Friday, October 3, 2014

"Nature, Red in Tooth and Claw"*

I know so many people who say that they feel closest to God in nature.  I always assume that they mean the kind of nature that we find in places further away from human-made civilization:  mountain tops, deep woods, volcanoes--places like that.

I assume that they don't mean the kind of nature when a hurricane swirls or a tornado sweeps down.  They don't mean the kind of nature when one animal eats another.

 I have this on the brain because of a backyard drama that I witnessed the other day.  My spouse was at the back window.  He called for me to come quickly but quietly.

We spent the next 15 minutes watching an owl eat a creature.  From the picked-clean skeleton we found later, we think it was a smaller bird.  There was no struggle.  The owl had already made the kill.

 We watched as the owl picked and pulled with its beak.  It was both fascinating and slightly nauseating.

Later, we found the bones, which had been picked clean.  My spouse thinks that the owl's dinner was a smaller bird.  At one point, I thought he was eating a crab, but this skeleton doesn't look like a crab.

 We have at least 2 owls in our neighborhood.  We've spent several nights last week watching them swoop in the palm trees.

Yes, in the palm trees.  I think of owls as residents of distant woodlands.  My neighborhood is half a mile from the Atlantic ocean and half a mile away from one densely populated urban center, which is only one of many densely populated urban centers in South Florida.

In short, I don't think of it as owl habitat.

I asked my spouse why owls would live here, and he said, "Why not? There's plenty of food and little competition."  Plus, no one shoots at them, like might happen in a distant woodland.

It's easy to feel close to God in the twilight, as I watch the owls fly through the dark and call to each other.  When I watch one bird eat a smaller bird, my thoughts don't first go to the glory of God and the creation God has made.

 And it's even harder when I think about the cancer cell.  In my human-centric way, I want to see the cancer cell as an aberration.  What if it represents the future in terms of evolution?

My religious tradition tells me that God loves the sparrow, so therefore, I should rest assured that God loves me.  We've often interpreted those passages to mean that God loves us even more than the lowly sparrow, since we're obviously the more highly developed creatures.  Others read those passages as reassurance that God loves us all the same.  Both views are troubling.

My friend sees the presence of the owls as celestial message.  I worry about habitat loss.  My spouse sees the presence of the owls as evidence of their smart migration to an easier place to live.  Perhaps we are all correct.

*Tennyson's words, not mine.

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