Saturday, December 11, 2010

The Democracy of Nature

Not every walk on the beach holds promise of sights that inspire or elicit praise of nature’s beauty. It is at times a cruel environment that on occasion exhibits a reminder of the axiom, ‘survival of the fittest.’ In these human eyes life at the water’s edge is often viewed through a perspective perhaps a shade romantic and far from the up close reality of the life forms that call it home. In another world our textbooks and politicians talk about democracy, but those words and descriptions bear little resemblance to the true democracy of nature. For here, in the natural world beyond human intervention is real democracy, one that recognizes no distinctions in the turning of its coils, that cares little for weakness, kindness or empathy, and goes about its business as casually as we would swat a fly.

More than once I have written of my enchantment with the pelicans that soar up and down this beach day after day unending. To my eye and my understanding of the concept, their flight exemplifies perfect grace, and there is never a time when I might ignore their overhead passage, or their long low glides over the ocean’s surface.

I have heard that for pelicans aging is especially unkind, that blindness followed by starvation is too often their fate. The daily and countless dives into salt water eventually destroy their vision, leaving them helpless to find fish and feed themselves. But here again is the survival of the fittest.

Today I came upon a recently dead young pelican. From the appearance of the bird, a male, he had died there on the beach no more than four or five hours earlier. The wind was strong and blown sand had layered much of his body, but there was nothing to indicate a frailness or cause of death. As I approached, a vulture, itself sleek and handsome and unlike its ugly cousins elsewhere, was pulling at the pelican. He flew off, but some time later on my return northward, it had come back and called its mate as well, the two of them busy over the pelican’s body.

In his poem “Out, Out—”Robert Frost wrote: ‘No more to build on there. And they since they were not the one dead, turned to their affairs.’ Words that sound unfeeling, but reminding us that in certain things we are helpless.

So I left the pelican to his fate, turning for home.

1 comment:

  1. Very sobering reminder of the natural history of living--for all things. It always gives one pause to come across a reminder of the temporal. Ring Lardner, Jr. wrote an autobiography that began something like, "My family lasted as a family until . . ." and whatever year followed. Always wished I had thought of that interesting beginning that immediately touches on the transient state of us all.


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Oak Hill, Florida, United States
A longtime expat relearning the footwork of life in America