around dusk. I could not bring myself to go check on the beaver myself. I was too sad and chickenshit. I dreamt about it in the literal, unelaborated way of traumatic flashback dreams—in the dream I was out for a run and saw it, and tried and failed to free it with a stick. Days later, I ran by again and I was I guess relieved that there was no sign of the beaver, but there was a new and heavy metal grate in front of the culvert leading under the road that I’m not sure was beaver-related but seemed likely to be, in a general sense, if not to the particular beaver I saw.
This incident of the stuck beaver is hardly the worst thing to have happened this week, unless you were the beaver, in which case it absolutely was. Sometimes it feels like the world is full of nothing but suffering and to really imagine the scale and scope of it would kill a person.