Nature, red in tooth and claw

Nature, red in tooth and claw
By John James Audubon - Scan of modern reproduction of The Birds of America (edited and color-corrected), Public Domain, Link

Though according to Wikipedia, “Nature, red in tooth and claw” is not original to Tennyson’s poem “In Memoriam,” it is surely the most famous instance of the phrase. The poem was written in memory of the poet’s friend, who died of an aneurysm.

I have had endless conversations over the years about the best/worst ways to die. Do you want to go slow or fast? Such hubris. We don’t get to choose. Death is inevitable and it’s brutal.

I woke up twice this morning. Once when my husband left for work at 5 a.m. I fell back asleep an hour or so later and then woke up again around 9 to the sound of screaming and an explosion of activity. Both of my cats were at a window in our second story bedroom, which was open. One was watching enthralled as the other was trying her best to kill a bird. 

She managed to get her claws into it and feathers were exploding just outside the window. It was the bird who was screaming. I took this all in as adrenaline rushed through my system and I yelled at the cat, “No, no, no, no.” By the time I got to her, the bird had flown away.

Later, after I’d calmed down, I inspected the screen. It has a hole in it, a bit bigger than a paw and covered in feathers. I looked closer and saw another hole, also sheathed in feathers. This was not my cat’s first rodeo.

I love birds. So much so, that I keep my cats indoors in large part to protect the birds in our yard. Also to protect the cats, but the birds are the prime motivation. The cats love being outside. Joy vibrates from them, but I deprive them for these lovely feathered things.

All morning I nursed feelings of anger toward this cat, but she is simply being herself. Nature is, indeed, red in tooth and claw.

I remembered a few years ago about 11 p.m., starting to drift to sleep and hearing another blood curdling screech. It lasted about 40 seconds and then stopped suddenly. I figured it was a bunny. Killed by a coyote? A neighborhood cat? I don’t know. Stupidly, I cried.

Nature is lovely, but it is cruel and brutal. It will have what it will have.

Now that I think of it, that bunny may well have been killed by a bird, an owl or a hawk. Sometimes you’re the bug and sometimes you’re the windshield.

It seems to me that peace and joy and contentment are wholly dependent on our ability to accept the world—nature, other people, acts of god. I’m working on acceptance, but today I realized I’m a long way off.

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