We were enjoying a peaceful walk along the Kennebec River with friends when our young children stopped to play on the bank of a muddy pond. Perfect childhood bliss. Then, across the pond, three hunting dogs crashed through the brush and sprang into the water. It happened so quickly, it took a moment to see that one of the dogs carried something in its mouth: A mound of soft brown feathers.

“Oh, no,” my friend said.

We realized at the same time that the dog had found a duck. Our children froze, wide-eyed and watching the life-and-death struggle. Somehow the duck escaped. Quacking in terror, it flapped across the water with all three dogs swimming in pursuit.

“We should go,” said my friend. “You children don’t want to see this.”

Yet, none of us moved, each desperately hoping the duck would get away. Suddenly, a woman appeared on the far bank.

“Sorry to interrupt your play,” she hollered, without calling off her dogs. “They grabbed the duck out of a bush.”

Was one of the duck’s wings crushed? It never made it more than a few feet off the water as the lead dog opened its jaws and seized the duck once again, dragging its now-limp body through the water, neck hanging backward, head and beak submerged. The two remaining dogs bounded toward us, shaking their watery coats over our children, who stood spellbound at the edge of the pond. One thwacked me with its thin, wet tail.

“Come on boys.” I pushed the dog away. “We really should go.”

We climbed the bank to continue our walk as the woman removed the dead duck from the dog’s mouth and tucked it under her arm, disappearing into the bush.

Did the duck have babies? Did it have a nest? Hearts heavy from what we had witnessed, we continued on our way. But after walking to the end of the path, we doubled back to look through the bushes for signs of a nest, finding none. All week, I have not been able to forget the duck’s cry as it tried to flee or the sight of its head trailing underwater as I read of immigrant families – many of them fleeing violence and turmoil – seized at the U.S. border. Parents torn from children, children from parents. I think about all those bewildered babies now scattered across our country, waiting for their mothers and fathers to find them.

And I read in the book of Isaiah of a time of great violence and bloodshed. “The Lord of Heaven’s Armies called you to weep and mourn,” the prophet writes. “…but instead you dance and play… Till the day you die, you will never be forgiven for this sin” (22:12-14 NLT).

I do not know the answer to the life-and-death struggle of so many families seized by the jaws of our judicial system as they seek refuge at our gates. I do not know how to comfort their motherless children. But I will weep. I will mourn in a time of great violence.

Award-winning author Meadow Rue Merrill writes for children and adults from a little house in the big woods of midcoast Maine. Her Lantern Hill Farm picture-book series releases this fall with The Christmas Cradle.