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Lessons from the critters

Posted: September 18, 2017 3:14 p.m.
Updated: September 19, 2017 1:00 a.m.

A pretty funny thing happened just the other day. I won’t say where, because that doesn’t really matter, but the upshot of it was that my Beloved encountered a snake. Apparently, she turned a corner and there it was.

“It’s skinny and black and it hissed at me and shook its tail. Is it dangerous?”

Reasonable question. Nobody cares to be hissed at -- least of all me -- and I suppose shaking a tail is a snake’s way of shaking a fist or showing a middle finger.

I went to investigate the situation; the snake was not where she originally saw it, which I pretty much expected. What was kind of funny though, was how it poked its head up from where it was hiding, obviously scoping out where we were. Then it took off, at lightning speed, in the opposite direction.

“Well, in case you were wondering, that’s definitely a black racer,” I said. “It’s harmless, except for that moment when it surprises you and gives you a heart attack or worse, causes you to suddenly need to change your shorts.”

I guess the lesson here is, if you’re threatened, give it right back -- then run like hell the first chance you get.

Here’s another thought; I’ll be sitting on the porch or maybe in the back yard, hot or cold beverage by my elbow, depending on time of day, when a sudden and deafening silence will jar me out of my concentrated reverie.

All the birds, from the noisy, exuberant Carolina wrens to the cautiously pompous cardinals, have disappeared into stony silence.

Then on swift, silent wings, a Coopers Hawk careens through the yard intent on consummating that moment when he can snatch the unsuspecting or foolhardy out of the gene pool for good.

All the others watch and wait. Somehow, they know all about how disaster can come hurtling out of the clear blue sky without warning. Somehow they know all about the quick and the dead. Those who know, survive. Those who don’t, well....

It’s at these moments I realize it’s a different world from the one in which I thought I was living.

I’m not going to indulge myself with a crabby old man rant because I can’t say the world was a better place last week, last decade, or back in the Pleistocene era when I was growing up in it.

But I think I prefer the world I once had to the one I see now -- not necessarily because things made more sense then, but more likely because that’s the only one I knew. Growing up, I knew happy, blessed, and safe.  It’s a frame of reference that becomes more difficult to reconcile with each passing day.

I can’t help but wonder if our era was more permissive, mature, or trusted. Most likely, I was just lucky. I always seemed to land on my feet even when the hawks were circling.

I suppose the lesson here is, that was then; this is now. We have to deal with today and prepare for tomorrow. Sooner or later, the hawk will swoop down from the clear blue sky.

We all like to think we can handle everything that’s dished at us. But ometimes, all we can do is know enough to shut up and get under cover for a little while.

Or hiss, shake our tail, and run like hell the first chance we get.

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