I saw a rabbit, as slick as a knife,
and as pale as a candlestick,
and I had thought it’d be harder to do,
but I caught her and skinned her quick.
Joanna Newsom, “Baby Birch” (Have One On Me, 2010)
A woman kneels between two birches beside a gray pond. In her left hand, she holds out a struggling rabbit by her back legs. In her right hand, she holds a knife at her chest. Above, a honking Canada goose descends from gray clouds. The woman is dressed all in pink, with a pattern of red droplets around the collar of her cloak. A pale blue egg is wrapped in her clothing by her legs. To either side of the birch trees, the sky is blue and the land is gold. Between the two trees, the sky is black and the land is red.
The final card of the second decade traditionally shows the Last Judgement. Baby Birch represents a more personal moment of reckoning. Against her wishes, the narrator must choose one path to go down, cutting all others off.
The area between the two birches is filled with night, trapping the figures in a dream. The woman is dressed in all flesh tones, reflecting vulnerability and a feeling of nakedness. The knife poised to skin the captured rabbit is also pointed at the woman’s own heart. Meanwhile, the goose above is the epitome of the protective mother (“cussing … over her eggs” in the song). The volume of her call clears out the landscape, beating against the woman’s hesitation and uncertainty. The sky-colored egg on the ground is a token of hidden possibilities to be hatched.
The violence of the song’s climax is shocking. However, the sacrifice of innumerable possible futures is necessary to move forward in one. When this card appears, it is a prompt to choose.
Decision, judgement, revelation, reality check, sacrifice, paths, the unknown.