Thursday, October 27, 2016

Lessons from the Wild

Levin with a nest of baby robins in one of our apple trees

Perhaps like many, I have a love-hate relationship with life in the wild:

watching birds carry branches and twine to build nests

deer and elk feeding in the meadows

squirrels running from branch to branch in the trees

ants carrying crumbs to their hill

fish jumping in the lake

dolphins feeding in the tidal marsh

alligators basking on the bank

coyotes barking and howling

– all of these are familiar and loved sights and sounds.

Watching animals in their habitat with their habits is fascinating, and I’ve learned much watching animals in their natural environment.

Consider three lessons I’ve learned from birds:

I anticipate the return of the birds each spring. One year they returned with a thud. Early one morning I heard the clear notes from a solitary bird even before the sun was up. Soon after, while cooking breakfast, I heard a thump. Our kids hurried to the living room window and cried, “Quick! You gotta see this!” A hawk was outside in the flowerbed with an injured bird in his claws. One bird’s misfortune of hitting the window pane had become another bird’s fortune of breakfast.

Lesson one taught to me by the birds: Life isn’t fair, but it doesn’t mean it can’t be good.

The life of a bird is filled with adventures and hard luck; few die of old age, which make their songs especially beautiful. Birds chirp and sing amidst the risks, rain or shine, few species are as optimistic. I read where one sweet, caged and unmated female canary laid eggs and was so happy that she offered food to the unfertilized eggs and chattered and chirped as if willing them to hatch. Contrast that with the turtle that lays her eggs and then leaves. Not one word of encouragement or advice to her young.

Lesson two taught by the birds: Face life with optimism and encourage others within your influence.

Birds travel light and make their accommodations with what is at hand. Nests are made or lined with dryer lint, hair, string, mud, twigs, tinsel, twine, and leaves. Each year, as a couple, the male and female birds either build or extensively remodel their homes – a trial for even the hardiest human marriages – and they do it debt free.

Lesson three: Be self-reliant and work on a harmonious relationship with your spouse.

Even the alligators who rest under the same shady tree at the same time each hot day have taught me by remote example that a little sun goes a long way, a good daily routine should not be messed with, and it’s good to conserve energy in the heat of the day for a nice evening.

Neither can I underestimate the influence of the story of the Grasshopper and the Ant. I suppose every child of the 60’s grew up on it. I listened to it on the record player and loved it, notwithstanding the static and skips. As the story goes, the ants stored food in their hill for the cold winter days while the grasshopper loafed, laughed at the ants, and played his wings as he sang, “Oh, the world owes me a living. Deedle dardle doodle deedle dum. If I worked hard all day I might sleep badder when in bed at night. Deedle dardle doodle deedle dum.” The winter winds came and the grasshopper got sick, hungry, and nearly froze. The ants took pity on him, made him a mustard plaster, and he soon grew better. The grasshopper changed his tune and instead began to sing, “Oh, I owe the world a living. Deedle dardle doodle deedle dum. You ants were right the time you said you’ve got to work for all you get. Deedle dardle doodle deedle dum.”

The ants’ example in this story has motivated me for more than thirty years to store enough food to last through hard times.

I have loved learning from the animal kingdom and watching life in the wild.

On the other hand, the animal kingdom makes me so mad sometimes . . .

I not only grew up with lots of kids in my family (I come from a family of ten children), I grew up with lots of cows. Because of the cows, the coyote was our enemy. Coyotes were sneaky and costly. One calving season the coyotes were especially bad. Coyotes have neither ethics nor morals; they have only the will to survive. They would creep among the cows, find the newborn calves that had not yet gotten their legs under them, and begin chewing on the soft tissue of the calves—the nose, the rectum, or the umbilical area. The coyotes literally began to eat the calves alive and often left them to die half eaten. I detested them for their cruelty.

I remember one situation clearly. It was cold and snowy and a cow had secluded herself from the herd to calve. She gave birth to twins, 30 yards apart. Then the coyote moved in. The mother cow would butt and charge as the coyote came close to one twin, then the coyote would quickly move to the other calf so the cow would run over to protect it. Back and forth she ran trying to protect her two newborn calves from the coyote. In her weakened condition, she was near collapse from the effort. The coyote would soon have three kills had my father not happened on the scene.

Three months ago I walked out to our chicken coop to gather the eggs and saw some dead chickens in the run. I hurried inside the coop and found only the old arthritic rooster. I hurried out behind the coop and looked in the pasture for the rest of the brood and found more dead birds. Not one live hen was found. The coyotes had dug in under the pen and carried away, or killed for sport, every last hen. All 25 of them.

I was mad. Deedle dardle doodle deedle dum.   Coyotes think the world owes them a living and there is nothing more repulsive than an entitled attitude.  They will not pilfer from our flock again. Girded with the optimism and self-reliance learned from the birds, Calvin went right to work to teach the coyotes a lesson they obviously missed in the wild: you don’t mess with the Payne hens.

Calvin fixing the coop


No way, no how is a fox getting into the hen house now

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