One summer morning I walked along the highway. Cars zipped by on my left, and my eyes scanned the side of the road close to the houses. Beyond the houses I knew the ocean poured itself on the sand, but its drone was muffled by the louder, more insistent rumble of engines. I counted as I walked: five empty soda bottles, one crushed toad, 23 birds watching from the high electric wires. My mental hand picked Queen Anne’s Lace, bittersweet berries, the flat golden heads of yarrow, the wide crepe paper faces of pink hollyhocks. A mélange of nature’s beauty and man’s refuse.
I heard a bird, an unseen singer. The notes trilled out like tiny silver bells, and I searched the evergreen branches for their source. There – like a leaf turning in the breeze – the indigo wings of a red-winged blackbird, feathers an imitation of shadow and sun. It could have been a leaf, turning in the wind. The sweetest song, I mused, is the hardest to find. I stood and watched the scissor-like movements of its beak, listened to the vibrations that magnified themselves into music.
And then, a rabbit. Small, fur stippled and striped so that it blended in with the grasses where it hid, watching the road. In a pulse between cars, she ventured out to the grass, sniffing the air, warming herself in the July sun.
What must she think, this creature of woods and fields, when she finds herself out in the open? What emboldens her to venture forth, from the security of shade and camouflage, to taste the sun on her fur? What words spin through her mind?
May I be safe. May I be safe in sun and open spaces. May I be safe where the rush of cars sends showers of cinders into my eyes. May I be safe where grass changes to mud and mud changes to asphalt. I have lived secure in the thicket arms of my hedges, under the canopy of leaves, in the dark, damp green of grassy beds. I have learned where to find tender stalks, succulent berries, the first growth of lettuces in gardens. How can I leave this?
May I be safe in the outer world. May I be safe where the talons of hawks could pluck me from the earth and carry me on a dizzy flight to unknown places. I see those hawks, see them circling, see their dark brown wings spread out, lords of the air. May I be safe where the fox prowls, long nose sniffing, paws silent on the darkened road, the edges of dunes.
I remember suckling from my mother, her soft underbelly fur tickling my cheeks as I fed. I remember the horror of her caught, pinioned by a ravaging bird, her plaintive cries stilled, her once gentle face frozen in a rictus of terror. May she be safe somewhere, in that place where spirits dwell. May I be safe on the earth, in my new solitude.
I wanted to gentle that rabbit, to hold her and say, I am friend. I, too, want to be safe. I will guard you. I wanted to speak to her gray-brown fur, her trembling nose, her small paws that made no dent in the ground where she stood, waiting, alert. I moved. She stiffened, turned, and disappeared in the undergrowth.
May I be safe. The rabbit and I, we share this wish, this desire. In our separate skins, we walk together, yet apart. She fears my size, my speech. She is threatened by my world, where dark roads carry cars that crush, headlights that blind. I long to break through, to hold out my hand. I do not know her language, have never slept in her nested warren. We look at each other, silent, still, and our only bond is the phrase, may I be safe. Pity that we can not say it together.