I watched as the hawk tore at the flesh of the young hare. The evening before, the young ones had emerged from the tall grass to play tag with their parents in the open field. Now, the two adult hares watched the hawk from the edge of the tall grass. As the hawk moved off, one hare ran out, sniffed briefly at the carcass, and then ran back to its mate.
A week or two earlier, I had watched a Marsh Harrier circle above the tall grass and dive in. It carried a tiny baby hare off to its mate, waiting in the nearby nest, to feed their young.
Did I feel sad for the hares? Absolutely! I could imagine (though it’s possible I was projecting) the fear and confusion of the parent hares, confronted with the corpse of their child. Was I distressed and upset by what happened? No, not really. There is a natural law of things: large, predatory animals kill and eat smaller animals. If the Harrier had not been able to provide baby hares and other small field animals, the newly hatched Harrier chicks would have died.
I know people who become very distressed when they witness these things. I’ve written earlier about the grief and dismay among live cam viewers when they saw bald eagles take osprey chicks from a nest. (When the Shadow of Death Falls) Witnessing death is harsh and brings out our deepest fears. And when we care for something, we tend to attach ourselves to it. Part of us gets lost when that which we care for falls away.
Buddhists have known this for centuries. They teach that all life is suffering. Our goal should be to achieve the detachment necessary to escape this continuous cycle of suffering. I’m not a Buddhist and the detachment I’ve developed in the course of my 68 years is one born out of curiosity, the wish to observe and understand. Also the curiosity of the artist: I would like to be able to see the beauty in death (and the fading of old age) as well as in life. I can’t say this part is easy, however.
Of course, as I commented in my last post (The Threat), there is a limit to detachment. There are people in my life (specifically: my children and grandchildren) whom I care for so deeply that a large part of me will irrevocably be lost if something happens to them. Especially through something as random and violent as ideological and political terrorism.
Which brings me to the human element. Somehow, our role as large predator escaped the laws of nature and got totally out of hand. Human greed and intolerance are not only responsible for the death of other humans but the destruction of all nature. Wendell Berry expresses this beautifully:
“Small creatures die because
larger creatures are hungry.
How superior to this
human confusion of greed
and creed, blood and fire.”
This might argue that here, too, is a limit to detachment. I care deeply about the fate of the earth and all works of nature (including humans and other predators). However, I would not serve this cause well if I became so upset by the recent bombardment of disastrous news that I could no longer sleep from worrying. I’ve written before about self-care in these difficult times. To continue surviving in this world, fighting for that which we love, we need to cultivate a cool head and a warm heart.