Red-Tailed HawkPhoto by FotoRequest / Shutterstock

— By Susan Eirich, Ph.D. —

As I drive to town to pick up my daily mail, she sits there, high up on the right—an elegant hawk on top of a telephone pole. She has a grand view of her hunting grounds across the farm and sagebrush fields, though I wish there were a tree she could sit on. Every day I wish for her to have a good meal, thinking of her own hunger and possible babies. And then I think of the adorable, family-oriented little ground squirrels, who would be the most likely meal, and I cringe to think of the loss in their close-knit families. 

The other day, as I drove around the curve in my driveway, I encountered another hawk, who had just caught a ground squirrel and was taking off with it in his talons. As I continued around the curve, I saw him perched up in a tree, ground-squirrel-less, staring intently at the edge of the driveway. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw a small brown form scurrying into the bushes. The hawk must have dropped it when the car startled him.

I could feel the intensity of his hunger and the anticipation of a juicy meal in a matter of seconds, stomach rumbling—and then the disappointment of losing it. I felt bad. Hunting is not easy and with more and more subdivisions, there is less and less food. But I felt glad for the ground squirrel.

How do we reconcile those opposing feelings and desires? Hawk to eat, ground squirrel to live? Whose side do we take—or how do you not take sides? How do we deal with the fact that we, too, have to kill something in order to eat, because whatever we eat is living. Who set it up this way, that there had to be tragedy for others to live? Or do we have the larger picture wrong? Perhaps Life becomes Life, as in the beautiful Native American story of Jumping Mouse, where Mouse becomes Eagle?

It requires deep philosophical thinking, to honor this issue of life and death. Who should live? Whose needs should be filled, and at whose expense? In the highly emotional debate between meat eaters, factory farmers, hunters, vegetarians, and vegans, it is important that we do the most thorough job we can when thinking about and choosing our personal path. Each culture comes up with its own response to this most profound issue, but we haven’t come together yet in ours.

Life Has Things to Do

Sometimes it’s hard to concentrate, what with dogs and chickens coming in and out of the office and ground squirrels thinking about it and birds going crazy outside singing and courting and bathing and you can almost feel the buds bursting at long last. It has been a long, cold, and snowy winter, and Life has things to do.

Partners in Flight

It never fails to delight and surprise me when, in the whole huge empty western sky, I look up and see two birds flying so close they are almost touching—flying in perfect unison, obviously in tune with each other, obviously connecting with each other. It’s a really beautiful thing that raises all kinds of questions about the need for companionship and the bonding of mates, how they calibrate their flight to match each other while in rapid motion. So many questions, everywhere you look—all so interesting, leading us to a greater understanding and appreciation for the miraculous life around us, of which we are a part.

Dr. Susan Eirich is the Founder and Executive Director of Earthfire Institute Wildlife Sanctuary and Retreat Center. A licensed psychologist, biologist and educator, her goal is to widen the circle of conversation about conservation to include the voices of all living beings.

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