Wednesday, January 19, 2011

What Are The Odds?

In "The World According to Garp", Garp is being shown a dwelling that he is considering purchasing when a single-engine prop plane, presumably suffering catastrophic mechanical failure, plows right into the side of the house. He takes this as an auspicious sign -- "The odds of another plane hitting this house are astronomical!" - and agrees then and there to buy it.

Mathematicians would tell us that the chances of a second airplane mishap are the same as they are for one. But some of us are not math-centric thinkers.

In another example of Garpian Logic: within minutes of the fatal hawk attack on one of the two pigeons who were ground-feeding underneath our bird feeders, a flock of six or eight of them were shoulder-to-shoulder, jostling each other in a frantic search for more sunflower seeds in that very same space.

Mars and I had decided that 2010 at our homestead was the year of the hawk. The raptors didn't dominate our news but they did provide us with enough gory vignettes over the past twelve months to earn the recognition. It's a determination we make annually when we pick out our latest carved Zuni stone animal fetish from Keshi in Santa Fe, New Mexico. We also select one of these magical inanimate objects for Monica and Bram (daughter-in-law and son).

(Please click on photo to enlarge)

The theme for their gift was easy. It was a skunk. The previous year it was a greyhound, a living example of which they had adopted over the '08 Christmas holiday. During the most recent warm weather part seasons Cheyenne fell victim to two separate odoriferous incidents with these black and white striped members of the weasel family - both in her own backyard. (One could be an aberration, but two is definitely a trend.) As of today however she has gone over 130 days without a skunking. Still, the greyhound fetish looked lonely on their shelf without its combative companion. Now it doesn't.
It had been only about half of that time since the most recent hawk-versus-pigeon massacre at our suburban Connecticut homestead. And during that time the raptors had frequently been spotted ogling the diners at our and our neighbor's bird feeders. Although we witnessed more of that early November attack than we did of this one, we never did photograph any of it for fear that our intrusive camera might induce performance anxiety in the assailant.

This time we were able to at least capture a few poorly framed shots.

The incident occurred on the currently snow-walled paved pathway that crosses in front of our house. As I wandered into our family room I spotted the black-speckled head of the attacker (who by then had turned into the devourer) bobbing above the packed white precipitation that enclosed the sides of the walkway. I immediately called Mars who just as quickly came downstairs to witness our latest "life in the wild" moment.

We stayed on the edge of our den and peered out that room's windows - totally aware from the movements of the hawk's head and eyes that he was totally aware of us. Unwilling to venture any further for fear of spooking the raptor - and then being forced to clean up what it left behind - we stayed in the main house and snapped the best pictures that we could while standing on our toes, leaning sideways, and aiming awkwardly through the panes of glass. Then the predator lifted off, fortunately with the majority of its victim in its clutches, and flew out of our yard.
Shortly thereafter I went out to photograph the forensic evidence.
Clearly the flock of feeding frenzy fowls, that I chased away when I came outside, was undeterred by the grisly debris and what it symbolized. And overall I was quite pleased with the small amount of crime scene cleanup that was required. The next snowfall and the process of decomposition will take care of the rest. Then the stage will be clear for the next bloodbath drama.

The British political philosopher Thomas Hobbes said that life in a state of nature is "nasty, brutish and short." How would you like those odds on a daily basis?

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