We have grooves in our knees and the heels of our hands from propping ourselves so long in this position on the back porch. We watch the mantis as it dances left and right, makes a feint, sort of jigs back and forth. Finally, it flings its arms out, snatches the carcass. Stretchy goop (entrails? Do spiders have those?) dangles from its mouth as it slurps in half of an arachnid I'd saved for just this purpose. One bristly leg is the last to disappear, going in almost exactly like spaghetti. I impale the remaining portion of the body on a thin stick, using the oozing viscera to glue it to the utensil, and hand it to my son, who offers the mantis a second bite.
We're the most fascinated spectators -- at times the only spectators -- in the clearing, watching the raptors. We watch for at least an hour. Most people pass by, snap a shot or two, identify the birds for their kids (occasionally even getting the names right), and steer them away before the hawk can tear apart its mouse or the vulture can crack the skull in her rodent. We keep watching. I think we were the only ones who didn't miss it: the sinuous lines in the smooth pink rodent muscle (the hawk had already neatly skinned her meal) as it was pulled taut, the gentle, beautiful silence of the clearish white fibers parting -- not tearing, exactly -- the soft ripping ssshk and yank of her head as she freed a chunk, the satisfied look as she tossed it down.
For a would-be vegetarian mom and a full-blown vegetarian kid, we love carnage around here.
We admire them, is what it is. Predators are awesome, and fascinating, and I have to admit a certain amount of smugness in seeing the beauty in things that gross out most folks. However, lately I really find myself just admiring their approach to life. *
I'm currently a prey animal. Life happens to me. I very much want to be a predator.
Prey animals sort of have to be pessimists. They monitor for an attack; they expect (and inevitably receive) calamity. Their entire being is adapted for withstanding an onslaught: sideways-glancing eyes, speed for flight, sheer numbers to account for replacements in the event of their probable failure.
Predators are optimists. They plan for the next windfall to be right around the bend. Talons and muscles built for seizing, forward-looking gazes, amazing ability to focus. A hawk has to know a mouse or rabbit will come along soon. A mantis has to wait, focused, on a wall ledge until a fat fly or spider presents itself, and then must grab it immediately. A bald eagle won't build a nest in an area unless the habitat is just right. Predators count on things being good, and they act on that assumption.
I know we're a bit of both, as humans. Prey and predator are both special and beautiful, and they both inspire conservation in their ways: the first is all about the fragility of nature, and the second, I think, inspires us to make the world the animals seem to see. And I really do want to be a vegetarian one day, I think. But everyone loves bunnies. On a purely how-fascinating-is-this level, predation rocks. Scavenging rocks. I can't understand why there isn't more about it out there. Maybe I'll fix that. And if I had to model a worldview after one or the other? I'm going with the predators.
If only I could get my vision to clear and my talons to work.
*My anthropomorphized version of their "approach" to life.
But wait, I'm including useful stuff now! Related real-life info:
Now is a great time to see red-tailed hawks in Arizona. Look up. They're on practically every other phone poll around here. Also, you know that REEEEEE! sound every raptor ever makes in movies? Well, most birds don't make that noise. But red-tailed hawks do. If you hear that, that's what probably made it.
If you're in the Phoenix area this weekend, check out the Adobe Mountain Wildlife Center open house! (That's a link to the event listing, where you can download a pdf flyer. I hate linking pdfs.) I'll be there Saturday, and my son's photographs will be up for auction.