Encounter With a Shrew

I have a brief encounter I’d like to relate.

I’d just finished a meeting on the northern edge of the state, and I wasn’t entirely ready to head to lower lands.  So I found a pull-off where I could park the truck and ambled down next to the river.  Here the water was deep enough to roll on fairly smoothly, but only lightly clouded compared to the brown waters a few counties south.  I sat here for a few minutes, trying to be present – my mind pushing away the people I’d dealt with earlier and the long drive ahead of me.  Off in the distance rose the high, thin whine of Brood X cicadas.  By my knee, an adult dobsonfly, another short-lived but far quieter insect, twined around a grass stalk.

It’s not hard to lose track of time beside running water, but home called so I didn’t tarry too long.  Back up to the roadside, I paused to take one more look at the river.  I don’t recall hearing anything noteworthy, but my eyes flashed down to the ground.  There, beside my boot, a shrew about the size of my thumb lunged out from under a leaf to grab an earthworm by the middle.  The tiny insectivore backed into the leaf litter with its thrashing prey.  I knelt and flipped over the leaf, revealing a tunnel of sorts in the humus; the shrew was already away to eat and resume its neverending hunt. 

My meetings with shrews are rare enough to make this close encounter notable. I wouldn’t want to handle a shrew, of course, as they are among the only venomous mammals.  A nip from one of these fellers would cause localized pain and swelling for a few days, but their toxic saliva renders worms, insects, and even mice paralyzed and comatose.  Shrews store their captured prey in caches for later use.  Given their high metabolic rate – starving in a matter of hours if not fed – storing ready food is not a bad strategy.

This is a common theme with me, but one which I hope will sink in. Take the time to stop, to be still, to look and listen.  How can Nature grace you with a moment if you aren’t there to appreciate it?

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