What do the wild things do?
The other day, I heard this query. It came from a fellow writer who found herself (willingly, I believe) without human companionship in an untamed area of the American West.
Well, I don't know what the wild things do out there but I suspect that they do pretty much what the wild things do right here in the woods of East Tennessee.
Here, the wild things are either eating or they're getting eaten. I hear them doing it every night, as I lie in bed with the windows open, listening to the sounds of the woods behind our house.
Wild things are not gentle. They are oblivious to the pitiful cries of the creatures they are devouring, the creatures they are mercilessly eating, eating alive.
Few living things in the woods get the opportunity to wear out from old age, to simply lie down and finish life peacefully. No, the most 'natural' cause of death in the woods is to be eaten, for in the wild, life preys on Life and it feeds and thrives on Death.
Nearly everything in the woods eventually gets eaten. Most creatures don't even survive infancy.
One of the saddest things I've ever seen was a mother squirrel shrieking in distress as she sat on the branch of an oak tree and watched a red shouldered hawk eating her babies right out of her nest.
Some nights, it is impossible to shut out the piteously shrill cries of a small creature as it is being eaten. At times, the cries seem to go on forever. Even my dog looks disturbed and solemn when that happens.
Around here, the most common nocturnal predators are the raptors, primarily the Barred Owls who fill the woods with their maniacal screeches all night long.
Their cry sounds like the senseless repetition of a lunatic: "Who cooks for you? Who cooks for you?" followed by demented cackles. My sons used to be so frightened of that sound when they were little boys. Frankly, I still find it unnerving.
But many animals that one doesn't ordinarily think of as predatory really are. Possums and ground hogs will eat the young of other small animals. Even raccoons are predators.
Raccoons are deceptively cute. They're actually fierce, dangerous animals with razor sharp claws. Raccoons have been known to pick up a turtle with their clever little hands, rip the bottom off the shell, then devour most of the turtle alive, casually throwing down the shell and lumbering on.
The woods of the Eastern Highlands are full of all sorts of critters that prey upon one another: coyotes, bob cats, bears, snakes, spiders, numerous insects, badgers, and both red and gray foxes. There is still, on infrequent occasion, a reported sighting of one of the legendary, secretive and much feared mountain panthers.
I do see a LOT of mild tempered white tailed deer in our yard. They don't eat other critters. Their eyes look gentle and I believe they really are. They come here to browse on my azaleas, figs, peaches, and my husband's vegetable garden.
But we humans are predators too. We prey on the deer. I have a freezer well stocked with venison and we eat it several times a week.
So you see, I also am a wild creature, feasting on the Death of other denizens of these woods.
As I sit on my couch, facing the dense expanse of trees, so beautiful, lush and green, I know that the woods beyond my window are not serene. They are filled with millions of life and death battles. At this moment, innumerable creatures are eating and being eaten.
Eventually, we're all food. Personally, I'm hoping to be buried in a linen shroud in a 'natural' cemetery. I'd like to be food for a tree.
Be Well and Good Luck,