It’s so easy to marvel at the profound beauty of nature. I find it to be impressive in its grandeur, breadth, and complexity. I often let my mind wander in the sweeping majesty of the rolling, mountain landscape from our front porch. It always amazes me how far and wide it carries my thoughts and helps me place them into perspective. However, nature is much more than a pretty view. It also embraces the symphony of life and death and the balanced complexity of the wildlife and plants that live within it. The natural world is a fascinating learning environment in its own right that inspires wonder and awe as we contemplate how it all works. It often refreshes and nourishes the soul to think about it and appreciate it for what it is.
As spring ushers the annual renewal of life at our farm, we have enjoyed the transition. It began with raucous mating calls from the spring peepers that live in our pond and the morning chorus of summer birds returning to the trees. As the leaves and flowers burst, a palette of colors returned to our landscape. Then, we noticed the playful celebration of the various wild animals as they emerged from their winter retreats. The deer, rabbits, butterflies, and now the fireflies have each appeared in our field like actors gradually emerging from the wings to take center stage.
Perhaps the most entertaining element of the choreography of life has been the growth and maturity of our new housecat, Calli. We took her in at the beginning of winter, when she was only a three-month-old kitten, full of energy and eager to play with any toy she could find. As she matured with the reluctant approach of spring, the focus of her play evolved. Her attention shifted from her cat toys to the houseflies that buzzed in the windows. It was funny to watch her leap up the window casing or creep up behind them to catch them. From time to time she would be successful and enjoy a tiny morsel of protein. All the while, she was honing her hunting skills for the bigger game that would eventually emerge in our yard.
By the time the weather made it possible for Calli to explore our farm, she was mature enough to apply her hunting skills. Her first prize was a field mouse that she caught in our front yard. Our former housecat, Ninny was more than 14 years old and two months shy of death before she caught her first mouse. Calli had mastered the skill when she was only 7 months old. From that simple beginning, she moved on to birds and bunnies. She wasn’t very successful with the birds, but she did eventually catch some baby bunnies. She learned that they would sneak into our freshly planted gardens to nibble on the vegetables that were emerging from the ground. She would sit on the porch overlooking the garden until she spotted just the right movement in the grass. Then, in a flash, she would leap from her perch on the railing and race toward her prey like an arrow shot from a bow. She returned from such a mission yesterday afternoon with her second bunny catch. I knew what she had caught from the desperate squeaks it made as it tried to evade her. The grass was too tall in the field to see the entire pursuit, but I could periodically see Calli leap above the grass as she repeatedly pounced on the bunny. After a brief chase, she carried her trophy triumphantly back to the freshly mowed yard and presented it to me for inspection and affirmation.
I guess many people today would think it cruel to watch our cat relentlessly pursue, catch, and kill an innocent baby bunny. Even our own son felt sympathy for the bunny when we shared a picture of Calli and her catch with him. As I noted in an earlier post this month, I have known many environmentalists who feel that we should preserve nature as it is today and save every living thing from peril. I guess I just view Calli’s success as a fulfillment of the natural order of predator and prey. Calli was only responding to her true nature as a hunter. Actually, the bunny would not have been caught had it not been responding to its nature by attempting to rob our vegetable garden of its bounty. In that respect, the bunny was the predator seeking to kill an innocent vegetable that we had planted in our garden to feed ourselves. If we did not let Calli pursue her natural hunting talent, our field would be quickly overrun with bunnies (which breed like rabbits) and all our gardening efforts would only result in feeding a bunny overpopulation on our farm.
Yes, nature can be cruel at times, but it’s all part of the ‘natural order’ of the cycle of life and death. All of the players in this incident—we who planted the garden, the bunny who tried to invade it, and Calli who intervened—were doing what we must do to survive. It is not a variable-sum game, where all the players can win something without having to take away from the other players. It is a zero-sum game where some win at the expense of others, but life inevitably goes on. To intervene and try to save the bunny may sound virtuous in one respect, but it may ultimately be cruel when it results in the survival of more bunnies than the natural environment can support. Nature has its own built-in check and balance system that works better on its own than any control I could exert over it, regardless of my intentions. I guess I just find solace in that natural simplicity and appreciate it for what it is. That’s just the way it works, naturally.
The only problem I see is that Calli is now emboldened by her recent hunting success. Twice now, she has been fascinated with the deer that she sees from our porch in the early morning hours just before sunrise. I have watched her steely gaze lock onto them and, moments later, she tears off the porch in hot pursuit. Once, she managed to chase them across our driveway and up the road from our farm. Perhaps she may be responding to her predatorial nature, but I think, at some point, she will have to face the reality of scale—before she makes the unfortunate mistake of pursuing a buck during rutting season. As I said, nature is fascinating and powerful enough to teach us all important lessons. That is, if we’re willing to understand and learn from it.