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Thursday, June 20, 2013

The Cycle of Life

Cherry picking season is over. I wrote about that this morning in The Feast Before Us. No more cherries. But that's okay, because there are other kinds of fruit ripening. It's part of the cycle of life, that every fruit has its season. Each comes into our lives when its time is ripe, and so we don't run out of fruit all at once. It seems almost as if nature intended it that way, and it's a part of the cycle I am happy to go along with.

There are other aspects of the cycle of life, however, that most of us find a little more disturbing.  If you are squeamish, you may want to skip the rest of this post, because it's about life and death and eating and getting eaten. It's not the peaceful realm of botany, my friends.

Today after lunch, Bow wanted to go outside, and he settled happily on the bench to chew his cud. I snapped some pictures.

Bow sometimes hides his mouth when he's chewing, as a mark of politeness, I suppose.But he was happy and content, and when I asked him to let me take a better picture, he obliged.

The two outdoor dogs, Leo and Brownie, were also lounging peacefully outside. Bow and Leo are good friends, and Leo likes to sit in a wrought iron chair right next to the part of the pen where Bow's bench is.

Leo has a brand new red collar that Sword gave him, of which he is very proud. He likes showing it off. Brownie was also hanging out close by.

All of a sudden, the dogs started barking and raced toward the south fence of the yard. Bow became very animated, too. I left the outer pens to go investigate. I asked Bow if he wanted to go inside, but he preferred to stay there and to display in the direction of where the dogs were barking.

I didn't see anything in the yard through the bars of the pens, so I assumed that the things that had everybody so excited was on the other side of the fence. But when I went to the front yard to investigate, there was not much to see. So I snapped some pictures of wildflowers, thinking it was a false alarm.

But the dogs kept barking excitedly and Bow kept displaying, so I went in to check what was going on in the back yard. When I approached Brownie, the mystery was immediately cleared up. He had the severed head of snake dangling out of his mouth.

He kept tossing it up in the air and then catching it and then shaking it around. I noticed that there was still some movement in the snake head part of the snake, even though it should have already been dead.

On the ground, a little way away, I found the other half of the snake. Or rather, it was the longer and hindmost of the two parts. It looked odd to me, as part of it didn't seem like a snake at all.

I knelt to examine it. There was a half digested bird, legs first, sticking out of the snake's belly. I was curious to see the bird a little better, so I picked up the remains of the snake by its tail. For a moment, the bird dangled out of it.

Then it fell to the ground. But the bird that landed on the ground near the headless snake corpse had no head itself. It was a headless dead bird, lying next the headless dead snake that had devoured it.

And there in a nutshell is the other, scarier, more troubling part of the cycle of life. We can feel compassion for the bird that was swallowed by the snake. We can feel compassion for the snake that was killed by the dog. And we can feel the excitement of the dog, who, even though he has more than enough to eat, still enjoys hunting.

Bow and I can feel for every living creature in turn. But we can't identify with all of them at once. That would be impossible. From his vantage point in the outer pen, Bow could see all of this. When the dogs calmed down, so did Bow.

I disposed of the bodies of the bird and the snake, then I went back to check on Bow. Was he upset? Had he been traumatized by the sight of so much killing? No. He was calm and happy, lying on the bench, chewing his cud. All was right with the world.


  1. Hi Aya. We get those kinds of things here too. There are cats outside and other birds of prey that will leave their pickings on the ground here as well. It' isn't pretty but it surely is the cycle of life. We have lots of squirrels and one year we found three dead ones under our back deck with no brains left in them. How they didn't stick to high heaven we have no idea. I also get left just dead mice on my doorstep on some mornings. I just through them in the woods because something will finish them off.

    1. Hi, Debbie. It sounds like you get your fair share of gruesome gifts from the cats, or other predators in your area. Brownie has killed other snakes before, but this is the first time that the snake's own digesting meal came out -- almost whole.

      A little disturbing, but it's all just a part of the cycle. And we have to take it in our stride.

  2. I have had to chase cats away from killing birds on many occasions, but often they are quicker than I could be. I have found dead bird, which is sad, but that is the nature of a cat. I am a bit more grossed out about the dead mice, actually. Your adventure today would be of interest to biology students. Maybe you could create a lesson plan of sorts for Pubwages, such as a the cycle of life. That might get you some traffic.

    1. The thing with cats, for me, is that I wish they did not play with their food. If they are going to kill a mouse, I wish they would do it quickly and then eat their kill. But I have seen them catch a mouse and then let it go briefly and then catch it again, and that is upsetting.

      Thanks for suggesting the lesson plan, Julia. There probably is a need for that in the schools, as even when they talk about the trophic levels, they seem to exclude any mention of killing or death. It's all very theoretical. However, this particular lesson just happened to fall into my life unbidden, and I'd be hard-pressed to come up with other examples for a lesson plan.

    2. When I was a teacher I did do a lesson plan about the life cycle of the bark beetle to explain so many of the evergreen trees were dying in the mountains. People talked about the complete change of our ecosystem, so I wanted to explain it to the students in a summer school class.

    3. Julia, that sounds like a good teaching tool. I think in the case of the bark beetle, though, it might have been less gruesome because humans don't react as emotionally to death of trees and other plants as we do to the death of animals.

      I noticed that when my daughter was doing a diorama of the Amazon forest and its animals as an ecosystem, the killing of one animal by another was glossed over.

  3. Nature is not always pretty but it is the cycle of life. I have to chase cats away from my home too as I love the birds and feed them all. I have 2 indoor cats, so they only get to watch.

    1. Agreed, Pamela, not always pretty, but it's how life works.

      It's too bad about the cats you have to chase away in order to keep the birds you feed safe. At least your indoor cats probably help to keep your home rodent free.

  4. I ran up on a snake once. He was trying to swallow a big rat!
    I enjoyed reading your post very much.

    1. Thanks, Mary. It was just one of those odd things that happened, like your encountering the snake who was trying to swallow a rat. It amazes me how they can swallow animals that seem too big to fit inside them.