Living on a mountain, we see wild critters and not so wild critters. And sometimes we see crippled or maimed critters. At Lake Junaluska, there are ducks, geese, swans, and other fowl, and every so often, there is the maimed or crippled waterfowl—one day I watched a duck with a deformed foot hobble its way towards the water; the right foot was nothing but a twisted stump. The duck struggled and I knew that its time was limited, for even at protected Lake Junaluska, there are predators that roam in residential areas. I haven’t seen that duck in a while, but it could have moved to the other side of the lake; yes, that’s what I choose to believe. A goose at Lake J has a broken wing, and its been around for quite some time now—surviving.
And there is now a swan who has suffered injury—his wing is broken and he looks pretty raggedy. He was near where all the other waterfowl hang out, but the other day, GMR and I saw him across the other side. The Lake J people put some swan food for him and roped off a little area where he can feed. We watched as he struggled, and struggled mightily, up to the bucket of swan food, but he made it and he fed. The next day he was in the water, where his injuries are less apparent, and he was surrounded by ducks—for some reason, that made me feel better, thinking he wasn’t completely alone. Today the raggedy swan rested under a tree, not far from his source of food the humans provided. I have named him Raggedy Swan, which is not so great a name, but it has stuck there.
The crippled and maimed waterfowl at Lake Junaluska have a better chance of survival because of human intervention. We show our mercy many times through the animal world.
One day a few years back, I looked out of my window, here in my little log house in the mountain cove, and there was a little bird with a crippled leg. It had to hop about on one leg because the other one was crooked and bent back behind her. I watched that bird every day, until one day she wasn’t there any longer and I’ve never seen her since—did she die of natural causes? Did something get to her because of her weakness? Did she find another place to feed that isn’t as crowded by other birds at our bird feeder? I often wish she would come back because it was both painful and beautiful to watch her—I cannot explain that feeling of pity and respect and awe as she’d hop about on one foot, land on the feeder with one foot, perch on the tree limb with one foot.
There is a squirrel with most of its tail missing—in fact, there have been several squirrels with missing or stumpy tails. We call this big gray squirrel Stumpy, again–yes, we are not known for naming our wild critters with imagination. He used to run when we’d go outside, whereas most of the squirrels ignore us. But something changed. Now, when we meet him on the road while walking our dogs, Stumpy doesn’t run away, but stares at us while flicking that stump of a tail or once he ran up to me, as if laughing at me and our dogs who whined and barked.
I see these animals at Lake J and at our feeder and know that they may be surviving only because we are providing easy food. Take away that easy food and would they survive? Some people/naturalists may ask, “Should they survive?” They ask that because in the natural wild there is natural processes—the weak are weeded out and the strong survive. The weak do not breed or are not bred with because that weakness could be passed on, and if a wild critter is weak, it may not be able to feed itself, or feed its offspring, or get away from predators.
Nature isn’t merciful—or is it in its own way showing mercy? Of course, nature doesn’t allow for these thoughts, because it just is what it is. We humans interfere in nature because we can identify. We see a crippled or maimed animal and we empathize, we sympathize, we know how it feels, or know someone who knows how it feels or have a loved one who knows how it feels—we attach human qualities to nature; we anthropomorphize nature (look at what we do to our pets, particularly dogs–dressing them in clothing, etc. They become family members and have evolved their characteristics—through breeding or otherwise—to fit in with us. Or the commercials, cartoons, etc., where animals have human qualities).
Still, when I saw that beautiful proud Swan struggling to that bucket of swan food in its little protected area, I was grateful for Lake J’s intervention; I was filled with a joy that mixed with my pity and wonder. I might add that the swan, Stumpy the Squirrel, the lamed duck, the little crippled bird, all these creatures know nothing but the will to survive, they had/have no time to feel sorry for themselves, for it is in their nature to find a way to live until it is time for them to die, and then, nature will have its way, as it does with every living thing on this earth.
(Pardon me while I do a Testing one two three on the ‘retweet’ button )
Google images -gieco gecko & http://www.guzer.com/pictures/boston_terrier_costume.jpg