nest tragedies

Contrary to popular belief, spring is the cruelest season.  Today a baby squirrel got caught in my eaves trough and I had to listen to its bone-chilling cries, not to mention the alarm calls of its mother, for 45 min before it freed itself.

Is there a word for a bird fallen from its nest?  They’re everywhere, thanks to the gusty weather we’ve had this spring.  Last week my car was stopped by a couple of tearful teenagers cradling (in a pink hoodie) a baby robin bloodied by a cat.

Patio brunch at Hart House was forever ruined for me by the unwise sparrow parents who haphazardly stuffed dry grass into a wrought-iron lamppost.  I’ll never forget the soft plop, plop, plop on the cobblestones that announced the death-plunge of their three newborns.

Are nestling deaths are worse for those of us who’ve had children?  Everyone cringes at the sight of a broken wing, but I’ve also seen my sons peel a barely-feathered corpse from the sidewalk with the same sanguine detachment they bring to bugs.  Is it the sheer blind callousness of a concrete world?

Leave it to Kathryn Kuitenbrouwer to put her witchy, writerly finger on it for us.  Her stories have never catered to the soft-hearted amongst us, and her recent “Let The Family Cull Its Own” is no exception.  Here, an account of a stranded owl family serves as the occasion for a dip into the deepest, blackest ambivalences of mothering.  The narrator keeps vigil for the owlets, weathering the taunts of her adolescent sons; meanwhile she fantasizes (or, more creepily, remembers) eliminating a variety of her own, variously-flawed offspring.

What I love about Kathryn’s fiction: how the mundane and the neighborly is drawn as a thin screen over the wild nature.  How, as Joseph Campbell puts it, “the human kingdom, beneath the floor of the comparatively neat little dwelling that we call our consciousness, goes down into unsuspected Aladdin caves.”  And of course, the treasure we find is deadly rich.

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