Redefining nature’s hierarchy
I live in a remote mountain cabin at the end of a dirt road in a thick pine forest. It’s slightly more accessible than North Korea and looks as if it was built by Habitat for Humanity on a budget. I see more elk than humans on any given day. In a nut, it’s life on the fringe.
With the warmer months upon us, I’ve been spending more time on my front deck, brooding. Not about pedestrian current affairs, but about the mind-bending wonders of life. How did the galaxy form? How does the moon influence tides from so far away? And how can deli workers be so precise slicing cold cuts but so imprecise measuring a pound? As of late, my thoughts have turned towards my wildlife neighbors.
This shift in thinking occurred from a recent encounter with a crow. I’ve always been one of those “caw-caw” rubes—the type who sees a crow in a tree and attempts to mimic it by yelling “caw-caw.” The other day, I saw a crow in a lodgepole pine and immediately yelled, “caw-CAW!” To my shock the crow flew down and landed on the railing five feet from where I sat. After years of hearing my lame crow calls, I’m guessing this particular crow tired of it and decided to call my bluff.
Talk about social awkwardness. The crow looked at me. I looked at it. I had nothing else to say. We shared nothing in common. It was a like a bad first date. Finding the silence unbearable, I tried to communicate in human tongue, saying something stupid like “Nice weather, huh?” Uninterested, the crow turned its back and flew off. After this failed Dr. Doolittle moment, I decided it’s a good thing wildlife behaves like wildlife and not like humans, otherwise this planet would be even more screwed up than it already is.
Sleep would be impossible. We’d be worried about drunken cows sneaking into our bedrooms and pushing us out of our beds. Yellowstone’s delicate ecosystem would be thrown out of whack—wolves giving up elk for lent, mule deer in tattoo parlors getting inked-on hearts inscribed with the word “Doe.”
I shared these thoughts with an avid hunter friend, who is usually absent of deep contemplation. “Impossible,” he countered. “Animals are too dumb to behave like humans. That’s why we’re number one on the food chain.”
I sat on my deck gnawing on his words. Of course we’re number one—we do the voting. Does he really believe if great white sharks or grizzly bears voted, we’d still be number one? You don’t see bears flailing their arms and screaming in abject terror when approached by a lone bumblebee. You know when bears watch us fleeing from bees, they’re quietly wondering, “How the hell are we ranked behind these idiots?”
There should be an asterisk next to our ranking. We’re absolute idiots compared to wildlife. For example, monarch butterflies have pinhead-sized brains, yet migrate 2,500 miles to an exact location in Mexico’s Sierra Madre Mountains. Conversely, we need a GPS to find a Taco Bell two miles from our homes. Or consider the wonders of autumn: most species exhibit behavior that borders on miraculous. Bears hibernate. Snowshoe rabbits turn white. Geese migrate south in fluid V formations. What do humans do in the fall? We spend almost two billion dollars on Halloween decorations to make our inhabited homes look uninhabited.
It was while contemplating all of this that I spied a crow cawing from atop a spruce. My first instinct was to yell “caw-caw,” but instead I opted for silence and appreciated the crow for what it is, and especially for what it is not.
Jeff Wozer works as a nationally touring stand-up comedian while operating from a secluded mountain perch. More of his musings can be found at jeffwozer.com.