Friday, June 25, 2010

Letting nature take its course

Cat-eating-preyThis looks so much like Sheeba, but it isn’t! Just some random Intarwebz cat chowing down on a bird.

I love living out in the country, but it does have its drawbacks, and there are some things that are hard to deal with. I've been snowed in during winter storms; the recent bad storms have taken their toll on several trees, although there were plenty of people in the area who had it much worse; and worst of all at times, for me, is seeing the inevitable cycle of nature. As Stewart Copeland wrote in his song "Serengeti Long Walk" from "The Rhythmatist:"

All around there are creatures as big as donkeys, eating and being eaten; it's a barnyard sound. The cycle of life and death is repeated--endlessly--undisturbed by the contaminated curiosity of humans. But there is a pattern there to see, and the point will soon be clear to me.

There have been many nights when I've heard the screams of something being grabbed and eaten. It's chilling, and my heart aches for whatever creature has just met its demise. The occasional dead squirrel shows up, and I've seen dead or dying raccoons out in the yard. Birds fly into the windows, and sometimes don't survive. I've watched as a raccoon has hung from its front paws from the deck and dropped several feet to the ground. There are a couple of does with bum legs that are return visitors to the yard, and it breaks my heart every time I see them. (Although the one with the bum foreleg is still going strong. She's been around for several years now, and I love it that she is such a survivor!) There have been bones and mauled carcasses found out in the marsh of fawns who fell prey to predators.

There have been so many times when I was tempted to intervene when I could. It's been a hard lesson for me to learn to stay out of nature's way. Nature has business to do, and part of that is living and part of it is dying. There are coyotes and foxes here...I've seen them loping across the yard. I've had people suggest that I shoot them. Not a chance. I understand the reasoning behind the suggestion; for anyone who has grown up on a farm, coyotes and foxes (and back in the day, cougars and bobcats...I'm not sure if wolves and bears were ever in this area, but it wouldn't surprise me) had to be shot to protect the farm animals, so it's an immediate reaction to such predators. I don't live on a farm. I understand that there is natural predation that needs to happen, and I'm glad that there is a fairly intact ecosystem here with predators like coyotes and foxes that keep check on other animals. As much as I love deer, I understand that they will devastate an ecosystem if they are allowed to breed unchecked. I don't hunt, and there is no hunting at Nutwood, but I understand that hunters help keep the deer population under control. Things seem to be pretty good here, with a little band of fairly healthy deer, and a fair amount of predators to keep things balanced. (There are also quite a few hawks and owls, and if I'm not mistaken, skunks will also eat small critters. Just checked...yes, they are omivorous.)

Nature As hard as it is for me to not intervene, I understand that the best thing I can do is just stay the fuck out of the way. There are people who rehabilitate animals and are good at it--they usually have some sort of background in veterinary science, or have people close by to advise and help. (I'm thinking of my friend Lori and her family, who have taken in all kinds of critters and nursed them to a healthy adulthood. Her daughter seems to have a real knack for it.) If you don't have that knack, chances are good that you're just going to prolong the animal's agony. As hard as it is to accept, sometimes you have to understand the bigger picture and let things eat or be eaten.

If that sounds hard-hearted, you don't know me very well. I still think back to some fifteen years ago when I lived in Indianapolis and hit a cat on my way home from work one night; or when I hit a squirrel a few years ago when I was driving home in the rain; and I still remember when a tufted titmouse ran into the window and sat on the deck railing stunned, his poor little eye puffing up. I so wanted to reach out to that young raccoon I mentioned earlier hanging from the deck and help him up...but I reminded myself that these are still wild animals, and our intervention does not necessarily help. In fact, sometimes it hurts, or prolongs the inevitable.

I'm not trained in rehabilitation of wild animals, and I'm smart enough to recognize my limitations. I also don't want to create a Pet Sematary out back, because we all know how that ends up! Nature is sometimes a cruel and dirty business, and it's generally better if we just accept that and step out of the way. It's been a hard lesson to learn, but I've learned it. That doesn't mean I don't feel bad when I see something hurting or in distress. Quite the opposite. I just have a healthy respect for the natural order of things, and am inclined to let happen what happens in any sort of natural environment. You might say that I don't like to play God. [wink]

Enjoy a little Stewart Copeland (you'll find short samples of several songs there) and here is a video for you. With "The Rhythmatist," he traveled to Africa and explored various tribal rhythms as well as the amazing wildlife and environment there. It's one of my favorites.


  1. This was a very interesting post and observation. Enjoyed the Stewart Copeland songs (didn't he do the music for a television show?).

    I have never been one to pay real attention to the nature around me (unlike Sheeba, I am a city cat!) but I acknowledge how important it is and apprieciate the work of those that do.

  2. I'm torn on the intervening myself(when it is life or death "intervening"), but I intellectually understand what you are saying to be right. It is one of the problems I have with Jane Goodall's feeding stations-- that is intervening in my opinion.

  3. I've intervened a few times. I'm a child of pop culture crap like Disney -- and I have to always remind myself that predators need prey and it has nothing to do with how cute or "good" they are.

  4. Excellent article, and nice picture of Basement Cat above. ^__^

  5. I can't find any fault with your logic on the matter, it's pretty much how I think things should go myself.

  6. There have been several sad moments here at Nutwood with critters, but they joy they bring us on an daily basis more than makes up for those sad days.

  7. Beautiful, soulful post Beth. It is a hard, sad lesson Beth. As long as we(human beings) stay out of things that don't concern us and abide by the natural laws of balance, the natural order seems to take care of itself. I agree, the individual threads of the web of existence can be sad if you look at them up close, but put them back together in the tapestry of life, and those threads combine to make a bold, rich story of our planet's past and present.

  8. How did I miss this post?? Thank you for a very thoughtful and caring post. Believe it or not we have intervened when Eler Beth's optimism and big heart have started to lead her to something we knew would just be a heartbreak waiting to happen, and she has, as she's matured, gotten better at letting nature take its course. She tried really hard with that baby rabbit last spring because it was a friend of the family who asked her to, but she knew it was not going to make it. And when she does rehab a wild creature successfully (like Clark, the possum) she lets them go as adults to live and die as they were meant to do. She has finally stopped picking up all the little fledgelings that fall out of their nests, knowing that they'll make it or not on their own, as it should be. But she does have a knack for caring for them, and the five domestic animals she's rehabbed from injuries or bad husbandry, as well as the few wild ones she's released back into nature tell me where her future lies. It is usually best to let them be or to kindly and humanely end their suffering if you can.


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