Shoot to Kill

Once in a while, around dinnertime, I need to tune in to TV news. For all that’s available to me via the Internet, sitting on the couch and watching a news anchor deliver the top news of the day, condensed for easy consumption, is, oddly, a tuning out of the 24/7 mentality. I like Brian Williams for lots of reasons — his repartee with Jon Stewart, his appreciation of Bruce Springsteen, his resemblance to Peter Jennings. His intelligence and empathy.

Tonight’s top national story (October 19) was more human interest than politics, reporters on the scene in Zanesville, Ohio, where dozens of exotic animals were let loose by the very man who kept them in his own private wild kingdom.  Why he did it will never be known (unless he left a note not yet made public). He shot himself after releasing them, the dozens of lions and tigers and bears left to fend for themselves in a heartland that was no real home to them.  “Shoot to kill,” police were instructed. As one of them pointed out, this was not a situation they were ever trained for.  At least 49 animals were killed, among them Bengal tigers.

The local news, a half-hour earlier, was my real reason for watching tonight, curious about a story I had gotten wind of the night before and was still having difficulty processing. In this Northern Westchester community where I live, upscale by most standards, a man bludgeoned his wife to death, shot his two young children in bed, then killed himself. This is not a family I know (though I know exactly where they live), and all I keep trying to fathom is what rage or mental derangement it must take to commit this kind of murder and suicide in one fell swoop. Divorce proceedings were in the works, but even the most acriminious of family break-ups do not end in such violence. Having raised a daughter in this (mostly) wonderful exurban part of New York,  I keep imagining what it’s like in the local elementary school today (and the days to come), how teachers are trying to conduct classes and what’s going through the minds of those friends of a ten-year-old and an eight-year-old they’ll never see again. Just the thought chokes me up.

Zanesville, Ohio, and Cross River, New York, are dots on a map, hundreds of miles from each other.  Animals running in a wilderness not of their choosing, connected in some curious way with two children lying still as stone in a bloody, forever unmade bed.



9:15 p.m., an early October night. I go outside, lured by the tree frogs and crickets, the same as I do in the height of summer – just to listen. The air is cool, more summer than autumn/less autumn than winter. There’s a ring of light around the moon, a lunar halo. The sound, bells strung together on a vine of dying light, is thinner than it is on those mid-August nights bursting with syncopation – katydids in tandem with peepers, a cricket singing solo.

Every autumn in the Northeast is different, some more vibrant than others, this one off to a dull start, too much rain saturating the ground, making trees drop their leaves before the magic really begins – bouquet after bouquet of red and yellow, gold, orange, brown crisp against the sky. In spring I’m all ears, the birds signaling to take note. In autumn I’m all eyes, each day on the lookout for that pop of red in the distance, the glow of yellow against the sky. Today’s walk around the lake has me feeling a little autumn-deprived.  It’s the season of nostalgia, with its undercurrent of melancholy, my yoga teacher reminds me.  And every bone in my body tells me she’s right.  No sooner does September roll around, with its reminder of beginnings  (the Jewish New Year, the new school year) than thoughts of a year coming to an end creep in (Thanksgiving just around the corner, Christmas and Chanukah not far behind).  I need those autumn colors, with their announcement that something is so very alive before it dies.

Today, on my walk, something on the other side of the lake catches my eye, a heron perched on a rock, a swan next to it, neither paying any attention to the other. The swan is preening, the heron ever zen-like in its search for food.  Closer to me, but far enough not to feel threatened, are turtles lined up on a log. The swan and heron are a rare sighting, the turtles sunning themselves something I can so often count on. I usually stop, just for a quiet look, three or four small ones in a row, a snapper standing sentry. The splash as they dip back into the lake, one by one, is worth the break in my stride. Anytime I think of a turtle lumbering along with a shell on its back, I remind myself that they also swim.

“Season of mists and mellow fruitfulness,”  begins John Keats’s “Ode to Autumn,” a line that’s a tongue twister if ever there was one. Autumn, for all its beauty, is not a season of playful ease. It’s something of a rush hour for squirrels and chipmunks.  A season when,

Hedge-crickets sing; and now with treble soft
The redbreast whistles from a garden-croft;
And gathering swallows twitter in the skies.