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  • Aaron Wright

The Cycle of Violence

The chapter below ultimately didn’t make the final cut in the book. I still really like it, but it is unpolished and didn’t serve to move the story forward. It also is a bit esoteric. I tried to salvage some imagery from the chapter and relocate it into various other chapters in the book as a bit of an homage. I’m fond of the chapter mostly because I had countless runs like this with Daisy, but also because we would often watch what scientists would call resource guarding play out in the animal kingdom every time we went running in this particular area. This same resource guarding takes place with school districts all the time. Parents all to often find themselves asking for help and access for their children from a system that feigns support, but ultimately refuses to provide the resources that the child needs. For far too many families this abusive relationship becomes all to normal. This chapter was meant to serve as a premonition for what was to come for the Russells.

The Cycle of Violence

(The cycle of violence is a repeating pattern of physical and/ or emotional abuse defined by periods of tension building, an acute event, and a honeymoon phase as first described by Lenore Walker in 1979. This cycle can continue ad infinitum. It is often used to explain why victims stay in abusive relationships.)

“Make the lie big, make it simple, keep saying it, and eventually they will believe it.” – Adolf Hitler

During the dry months, Daisy and I ran north toward Woodland, away from the Davis city limits. We ran to a place where dirt farm roads framed tilled and turned soil, and elevated berms banked flood washes and irrigation canals. We loped past acres of thigh-high wheat and tomatoes turned to sauce having spilled from their double-trailered conveyances. Here the endless rows of picture postcard sunflowers constantly turned their faces to the sun before they took their final bow east, wrinkled and grayed.

It’s a land the local politicians revered as a buffer between progress and values, between a way of life and the business of business, as a progressive’s and a conservative’s Manifest Destiny. It’s a land where Daisy and I were not always welcome as we wove through barbed wire, ducked under locked gates, and ignored the omnipresent NO TRESPASSING signs. Yet we were not the only transgressors in the place where nature fought for balance and the right to fit in. Patrols of coyotes kept radar-eared jackrabbit numbers in check. Barn owls surveyed for insurgent field mice during stealthy nighttime air raids.

It was the place where Daisy and I could find our natural rhythm.

Our respiratory effort and our footfalls, while different in frequency, became synchronous as we attuned to each other and the surrounding environment. Our internal narratives muted, we could tune out the world behind us and process the world around us.

In front of us, a crow stretched, aerated its wings, and cawed from his perch atop an oxidizing studded T-post. He was notifying the distant, red-and-white latticed radio mast of his flight plan. He gestured and saluted his ground crew, who were busy spinning a web between a discarded spool of uncoiling barbed wire and the exposed chevron blade of the post.

“I’m hungry!” He clacked his beak.

He lifted off slowly in flight, like a laden bomber beginning his mission. It was a shallow takeoff. As soon as he had reached his cruising altitude, there was turbulence and flak. He was under siege.

A trio of red-winged blackbirds had launched a sortie. They shot rapid-fire chirps. “Hey! Get out! You don’t belong here. This is our land!” They were Messerschmitt Bf 109s, and the crow a lumbering B-25 Mitchell. But the crow had no dorsal turret, no waist gunners, and no defense against the agile flyers.

“But I’m hungry,” he crowed. “There is plenty to share.”

They flew in scissors and rolling maneuvers around the crow, and took turns shooting insults. “No!” They slapped his wing. “Leave!” They poked his tail. “Now!” They clawed his head.

Pitching and yawing, the crow fell from his flight and landed in one of the cottonwood trees centered in the broad reed-filled irrigation canal. He adjusted his feathers and used his beak to inspect himself for damage. The blackbirds alit, settling in a neighboring walnut tree that had found anchor in the dry bank.

“We can make this work,” the crow grunted. “There’s bounty for all. We are all birds – right?” He hopped branches.

“You’re right,” the blackbirds sang. “We’re sorry. You caught us off guard. You reminded us of a Swainson’s hawk that gave us some trouble yesterday.”

The blackbirds hopped into a different position to better address the crow. “Here, have some of our walnuts. We know they’re your favorite. We promise this will never happen again.” They lobbed a few split shells to the ground.

The crow stood balancing on a bouncing branch; he turned an eye down toward his gift and glided down to it.

Cacophony erupted as the trio pounced. Clawing and pecking, the three were strafing the crow’s position. “No! We didn’t tell you to come to our tree! How could you be so stupid? Leave! Now!” A chorus of bombs detonated.

The crow, confused, sprang then bounced upward into a slow and awkward flight toward the shallow parabola of the high-voltage line above the canal.

“Many have enjoyed the bounty of the land of tomato hornworms, cabbage white butterflies, and road kill,” said the crow. “You can keep your walnuts. Just let me sustain myself.” He rattled his beak.

The neighborhood robins and scrub jays paused briefly at the crow’s plea, but turned their heads back to foraging and sorting through the fields for their own needs.

“What are you talking about?” the blackbirds whistled. “We aren’t acting unkind.” The three frolicked below their tree. “Of course we can share our food with you – that is only common decency. All birds should work together as well as blackbirds and crows do.” They bounced from the ground to the top of the crates that kept the local bees in captivity.

“Come back over toward the wash,” one beckoned while admiring the underside of his wing. “We feel so bad that you are hungry. The farmer has spilled large mounds of wheat from his chewing and breathing machines. There is plenty. Come, see for yourself.”

The blackbirds danced together, frolicking about their caches. Taking turns, they bounced through the stiffened stalks and drooping husks of the Avena barbata.

Confused, the crow was quiet.

“Why can’t I stay here?” he mumbled. “This is my granary too. They don’t own this.” He stepped sideways across his high wire, bobbing his head, and studied the situation one eye at a time. If he was dealing with seasoned aces, this was most certainly a trap; if he was dealing with bird-brained idiots, he was certain to be attacked again. The crow knew he was not designed for dogfighting, but he sought the nourishment promised by generations of crows before him.

The laws of the land and the temptation to return for the sustenance to which he required prevailed.

As the crow took flight, his engines coughed and sputtered, and he rolled and banked as he flew toward the promised food.

Once again, the blackbirds aggressed.

“No!” their cannons fired. “Leave!” they screeched, plucking a feather from the crow’s rudder. “Now!” commanded their leader, and they hit him with a high-side gun pass.

The crow barrel rolled, extending his full wingspan, and struck the tail of one of the bogeys, sending it spiraling toward the earth. The remaining two blackbirds disengaged and fell back.

“Hey, wait!” the remaining pair screamed. “It wasn’t as bad here as you thought! We were just playing around – you are blowing this out of proportion.” They dropped to inspect their counterpart on the ground.

A single black feather fell like a helicopter in a dead spin and landed on the ground next to the red-winged trio. The crow had reached his ceiling of tolerance, and he fired back in a rapid succession of caws. “Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me. Fool me thrice – you can go to hell!”

Daisy and I had reached the crossroads of the Willow Slough, its bypass, and the creosote soaked railroad trestle. We waved goodbye to the portable well generator’s dusty engine block. We said goodbye to the humming stacks of finger-jointed white pine box beehives. We waved goodbye to the crow and reluctantly turned our backs on him as we followed the blackbirds along the California Northern tracks back home.

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