Denny and I walk for exercise. Most days I leave the front door thinking more about what I'm leaving behind than what I'm going toward.
We live in a sparsely populated community. A house here, a house there, acres of oak and juniper forested hills. We like our neighbors and we like the space.
Often we see wildlife as we walk. Deer usually, fox, maybe. I watch the woods. Maybe I'll catch a glimpse of the bobcat that surprised my neighbors.
One sunny windy day earlier this year we walked down the drive and turned out toward the sunset. On the other side of our street the land slides down to a dry creekbed. The trees on those acres step crooked to the bottom.
I was looking at the trees, not really thinking, just resting my eyes in the green, seeing patterns like you do when you watch expanding circles dapple a lagoon, but a tiny hanging flutter caught my eyes to an empty space.
My feet followed my eyes until I stood beneath the space. A near-invisible spider web stretched above me from one tree to the other. Hanging upside-down from the lowest strand was a blue-gray gnatcatcher, snared, still.
He struggled as I walked under, a weak quiver.
Gnatcatchers are among the smallest birds, not brightly colored or conspicuous or rare or sought-after. But in that place at that time, the little bird hanging above us was life and death.
We debated about how to free it. Then Denny motioned me back. He picked up a stick and heaved it in an arc, aiming above the tiny form. We held our breaths and willed the web to break. Three times. Until the gnatcatcher swooped free and disappeared into the trees.
Today in the Texas Hill Country, life won.
Thanks to Reinhard G. for his gnatcatcher Flikr photo. Click his name to see more of his beautiful images.
Copyright 2009-2013 Kathleen Scott, for Hill Country Mysteries. Unauthorized reproduction is prohibited.