I am not fond of killing. It actually makes my insides icy, insoluble like cold round rocks have been forced down my throat. When I mete out justice I arrive at a strange intersection between nausea and emptiness. Still, it must be done. And I am the one here. No one else will visit this house.
I hear their cries as I approach and feel my heart reposition itself from my chest to my stomach. Why do I have to do this? The little ones inside weren’t responsible for their species long ago transfer from their country to this one. But I know what will happen if I let them live. They will kill those I love; either directly or by stealing their niche in the world—outcompeting those who are supposed to be here. They don’t belong here.
But what determines belonging really? What if I shipped our little ones abroad? What kind of welcome would they receive elsewhere? Would they and their eventual children be welcome in a new country—a land across the seas? Their blue raiment would never fit in there. They can eat the same food but when they open their mouths to sing, the notes are foreign.
My boots move, leaden, through the half-green, half-dry fescue and little bluestem forming the front and back yards of their temporary home. Seed heads wave goodbye in the slight breeze.
Why must I serve as the grim reaper today? Because tomorrow they will be bigger—look more like their grown-up future selves. That—I couldn’t bear. I stop, envisioning what they may look like today. Eyes closed with delicate skin covering their bulging sockets—hiding me from them and them from their fate. Damn, their fate! What will it be? I cannot break their necks. If I touch their naked skin I will fall to the ground or simply explode in the grief of my task. I cannot touch their new skin—stretching between limbs conveying their future form and current helpless state.
I’ve seen others kill casually—simply an artifact of the day. (Our cause is just.) They scoop them from sleep to death with a flick of their wrist. But I cannot do it. I loathe my weakness as I cast into my mind for another way—a way in which the killing stains me less. Could I crush them? God, no. My eyes find the neighbors’ pond. Drowning?
The world is filled with unwilling migrants; people, plants, other animals. With climate and resources shifting, new tenants constantly arrive on lands originally inhabited by others. They make new homes, form new alliances. But these birds, soon to be soft brown bundles, if left to their own devices will disallow bluebirds in our neighborhood. My quarrel is not with them. It’s with the damn fools who long ago transferred them here from Europe. They wanted a little piece of home. A costly comfort. The unintended consequences, so painless for them, brought my revulsion today and trouble for the bluebirds. Lack of thought for larger webs of life diminish these flashes of cobalt backs and rosy chests here, and native fish where Asian Carp now swim, and all life where gluttonous goats were brought to the Galapagos.
I’m squatting; head sizzling with the tangle of preservation mores and basic morality. Morality, I wonder, how did that get here? Easily, I answer. I am about to become a killer—a murderer. The sun presses my jacket a little uncomfortably.
What hypocrisy. I’m responsible for death almost every day as I slice up chicken on salad, brown turkey for chili. Why is this so difficult? Just do it, I admonish myself. Quicker is better. If I pull out the nest and hurl it into the water, at least the frogs will dine well. There will be no waste. That feels important. And it will mean I won’t have to break their necks—to touch them—connect with them personally.
I stand again and pull my feet forward to the bluebird box—one of the boxes my daughter made when she was young. I sense my face—lips curling, nose scrunching in abject abhorrence of what I’m about to do.
I pull out the nail that frees the door and it pops open. The infant English sparrows stir in anticipation of food from their mother. I am a mother. I thrust two gray sticks into the sloppy nest beneath them and pull. English sparrows are so unkempt with their homes. Slowly, so no one drops to the ground, I pull the babies out—still tucked in their bed. I cover the distance to the pond watching their wobbly necks rake to and fro, mouths automatically opening for food. Into the pond—I push the sticks away from me into the waiting air and watch them splash down.
I turn on my heel; but not quickly enough to avoid seeing the frantic flapping of naked half-formed wings as the little ones begin to sink. I am sick to my stomach. I’m a naturalist. This is ridiculous. I dry heave into the half-green, half brown fescue and little bluestem. Seed heads wave goodbye in the slight breeze.