Thursday, 6 October 2011

Death In The Afternoon

From my log.
Afternoon had ripened sunny and hot, and I had just dished up the evening bowl. Too nice to sit in the barn, on a day given to wash and chores. I decided to take it to-go.

I was walking toward the machine shed with my bowl and spoon when from the long grass exploded a hen grouse, just like in the hunting magazines: wings spread, purple and white bands on her fan, beak open in distress. But this one was accompanied by a dozen tiny fledglings, who took to the air around her like frightened houseflies. They were inexperienced fliers, though, and grouse aren't the slickest bearings in the wheel of life to begin with. At that exact moment, a strong gust piped in from the west, slewing all of the chicks well left of their mother's trajectory. Before I could even put my raised foot down, two of them slammed into the shed's metal side, bam-bam!, in a tasteless parody of shotgun fire. I saw one bounce off the dirt and dive into the weeds, its little wings spread for distance, but its clutchmate remained on its side, kicking convulsively in the sun grown suddenly cruel. I stood over it, providing shadow, and searched anxiously for signs of hope; the birds that crash into my windows at the beach usually come around after a few minutes. But they never lie on their sides and kick, and so I knew it would soon be over. "Quickly," was the only prayer I had left.

The mother had since pancaked her brood in deeper cover and swung around back, but when she cornered the shed and saw me still there, she folded her wings, a good eight feet off the ground, and dropped into the orchard grass like a soft stone.

"I think one of them's OK, " I told her, "but this one's dy..."

I glanced back at the tiny life in front of my sandals.


What a goddam pointless way for a beautiful creature to die. I bent down, stroked its barely-used feathers. It was still warm, a bundle of down in its duckling tabby of egg yolk and brown, the kind of thing you'd instinctively carry to your cheek, if the little heart were still beating.

I drew a long breath, and let it out again.

"I'm sorry," I told the waving grass. "If I'd known you were there, I'd never have come this way." It was true, and moot. A man walks. A bird flies. And both die. Often for no goddam reason whatsoever. And that's the pointless point, the hingeless hinge on the Gateless Gate.

I returned to the barn, bowl grown cold in my hand. Heartbroken again.

(Adapted from 100 Days on the Mountaincopyright RK Henderson.)


  1. Beautifully told, but hard to swallow,(true as it is).

  2. Yeah, out there, stuff like this hits hard. Meanwhile, a lot of human stuff, you could give a rip. For example, woman-inspired heartbreak is quickly put down. I like to think that priorities on the mountain are just more reasonable.

    Thanks for the word, Ian!


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