Even in the Darkest Hours

Something crashes. The trash can outside? The rain barrel? What is that?

In the dark (what hour is it?) I hop up from bed and run to the backdoor, my dogs growling and scrambling around my feet. I flip on the porch light to see that some boxes I had sitting on top of the recycling bins are now scattered across the pavement. My smaller dog jumps and paws at the backdoor handle so in my jammies, I slip on my boots without socks and open the door.

The smaller dog darts off into the dark while my older, larger dog stays by my legs sniffing the air. I see no movement but can hear the smaller dog zig-zagging around in the dark. I call for her (three times) before she trots back into the light with her ears high and eyes wide.

Together, the dogs and I walk over to the duck house to see it undisturbed. Odd, however, that as we approach, the ducks remain completely silent. Usually when the porch light turns on and especially when we approach their little cottage, they chatter and mutter things to each other. I peek in the window and they’re awake alright, but silently staring back at me—all of them, heads cocked.

This gives me a small chill. 

The dogs sniff loudly around the base of the duck house, noses pressing into the mud and I suddenly realize I’m cold. Granted, a tiny, Texas cool front moved through yesterday and I’ve been fighting some yucky sickness for a few days, but I’m freezing. I head back inside, whistling for the dogs to follow me.

For a moment, I stand by the backdoor, porchlight still on, and watch. My older dog curls into a ball on the couch but my smaller dog remains alert at my feet. Probably just some dang raccoons trying to get in the trash. They don’t call them trash pandas for nothing.

I step out of my boots, click my tongue for my smaller dog to follow me, and climb back into bed. 

Whether I actually fall back asleep or not, I don’t know, but once again, something crashes, this time with, what is that, a howl? Moan? Wail? That foggy purgatory between sleep and awake blurs noises, I know this, but I audibly curse because WTF is that?

Again I hop out of bed, this time grabbing my flannel shirt which hangs from the corner of my dresser and rush to the backdoor. I don’t pause this time; I turn on the light, throw the door open, and both dogs race out into the night. I keep a flashlight on a shelf right outside the backdoor, so I grab that and follow the direction in which the dogs went flying. 

Takes a bit, but my eyes adjust to the darkness as I’ve wandered around behind the trail of my small flashlight when something catches the corner of my eye. A shadow. A small, subtly moving shadow beneath a crepe myrtle. 

[I would like to pause here to caution that the next part of this story is a bit rough. I’ve learned that most of the people who follow my blog are bleeding heart animals lovers like me, so you may just want to skip the next paragraph if 2020 already has you triggered enough.]

I approach wearily, my eyes trying to adjust to the harsh shadows beyond my flashlight when I realize that it’s my rooster, Parm Parm. I rush to his side, both dogs now next to me, and pick him up when I realize *why* he’s moving the way he’s moving. My gut seizes and gently, I lay him back down. He’s terrified and tries to hop away but can’t because indeed, a racoon (or racoons) have gotten a hold of him. If you have any familiarity with the absolute dickheadedness of racoons, then you might know what they like to do for fun to chickens and roosters. If you don’t know, might I suggest remaining blissfully ignorant. At any rate, I realize that they tried, but didn’t fully succeed before the dogs and I came rushing out. 

My chest tightens. My smaller dog tucks her ears back and takes a step closer to the panicking rooster. They’re buds. They actually play. Scroll around on my instagram account and you’ll see videos of them playing tag all day every day. She sniffs his feathers and then backs away, unsure what to do. I guess I feel the same way: helpless.

And this, my friends, is where difficult decisions need to be made. As a keeper of many animals, their well-being is my priority. Knowing that Parm Parm was somewhere between life and death and terrified and hurting in that place, there was no choice but to show him swift, and gentle mercy right there under the crepe myrtle.

I’m asking myself now why I’m writing this. Why share a sad story? Is the world not scary and miserable enough? But after a few days of processing this, I feel compelled to and here’s why:

Even in the darkest hours of the night, panicked and admittedly terrified, we can (as Glennon Doyle says) do hard things. We can put our own fears and attachments aside to do what’s right. To show compassion and love to others. To be there for those who depend on and need our help. 

Even in the darkest hours of the night, we can be brave. We can walk deeper into the dark to be there for someone; someone who is struggling in a way that maybe we can’t fully imagine but at least we didn’t leave them there to suffer alone. I might have felt helpless, but not so helpless as a rooster struggling to die.

Even in the darkest hours of the night, I can see that all my critters of varying species care for and love one another. The dogs mourn with me. The ducks, (Pat the patriarch, especially) keep looking for him in his coop. Even the donkeys have lingered around the spot in the yard where he’s now buried longer than usual. And a couple days ago when this happened, my young son picked some flowers to lay on top of his grave.

Even in the darkest hours of the night, we are one. We cannot forget that. We just can’t.

Rest well, little one.

Much love,
Jess

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