Life on Concrete

A few weeks ago there was a mouse in the street. Upon a closer look, it seemed like it was confused or injured, running in circles. The road was busy with cars and I almost jumped out into traffic to try to usher the mouse to the sidewalk, but was prevented from doing so (maybe for the best, I don’t know). In any case, some time later when we came back, it was clear the mouse had been killed by a car.

In the last year or two I’ve taken on a behavior that baffles me at the moment I’m acting it out. I find myself along some piece of concrete in the city — a sidewalk, a curb, a street — and I see some other fellow inhabitant of the Earth there, and I want to ensure that they can continue to live as I do, free from harm.

After a heavy rain, the sidewalks everywhere are writhing with earthworms, trying to get out of the water-logged heavy clay soils and into someplace more habitable. Unfortunately, that’s not the sidewalk. Here too I’ve found myself, even when with others, almost automatically finding a leaf or a stick to scoop up the worms and return them to a patch of soil that’s safer.

It’s not just a mouse or earthworms — I’ve found myself doing this for squirrels, birds, ladybugs, and others. One of the more traumatic was the case of a bird that flew into our apartment window a couple of years ago — I heard a noise and saw a small bird (a sparrow, maybe) on the ground next to the window. I gently picked the bird up and could see the bird struggling to breathe, making what looked like gasping motions. The bird’s feathers were soft and body slight. I wanted to let the bird have a chance of recovery if that were even possible, and found a secluded spot under the deck for the bird to rest. Unfortunately, when I returned a few hours later, the bird had perished, and I found a good final resting place in a snow bank.

I know I’m inconsistent about it, in that I readily pick off caterpillars from plants I’m growing and leave them for birds to catch, and I’m not sure if that’s any different from letting some other being die on the pavement — I’m sure there are ethicists who have thought about this question far more deeply than I have. And this inconsistency is probably nothing new to those who live on farms.

But when I see plants scratching out an existence in the cracks of some forgotten piece of sidewalk or an abandoned lot, it gives me an odd sense of happiness — life finding a way despite our best efforts. Same goes for crows that manage to find something to eat in industrial office parks. Maybe what’s driving my impulse is something like the inverse of the phenomenon I mentioned in a previous post where techno-fix solutions are seemingly judged by the immensity of their struggle against nature. I suppose I see helping those other animals around us, in the decidedly human environment of city concrete, as honoring their role in the world around us.

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Responses to “Life on Concrete”

  1. If you find an injured animal that you think may have a chance if it gets professional attention, there may be a local humane society or wildlife center that you can contact whose volunteers will pick it up (or you can deliver to them). I volunteered for many years at a local place (, have seen many injured or orphaned animals – turtles with broken shells, birds with damaged beaks or feathers, birds mentally daranged from west nile virus infection, injured rabbits escaping from predator attack, abandoned baby squirrels, etc. Many do get healed and are released back into the wild. During my years at the place, I struggled to see if the unsustainable resources used by the wildlife place (fossil fuel dependency, imported food for feeding the animals from long distances, medical supplies etc) actually result in a net benefit to the wildlife. Essentially all this we are doing is for us really, not for them, I think even the notion of selfless service is ultimately a benefit for us spiritually but we have to live out what our inner being tells us, the same force that is driving the rest of the nature, that is our nature too. It is a struggle for us humans to decide what to do and what not to do, the moral struggle is what makes us uniquely human and it will probably never end as long as we exist.

  2. Piyush — Good points, and I agree it’s a hard thing to determine what the right tradeoff in actions is. For better or worse the situations I’ve found myself in are usually ones where, with animals, they are at risk of imminent harm, and I can choose to help them or not. For plants it’s more a matter of helping them grow in the city in spots where they’re struggling.

  3. Good experience for me to read some of your articles; they’re really appealing to anyone who comes across these.
    I am very proud of you, Barath.
    I am eager to read and hear more of such articles from you.
    Patti (grandmother)