There are birds swarming the feeders these days. Birds and an occasional squirrel. The squirrels seem to wait for the temperature to rise before coming out of their nests, but not the birds. They are there at sunrise. Given the nature of their need for food, one would think a squirrel climbing on the feeder pole would cause them to summon their biggest brethren to attack and not wait for me to let the dogs loose on the deck where the feeders are.
It is curious that the only birds I ever see in attack mode are hawks. We have a resident kestrel that I hear now in the morning. It doesn’t attack the squirrels, either. In fact the only prey I have seen one take down was a blue jay, which because of our lack of chickens, is probably the largest bird the chicken hawk can find nearby.
There is probably a lesson here. Birds and squirrels are certainly not related beyond being living things, yet they have figured out how to live in a world where there are differences, and not just of opinion.
We live in a place where the wild things are far more numerous than domesticated animals and even plants. As different as the animals are, they get along reasonably well. Even the dogs, people oriented as no other mammals seem to be, have a sense of what constitutes a threat, and what is merely a good game (pardon the pun) to play. Chasing a deer, barking at a squirrel, even getting into a scrap with a grounded raccoon is almost always tempered by a modicum of good sense. Knowing when to stop is a lesson most dogs learn early. Usually one encounter with a skunk will teach a life lesson not soon forgotten.
I’m not thinking about dogs gone wild, you understand. Even the most loyal companion will turn if attacking another animal is the difference between death and life. But just as boys caught up in a playground fight will be best pals when the fight is over, dogs of the pet variety will often chase a creature not of their kind and be satisfied with the chase, enjoying it for the sport, not the spoils.
What about ourselves? We humans? When the blood is up, we can be as mindless and aggressive as any wild thing trying to stay alive. We see ourselves at our most aggressive, least civilized, it seems to me, in two particular venues: sports and politics. We once spoke of life as a game. But aren’t games are something we indulge in for pleasure? For learning? For becoming more than we are? Watch puppies. See how they play at games that develop survival skills. Killing each other isn’t part of the game.
How is it then, that we cannot see in our own lives, the difference between sport and survival?