by Martin Murie
(Swans - May 4, 2009) I've been watching animals at the winter feeding area: suet and black oil sunflower seeds. Each species has its own set of ethics. Crows and starlings gather closely at the suet and gobble away without worrying about brushing wings with members of their own species. When a squirrel bounces near, or a human, or a hawk, everybody scatters. The alertness of these animals is steady, a part of their lives.
Squirrels chase each other away from food sources. A hierarchy is apparent. Crows and ravens and other predator birds thrive on finding dead creatures to feed on. It is often a desperate search. The one who finds a death gathers other carrion eaters and eventually joins the fray at the carcass. Sometimes scuffles break out, but nobody gets chased away. Coyotes and foxes show up, keep their distance, waiting their chance.
Hawks, eagles, wolves, lions, jaguars, and other top-of-the-food-chain animals have a hard life. They are killers, dependent on their own skill to nail a live animal. I have seen a hawk perch above a lot of activity at the feeding area, watching, but not pouncing. I can't penetrate the mind of a hawk. Is it satiated? Or is it looking for the perfect link between prey and predator? In a predator's life there are many dives, few kills. There are many mistakes in timing, and also in picking the victim. I followed, with binocs, an eagle cruising in a huge glacial cirque for victims. It finally chose a patch of brown, pounced. Up reared a big buck deer. The eagle took a few seconds to unhook its talons and take off. The buck used its horns to scratch the wound on its back.
A report from a human hunter-trapper: a weasel attacked him, ran up his entire body. The man insisted that the weasel was going for his carotid artery. Could be. Animals are smarter than scientific tradition has taught. I've written before about a shrew who ran up my body while I was reclining in my own cabin taking a break, watching the shrew search baseboards, probably sniffing mouse odors. The shrew encountered my shoes, ran up my pants, kept going to my shirt. I brushed it off. It resumed its hunt as though nothing had happened. A mouse would have scampered away, seeking a hideout.
I am writing this piece to point to a near-ultimate warfare tactic, the use of pilotless drones to kill militants on the southern borders of Pakistan and Afghanistan. The "stranger-than-fiction" thing about this tactic is that once the drones are launched into the air on the borderlands, "pilots" at Creech Air Base in Nevada take over, view the ample scenes the drones provide, release bombs when they judge (based on spy evidence?) the locations of terrorists.
Bombing anything from the air is an utterly clumsy technique. It kills thousands of children and other unarmed people for every targeted military installation. Witness Yugoslavia, though one can't rule out that the purpose of the operation, in the plans of the American-dominated NATO, was to simply destroy factories and bridges, make way for market economy, regardless of human deaths. Look at Shock-and-Awe tactics in Iraq One and Two. Or Grenada, where infantry was used to draw fire from a target and then call for bombardment from naval vessels off-shore. The bombing of North Korea's cities and towns, the full horror never reported in our media -- thousands of civilians died. This is just a sampling.
We have to face the fact that bombing from far-away guns or from piloted aircraft is incredibly awkward, not precise, not smart, and creates hatred. Now when we stoop so low as to use drones as our instruments of death we simply up the horror. Reaper reaps bodies by way of numerous errors of targeting. We can't go on like this. Technology can be evil.
Present-day human hunters, with all the advantages of scope sights and shoot-from-afar weapons, often miss their targets. Modern hunters also drive around on two tracks in desert lands or on back roads hoping to get a close-up shot. I have witnessed these imprecise tactics more than once. In Jackson Hole, when the elk refuge was opened to hunting in certain areas, a particular place was immediately named the firing line because the killing was so easy. Fights broke out over who had shot which animal.
Now, in America, murder rates are up. Why?
Sure enough, on the front page of Sunday's Press Democrat, we get: "So many slayings across the U.S. but one question: Why?" Let's plop our thinking caps on our pointy heads and see if we can puzzle this one out. Don't hesitate to interrupt, but I'd say that a lot of it is the easy access that stupid, mean, cowardly bastards have to guns and ammo. Who else deliberately shoots children? Or shoots people they don't know? The larger problem is our psycho-social-political nexus that literally drives millions of people crazy, especially people who lack the opportunity to accumulate a lot of stuff and who never get invited to the rewards banquet. (Source: Bruce Anderson in The Anderson Valley Advertiser, April 8, 2009.)
Back to the animals. Their alert and knowledgeable behavior in the wild is geared to survival and reproduction of their own kind, but it doesn't stop there. Vertebrates enjoy life. Penguins allow themselves to slide on steep Andes slopes or South Polar ice. Otters slide on mud and snow. Dogs, coyotes, wolves, foxes, and many another species sharpen skills, tussling with each other, while enjoying it. Some animals opt out, take hibernation breaks, but when they emerge from sleep they examine with great care a new world. For most furred and feathered species, life is an unremitting stream of staying suspicious, looking around, noticing change.
Why can't we recognize actual change, ignore the rhetorical versions? Can we rise up against Reaper?
War that relies on aerial bombing and machine gunning and the scattering of "bomblets" is not acceptable. Can we stop these totally dumb, wasteful, misguided Grim Reaper tactics?
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