Predation

Last week I was sitting on the curb outside my house when a bird fell out of the sky.  It was a big fat pigeon, plump like a banker from an old movie.  It hit the ground with a dull thud.  The sound of its body hitting the ground said and that was that.  And that was that.  THAT.  Cardiac arrest, I thought to myself.  Some kind of vascular explosion in midair.  As Knausgaard says, “For the heart, life is simple: it beats for as long as it can.  Then it stops”.  One minute you are soaring through the skies and the next minute you are plummeting like a lead balloon.

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“I don’t worry about the future,” my mother-in-law confided in me last night at dinner.  “I am a butterfly that flits from one flower to the next,  because in the end, there are only two options for dying.  Flat on your back or standing up straight”.

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 Butterflies have hearts like humans, but these hearts extend the laterally down one side of their body.  Their heart is long and thin and bulgy in places like an injured worm.  Somewhere right now a butterfly is having a heart attack and falling out of the sky.

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The pigeon fell out of the sky and lay lifeless on the pavement.  Its stillness was not peaceful, but rather final and irrefutable, like a bad haircut.  Terrible.  I wondered, as I often have, what happens to all the dead animals of this world.  Why aren’t the streets and the oceans of the world littered with corpses?  Where are all the dead squirrels and seagulls and geese and ladybugs?

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For my aunt’s sixtieth birthday we walked the circumference of Block Island.  Block Island is an island 21 km off the coast of Rhode Island.  It is shaped like an inquisitive seagull and is 7 miles long and 3 miles wide.  A dozen of us traced its shoreline, ending our pilgrimage in the Great Salt Pond at sunset.  Along the way I saw several seagulls ensnared in garbage with broken wings.  I did nothing.  We made eye contact as I passed and I wondered how long it would take for them to die.  Would they die of dehydration?  Starvation?  Would they be pecked to death by a murder of crows?  They sat placidly without struggle, a vacant look in their eyes.

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99% of wild animals die as a result of predation.  I often think about what it would be like to be a wildlife photographer and to see baby antelope and baby elephant stalked by cheeta, leopards, lions. I wonder if I would have the self- restraint to stand back. Our emotions are at times in direct conflict with the natural order of things. I wonder how these photographers train themselves to contain themselves.  

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In this context, having pets is an act of radical resistance. Think about it.  Few pets are predated. Many die of old age. We dote on them and tend to them and keep them fed and exercised. Perhaps this convinces us that we have some control over death, some say in the matter. If only temporarily it allows us to play God.

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A hawk swoops down and alights on the pigeon.  Where did it come from, I wonder, was it laying in wait, waiting for pigeons with coronary heart disease to fall from the sky? But no. it dawns on me that this isn’t what happened at all.  The hawk homed in and slammed into the pigeon in the sky, breaking the chubby banker’s neck.  And that was that. The hawk pauses and takes several paranoid glances from side to side.  Its amber-colored eyes dart up and down the block.  Its talons are canary yellow and they grip the pigeon, who no longer looks like a bird, but meat.  A chill in my spine. A little shudder.  The curtains part, and something is revealed.  With enormous effort, the hawk levitates vertically into the air.  Weighed down by its kill, its thumps against the air as it disappears into the sky.