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Death and ...

Nature. I bet you thought I was going to write “taxes” didn’t you? No, that would be the stuff of several blog posts, books and other boring tomes like I used to have to read in law school.

What I’m thinking about today is the fact that nature is wondrous and terrible. Living in the country for these past few years, when I had been a dedicated city girl from day one, has been an education.

Every day I see something awe-inspiring and everyday I learn something new. I’ve seen frogs mating and the DNA shaped strands of eggs by the millions streaming out of the female. I’ve seen majestic blue herons sweeping across the sky, then diving to pluck a fish from a creek or a pond. I wake to the sound, not of roosters who are actually latecomers to the miracle of morning, but to the melody of the lone whippoorwill singing to greet the dawn.

I’ve seen the ruthless efficiency of the turkey buzzards picking clean a carcass of the dead, and the black beetles that feast on whatever morsel the buzzards leave behind. I’ve marveled at the abundance of birds of every color and size whose songs can sound like squeaking door hinges or wailing violins. I see the blue butterflies, and the orange and the yellow and the black and watch them compete with the bees for the sweet sustenance of life.

And I’ve learned that as marvelous as all that is, it is also part of a ruthless cycle of life. For everything in nature is either predator or prey, and sometimes both. Death is as much a part of the natural rhythm as is life, and unless you feel some special kinship or affection for a particular animal (including the human variety) most of us take barely a notice at the other side of that natural equation.

They say that only humans hunt for sport, but I disagree. I’ve seen animals near the top of the food chain like cats and dogs and coyotes kill not for hunger but for entertainment. You might think they kill to protect their territory, except what they tend to kill – animals weaker than they are – are no threat to their way of life and only commit the sin of breathing the same air. Sounds sort of like the behavior of your average human serial killer or other sociopath.

No, I don’t think humans are alone in our proclivity to murder. I just think that as you move along the hierarchy of prey to predator, your perspective changes. From our perch atop the food chain (after having annihilated any other animal that could battle us for that position) we lose sight of our mortality and consider everything else a lesser form of life.

We sentimentalize nature as we enjoy the sights and smells of clean water, fresh air and abundant beauty, while forgetting the flip side of death and terror and the sheer disregard that nature shows for both ends of that equation. For it is all part of the same dance, yet we glorify one while mourning the other.

It would be nice if we could find some way, apart from the tools of social control usually brought to bear on such issues – like the pitchfork bearing guy with the tail and the pointy ears or the old white man who lives on Cloud 39 – to harmonize these two halves of the same whole. And perhaps bring some of that harmony into our consciousness as effortlessly as nature nurtures with one hand and smites with the other.

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