It’s getting close to Halloween here in the US so there are lots of houses in my neighborhood that have decorations out for the occasion. This morning, as I was walking by a house with a fake graveyard in front of it, something caught my eye. I stopped and stared at it. It totally looked like a huge hawk or something sitting in the middle of the graveyard scene, but I couldn’t tell if it was real or not. I kept staring at it. It stared back. Neither of us blinked. I was a having an ET-in-the-closet moment, for sure.
I started walking towards it, getting pretty close actually, and I still wasn’t sure if it was real. I was having flashbacks to the time I put a can over a fake plastic spider on the floor because I thought it was real (and waited for an “adult” to come and check for me – sadly, this was quite recent). All of a sudden, I noticed that this bird from hell is sitting atop what looks like a chipmunk, and the chipmunk is starting to try and get away. We both blink (me and the bird) and it realizes that the “jig is up,” so it tries to swoop away with its wiggling prey – flying SO close to me that I felt the wind from its wings (isn’t that a song?). Here’s where the “stupid” comes in.
The bird is flying super low and it takes off across a street. I, of course, do not hesitate to run after it. We both almost get hit by a car. In that fraction of a second I’m thinking, a) if I do get hit by this minivan, would it be better to die rather than re-break my wrist right now? and b) why am I chasing this bird who is going to rid the world of a chipmunk which I’ve been on a crusade to rid my backyard of for months by catching and releasing the critters into this same general area? During all this surreal-ness, I have the song “Welcome to the Jungle” by Guns N’ Roses playing on my iPod. So many onion layers of irony that I lost count.
The bird (and chipmunk) and I make it across the street to a field and now I’m just sprinting to catch the fucker who is trying to eat (possibly) the same chipmunk that I just put here yesterday. The bird is still low because the chipmunk is now fighting back, so I take my cell phone out and chuck it at the bird (a la Sandra Bullock in “The Proposal” when the eagle carries the puppy away). The bird then drops the chipmunk (which frantically runs -probably back to my house) and proceeds to fly off looking for its next meal. If you’re wondering what my point is (so am I), I think it’s this: I’ve been humanely catching and then releasing (into a nearby park) SO MANY chipmunks for the last few months. They began stealing bird seed and stowing it in my basement but I didn’t really hate them until one of them tried to kill a bird I had only just let loose in my backyard after nursing it to being a fledgling when the parents appeared to have abandoned the nest. By the way, the whole time I had the baby bird, my 2 cats wanted to eat it, but I kept them apart. I love cats, but vs. a baby bird, I’m going to side with the baby bird.
So, instead of doing the logical thing and cheering for the hawk and trying to lure it back to my house to lessen my chipmunk infestation, I’m now suddenly on a mission to save this rodent (almost getting hit by a car in the process), from a big, bad, hawk-thing-from-hell lurking in a fake graveyard. This is illogical, for sure. But there are a couple of points.
First, knowing myself, I’m going to side with the underdog, underbird, underchipmunk, every time. And I’m not alone. Humans and other mammals are empathetic by nature. It’s in our evolutionary DNA and has kept us alive as a species for millions of years because we are ruled by emotions which have helped construct a type of morality, or Golden Rule. Things like cooperation, consolation, putting ourselves, mentally, into other’s “places” (perspective-taking), having sympathy, etc., are a big part of our daily life. There is considerable evidence to support the fact that we first react to the world around us at a very primitive level with what writer Guy P. Harrison calls the shadow brain, or unconscious, AND THEN, only afterwards, try to justify it with our conscious mind. In the case of the baby bird vs. the cats/the chipmunk vs. the hawk, we just pick and choose who our are enemies are at that moment and in that particular situation. Right now, for example, my cat, Apollo, is watching me type this –
but if he were in the yard chasing a bird, I’d be protecting the bird against him. This can be a heavy burden for our brains to deal with…all this duplicity. President Obama approves lots of drilling for oil, but he also does a lot of really good things. So which is he…good or bad? Or both? Our brains kind of want it to be binary.. either/or, good/bad, but there is SO MUCH gray in the world.
The other thing I think about all the time is how incredible it is that we silly humans made it to the top of the “food chain” at all. The fact that I have the luxury of adjudicating a dispute between a chipmunk and a hawk means I’m not worried that the bird (or some other animal) is going to swoop in and take me out of the game. Yes, the car could have, but that’s only because we humans built the car, so that doesn’t count.
The countless random and erratic circumstances (too many to list here) that allowed us to survive and thrive are basically “un-duplicatable” in the order they went down. And make no mistake about it…if, for example, that asteroid had hit the Earth 50 millions years ago instead of 65 million years ago, and that beaver-looking thing which we evolved from, kimbetopsalis simmonsae hadn’t had a chance to do its evolutionary “thing,” it’s safe to say I wouldn’t be here to type this and you wouldn’t be here to read it.
This just makes me all the more determined not to allow us to drive ourselves off the extinction cliff before it inevitably happens anyway thanks to a gamma-ray burster, asteroid, super volcano…in other words, stuff we can’t avoid. With the absolutely miraculous (and I choose that word carefully) moment in time we now enjoy, threatened by nothing other than our own bad choices, we simply must turn this proverbial ship towards the open sea, and not careen towards Niagara Falls.
[Here is a totally gratuitous (and very badly shot) video I made for my friend, Nene, who lives in Florida when she asked about how the baby birds (mentioned above) were doing. By the way, I don’t know if the male and female warblers who started to come around the cage were actually their parents, but they acted like it. The runt, who is shown at the end of this short video, is the one who almost got killed by a chipmunk five minutes after I freed it into the yard, prompting my chipmunk relocation program.]
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