Nature, for all its outward poetry, is a slaughterhouse.
If you live in the country you are reminded of this daily in dozens of different ways: a Red-tail hawk with a ground squirrel in its talons; a golden eagle with a snake; a king snake slowly swallowing a gopher snake at least its own size; a raven with a baby blackbird in its beak, two adult blackbirds pursuing, harassing, attacking, all in vain; three coyotes eating a still-living deer; once, a nesting Red-tail catching a marauding raven’s leg in her beak without ever leaving her nest; a bobcat with a weasel in its jaws; a Red-tail hitting a barn owl in the air so hard it broke her back; and, on one memorable night, an hour long battle on the back patio, right in front of the sliding glass door, between two great horned owls, one already mortally injured, but still struggling, vainly, desperately, trying to survive. All this and much more.
We’re in the middle of a heat wave, so at night we open every window and every door to catch the cooling air as it slides down the hill behind the house. We leave the barn open for the horses for the same reason. And yesterday Darleen and I went down to the barn in the morning to feed and clean and found a large pool of blood on the concrete apron, a trail of blood through the barn, the spatter pattern showing clearly the direction of travel, and out the far side where it vanished. This was a substantial pool, more blood than any scurrying nighttime rodent might leave, more blood even than a rabbit might leave. Pete was with us, our rescue Boxer, and he followed the trail as diligently as a bloodhound. I walked with him as he tracked, hoping to find a carcass and learn what might have occurred in the dark, but at the property-line fence we had to stop, and Pete showed no particular interest in any airborne scent from the neighbor’s side. Was it blood dripping from a body dangling in an owl’s talons? Was it blood dripping from a body dangling from the jaws of a bobcat or coyote? I could find no tracks or footprints, but I doubt it could have been a larger predator at work—mountain lion or bear or feral dog—because the horses would have raised enough of a ruckus to wake Darleen or one of our dogs, or even me, though Darleen claims I could sleep through the final trump, and I hope she’s right.
There was no way to determine what violence had occurred. Whatever it was had happened long enough before that horses were only interested in their breakfast, and they wouldn’t have told us anyway. Horses are notoriously secretive about what they observe in the dark and quiet of the night. It was just another of the countless, the myriad dramas that go unnoticed as the world sleeps, of no interest to anyone except the owners of the barn and their dog.