Eight a.m., coffee and the newspaper; the morning sun welcome through the window. Now something less so. A diesel engine snorts to life; a bulldozer rummages through the vine-laden woods across the street.
Laurie jumps to the window and glowers at the yellow invader. The faintest cry escapes her throat, something between a growl and a whimper.
The turf, after all, is hers. Into this jungle she often creeps, the feline hunter stalking her prey. Back out she comes, bearing gifts: deflated mice, strangled catbirds. Now we can hear branches snapping, see vines taking death grips on limbs and the dozer coming to yank them loose.
The engine shuts down, and I walk outside to see what is going on. I already know. The developer has presented fancy drawings to a neighborhood meeting. They show 11 houses, no trees. Middle-class housing. Prices will start at $175,000.
The driver is lighting up a Winston. Up there on his wide seat set in a rigging of steel, he looks like a princely Indian atop an elephant. He gazes around: "Get this little stuff basked down in here, it won't look so bad." How long has he been at this work? "Forty-five years. This is my life's work."
He's been "trying to retire," but "another man with the company's got bursitis, I'm filling in." Soon he's into his own six months in the hospital. "They carried me in; I walked out -- course I wasn't walking too good."
He wants to get back to his place in the woods. He's had enough driving up to the city, getting lost because they've built an apartment building that separates 18th Street from 19th like the Berlin Wall. Besides, he hasn't got a whole lot of years left. "All I want to do is hunt and fish."
The bulldozer starts up again, and I back off. Up the street comes my neighbor, retired now, a gnome of a man with his morning paper tucked under his right arm. The right arm is smaller than the left.
We stand around, not saying much, like bystanders at an accident. The bulldozer groans on; trees come crashing down. I ask my neighbor if he knows what these houses will sell for. He shrugs. "I don't know. What? 90,000?"
I tell him. He shakes his head, disbelieving. "I paid $7,500 for mine in 1935." He does not say this triumphantly. In fact, like the driver, he is sort of grumpy. In 1935, he continues, there were a hell of a lot more trees in the neighborhood. "We're thinking of selling our house and moving to a place in Westmoreland County. It's on the water, a lot nicer down there than it is up here. I can crab and fish down there. I can do what I want." t
I figure that people, like cats, are domesticated animals. We may be used to getting our food out of cans and boxes, but down deep near the core of the soul lurks the provider-survivor. The hunter.
"All I want to do is hunt and fish."
"I can crab and fish there."
I look over at my neighbor and his bad arm. I look at the man riding the bucking bulldozer, the man who went into the hospital on his back and came wobbling out six months later. They are in their winter years. I could out-forage, out-hunt them -- easy. Playing by Darwin's rules, they would have been long gone by now.
In their heart of hearts I think they know this. This is why they yearn for more abundant ground -- the deer-filled woods, the crab-rich creeks.To the hunter, such places represent surer territory. If the hunter in them held out hope for this little green spot in suburbia, then it is getting bulldozed along with the trees.
Animals don't get hunted to extinction. They are the golden eggs, meant to be lifted from under the faithful bird. Animals go extinct when habitat -- the goose -- gets cooked. Something deep in our animal selves knows and understands this. This is a fact; as true, as mysterious as the cry which came from the cat's throat that sunny morning.