It’s been a strange week and for a good chunk of it I’ve had to wrestle with a lot of fear, mostly around the fact that my life looks completely different from what it was last year, and I mean completely. —A good thing, but I’m not playing it safe right now, particularly with regard to my career. I have shifted from a very lucrative job into things that are closer to my heart, and while my intuition tells me very clearly and quietly that I am in the right place, my survivor instinct is screaming bloody murder, and needs something to happen now.
I’m better about pushing through the fear now. I can feel myself fumbling for the way out of my fear even while I’m stuck in the middle of it. It is really like trying to find your way in a dark room, bumping and scraping along and trying not to trip over something and break your neck—knowing that the light switch is there somewhere, you just have to find it. And you will.
Also now when I am stricken by this fear I am still able to keep myself open to the outside world, not switch off like a robot beeping and blinking down into dumb oblivion—which is what it used to feel like sometimes.
Because I managed to wedge the door open a crack to my senses and my soul, I saw two amazing things in my backyard this week. The first is that I saw a bobcat loitering in my backyard. I spotted him the moment he had taken a drink from a bird bath I have back there. He angled his head up toward the sky and the fur on his throat undulated as the water slid down his gullet. Then he shook his head, sated I guess, and looked around the yard, like, What have we got here?
The status of bobcats in the United States is varied and in my research I can’t even get a clear idea of what it is in California. But they are protected in a limited fashion and just last year a law was passed to prevent their trapping near Joshua Tree National Park—trappers were skulking at the edges of the park (where the bobcats are protected) and luring the bobcats out to kill them for their fur. Most of the research I’ve read says they are stable in California, endangered in other states.
The bobcat figures in Native American mythology, and if you take in the broader mythology of their cousin the lynx, the pool of otherworldly meanings gets very deep indeed. In general the creature is associated with silence, patience, and wisdom. The bobcat is the keeper of knowledge and the guardian of secrets, but he keeps this knowledge to himself.
I have lived in the hills of Hollywood since 2005, and many forms of wildlife are common—deer, coyotes, owls, raccoons, and on—but this is the first bobcat I’ve seen anywhere in California. My best description of them is that they are “a cat-plus”—they look very much like a tabby house cat— tabbies themselves looking like mini-tigers. But bobcats have extra down-turning flares of fur at their jowls… and they’re big. Like “Uh-oh, Fluffy is eating people” big. And of course bobcats are recognizable by their stubby tails—the one in my backyard didn’t show me his until the very end of his visit, when he jumped up on the fence ringing my property and slunk back into the trees.
If that was the high point in my backyard entertainment this week, the low point—or the heart-sinking point—was the day after the bobcat sighting, as I was on my way to refill the bird feeders. As soon as I stepped out into the backyard I saw a puff of feathers flying up in the air. It was like seeing a puff of smoke and listening for the report of the gun, looking around for the sniper.
The sniper was a Western Scrub-Jay, one of at least a pair if not three or four that visit my feeder on a regular basis. I like them because of their royal blue-and-white coloring, like they’re flag bearers for some Nordic country. I also like them because as a kid growing up in Massachusetts I loved watching the northeast blue jays—they were blustery, noisy, with arrowhead-shaped crowns that would fan out like peacock feathers when they got agitated.
The scrub-jay doesn’t have this crown, his head is round, but the one in my backyard was agitated—at me. Because I had just walked in on his attempted assassination of a sparrow.
The jay squawked at me and I actually turned around, thinking he must be talking to someone behind me. But no, he was telling me to mind my own business, and as I watched he swooped from the hand railing that leads to my upper deck to the wounded sparrow slumped in the grass—which I hadn’t seen at first.
The jay pecked at the sparrow, then flew back to the railing to squawk at me some more. Go away! I’m trying to kill this pipsqueak bird here.
Look, I know animals kill each other for their own reasons—most of those reasons being: I’m hungry. In the Scrub-Jay’s case, they’ll attack other birds rarely, but it does happen.
I hate seeing any creature killed though, especially anything that is weaker or defenseless. This sparrow was much smaller and seemed to be hurt pretty bad.
So I have the battle in my soul of do I help the bird or do I keep my stupid human mitts off this situation—because as a rule we humans can’t seem to keep our mitts off of anything—that’s why so many animals are suffering.
The jay is not weighted down from any similar inner turmoil. He swoops in and scoops up the sparrow and tries to fly off with him. I guess the sparrow is heavy for him though, because he drops the sparrow near my neighbor’s back door—plunk. He’s only managed to carry him about fifteen feet—and the bullying scrub-jay is perched on the roof staring at the sparrow, staring at me, staring at the sparrow…
I take a few steps and the jay dives down at the sparrow again, and this is the moment that pierced me, that really just got me: the sparrow’s head buried in the dirt, flapping one wing weakly up behind him at the jay stabbing him in the back with his beak… then as the jay flew away again, seeing the sparrow quivering, moving, trying to move… trying to crawl away from his fear and pain… no different from all the images I’ve seen over the years of dying humans in wars or genocides or accidents… the last moment, the last embrace of the earth, the last plea for help from the dying spirit.
I went back in the house, ostensibly to retrieve the scoop for the bird seed. I still couldn’t decide whether to interfere or not. I felt terrible. I felt like I was trying to create a sanctuary for the birds and instead I had built a gladiator arena.
The ancient Egyptians had a hieroglyph of the sparrow. The meaning was “small”, “narrow”, or “bad.” In the Bible, the sparrow represents God’s acknowledgment of minor or seemingly insignificant creatures.
When I came out of the house the jay and the sparrow were gone. Just a few wispy feathers hanging in the air.