A trickle of sweat runs down my brow and drips onto my safety glasses. At 5:30 a.m., it’s already hot and humid. Winter went straight to summer, skipping spring, I think, as I wade through the lush and colorful vegetation. The prairie’s transformation from black and seemingly lifeless ash after a fire into a world of unending color, life and discovery awes me. I see a glowing orange-red color in the distance, and carefully move over to investigate.
It’s a prairie lily, an exquisite rare beauty! Jubilance turns into dismay as I notice a couple of decapitated lily plants nearby. Damn deer, I think, they always eat the rare ones. I need to get these lilies caged. I move on, while contemplating ways to reduce the deer population. An area of crushed vegetation catches my attention. My eyes follow along a “path” in the disturbed vegetation and lock onto a drop of red liquid clinging to a blade of grass. Blood!
I follow the path. Moments later, I’m staring at a severed leg of a whitetail deer fawn, likely only a couple of weeks old. Damn coyotes, I think. It’s too soon for this fawn; it deserved a chance at life. I pull myself back from my quick judgment, recognizing my familiar pattern of thought. Every season it’s the same - torn and conflicted emotions as I watch so much life emerge from the ashes quickly followed by so much death. And every spring, I experience stress and anxiety before finally accepting that life is death, death is life; one cannot exist without the other.
Nonetheless, I find myself once again wondering if other earth’s creatures share any similar feelings and emotions. Is there remorse, contempt, hate or love in the animal world? Plant world? How about a sense of right or wrong? Nature is full of conflicting answers. Why does a male cardinal beat itself against the window day after day for months on end in the spring? Can he possibly think his reflection in the window is another male cardinal challenging his territory? Or why does a lone Canada goose swim in circles around a pond for weeks calling for its lost mate? Is this not a sign the goose is experiencing loss?
Are predators viewed as vile by those they prey on? Does the deer see the coyote as evil? If so, then doesn’t the lily see the deer as evil? I have killed, but have mostly relied on others to kill, for my food. Does this make me, or those who have killed for me, evil? Is not every creature both a predator and prey in some part of their life cycle?
I think to myself: “David, get on with it, you have work to do.” Too much time alone in the field allows the mind to wander. I leave the decapitated lilies and severed fawn leg behind, once again finding acceptance, perhaps only briefly, that the ancient wisdom of our natural world is true.
Does the lily mourn for the lost fawn? In my short lifetime, I know, it will always be a question without an answer.