This is the wilderness, so life and death happens every day somewhere. Usually not directly in front of me though.
Since my husband doesn't seem to be comfortable with silence, I really treasure my walks. I'll sometimes stand down there by the river and just watch the water drift by and listen to the silence. A lot of times, that silence is cluttered with bird chatter or some plane flying over somewhere within hearing, but mostly it's just quiet; I can give my brain a break and not think about anything, or maybe I take the opportunity to work my way through some issue in one of my books. Something that's very hard to do with a radio or TV going all the time seeming to demand at least some form of attention.
So yesterday, I was standing down there watching the water drift by when I heard a flutter behind me. There was some faint squeaking too but I didn't register it at first. Directly behind where I was standing was a big spruce tree, and I'll admit to being slightly alarmed to be hearing any noise that close behind me. I turned around in time to see something fall from the tree. The fluttering sound was a Magpie. The something that fell was a Lemming.
Now I don't see Magpies around much - I have always considered them scavengers, but I suppose they hunt too. This might have been proof. Now I have no idea how this scene developed. Was the Lemming already in the tree? Did the Magpie catch him there? Or did the Magpie catch the Lemming somewhere else and he brought him to this tree to feast on here. However they came together, the Lemming managed to escape his fate in the tree and make it to the ground in tact. A comparable fall for a person would have been fatal, but the little guy merely bounced once and then dived for cover in the dead grass and weeds under the half inch or so of snow.
The Magpie dropped down right behind him, but he danced away when I turned around. I decided to watch and see how this little drama would develop. Now the base of this tree was maybe four or five paces away from where I stood but the Magpie was bold and after watching me for a moment, and when he decided I wasn't going to interfere, started to look for the Lemming after all. Looking and watching, he started to peck at the snow-covered weeds where the Lemming had taken shelter and it didn't take him long to flush him out.
The Lemming made a dash off across the trail but there was no way he was quick enough to outrun wings across open ground, so when the Magpie caught up with him, he turned to fight. He was quite a valiant little fellow, jumping to the attack, and succeeding is causing the Magpie jump back several times. The encounter reminded me of maybe Puss-in-boots should he ever find himself in a fight with a man, or maybe Reepicheep, the swordsmouse in the Narnia movies. He was so valiant and brave, but the fight was moving around behind the tree where I couldn't see so I moved for the first time since the beginning. The Magpie danced off a bit and the Lemming dived for cover once again, close to where he'd been before.
I took another step and that was too much for Mr. Magpie so he flew up into the next tree away, and when I stepped around to see if he was still there, I saw his form making a hasty retreat far off through the trees. Well, since it was time for me to go back to the house, and since I didn't want Mr. Magpie to find Mr. Reepicheep under such puny cover, I started to turn over the shelf of grass and snow, very carefully. I wanted to make sure he was unhurt, not that there was much I could do for him, but I also wanted him to find a different hiding place in case Mr. Magpie decided to come back and look for him after I was gone.
Like before, I succeeded in flushing him from his hiding place, but this time he went in a different direction, taking shelter next to a log that had some other things leaning on it. Much safer from some hunting bird. And though I couldn't tell for sure, he seemed unhurt. I hope he only had a few bruises. Satisfied I had done the best for him I could, I went home.