Last fall we moved off pavement to a home much closer to the natural world. We left a busy street in Monroe, NY for a dirt road that leads to a gravel driveway which ends a half mile later on a mountain in Montana. The natural world literally surrounds us with its wonders, its beauty and, also, its no-holds-barred survival of the fittest. I hate to break it to you but nature is not a Disney movie.
We all know this of course. The natural world, not the one man has built or the version someone is trying to sell you on the big screen, is not like the woods Bambi © lived in. In nature every creature is a potential meal for some other resident of the neighborhood. Even the top of the food chain, think grizzly in my new area, ends up, eventually, on some lessor animal’s plate.
This was made very clear to me this winter when we found the spot a mountain lion took down one of the small herd of deer that live on our side of the mountain. The deer graze regularly up and down the hill. They sleep under the pines right below the house and in the winter would go down to our neighbor’s hay pile for their midnight snack. In the process, one of them became the snack for a mountain lion. A couple of days later I found the place the lion had dragged its deer. Under a big pine, hidden away, was the pile of fur and bones that had been a member of the herd. By the way, a mountain lion will eat, on average, a deer a week.
I thought back to the opening scene of the Lion King © where all of the herd animals out on the plain bend down to salute the newborn ‘king’. What’s up with that? Hey! It’s another kitten mouth to feed. They should have been running away.
The pattern of a death for a life was brought home again this week. There is a flock of turkeys on the property. Ten to twelve regulars who feed off the neighbor’s hay pile and then stroll around our property gobbling and spreading their tail feathers. I hadn’t seen much of them lately and was wondering where they all had gotten to. Then, a couple of days ago, we scared away a coyote who was resting in the grass along the driveway.
Years of higher education haven’t been wasted on this guy. I immediately figured that Coyotes don’t wait for Thanksgiving to eat turkey, not when its right there for the taking. Yesterday we found a munched-on turkey egg (yes, they lay eggs) and later the remains of a turkey. I don’t know for sure it was the coyote that ate the turkey but I’m very sure it wasn’t the deer.
This circle of life thing takes on a whole new perspective when you realize that all the animals around you are food for something else living around you. Most likely the creature you didn’t see, the one lurking in the shadows.
Most of us humans are removed from this daily reality. Meat comes wrapped in plastic, pre-cut. It doesn’t look like a cow or a lamb or a chicken. Even the vegetables we eat are washed and packaged. We didn’t have to pull it out of the ground and scrape off the dirt. I think our experience is less for this. Its more sterile. Certainly, it is less real.
Nature is beautiful and brutal. It’s a balance without sympathy for either the hunter or the prey but it is also incredibly efficient. If you feel sorry for the deer are you also sorry for the lion when it goes hungry? There’s only one way to solve the cat’s hunger and it isn’t tofu.