Yesterday, Jenn walked out of a chicken house gingerly holding a rat trap. A large rat scurried back and forth inside as I took the cage from Jenn for the next necessary step. "Don't drown it in my bathtub!" called Kevin. He has reason to clarify; we discovered too late that previous rats had met their end in the rain barrel that he uses for his cold baths.
I stepped onto the island in the farm pond and set the trap on the muddy bottom of the water. Rats are able swimmers. I crouched and cried as the last bubbles left the animal's whiskered face. "I'm sorry, Rat," I said through my tears. "I am so sorry."
This brush with death left me pensive. I looked at the rain drifting across the gray farm landscape and imagined the spring of the year after I die. On bare twigs, buds hold perfect faith for spring's return. There will be a year that I do not watch those buds flower. Perhaps the magic of the Christmas season is less personal than I used to imagine. Life will flourish again, whether or not this particular human is around to see it. The birth celebrated at Christmas is an icon of what I see in the trees, the birds, the creeks: death is all around, and yet life will eternally renew itself.
I don't know what to do with this knowledge. I settle for cooking the rat for the barn cats--experience has shown that they won't eat raw rats. The death of this season brings me closer to what is true inside of me, here on a farm where practicality and philosophy are closely intertwined. Perhaps my body is a bud, someday cracking open to flower in a mysterious spring. For now, there are cats to feed. Braised rat, anyone?