Part of It All

Lately I’ve been considering where we fit in the universe.  This piece from about three years ago came to mind as one way of looking at our place in our universe.  I hope you enjoy this.

Life is beautiful, in part, because it is not permanent for any individual plant or animal.  Life is precious  because it is temporary.  For most, life flies by much too quickly; what seemed to be eons when looking forward appear to be only moments when looking back.  We must all make way for what comes next.

A short time ago I sat on my deck at night.  In a far off field, across a quiet brook, I could hear a very loud squealing .  It did not last too long, a few short crying bursts and it was over; the end of a life.  A few moments later the mournful cry of a coyote could be heard.  First a few yips, and then the long, sad howl; the pitch of the cry rising and then falling like a siren in the distance.

At that moment I wondered if the coyote was celebrating.  Sustenance is necessary for all living things to survive.  I wondered if the coyote, at some ancient level, was celebrating the life of its prey as well as a victory that would supply one meal; nourishment supplied by the life of another.

The prey that evening was a cottontail or a varying hare.  These normally quiet animals yield loud and eerie screams when frightened.  My auditory senses had witnessed this animals last gasps.  I must admit that initially I found this more than a little discomforting.  I pictured the rabbit in the coyote’s jaws.  One quick shake by the coyote and the rabbit’s life was over.  It would fuel the coyote, perhaps even the coyote’s pups, so that their life could continue.

As I thought about this I realized that in truth the life of the rabbit was not over.  In fact it had probably bred, as rabbits frequently do, and its kittens would carry its genes forward, just as my children will carry little parts of me into the future.  Beyond that it had provided life to another organism.  Its flesh would be recycled by turning into valuable fuel for the coyote and the coyote’s family.

This realization made me wonder why we automatically often see death and dying as morose.  I wondered if there was a self survival gene that helped us to react to death negatively as part of an effort in preserving our own individual longevity.  Perhaps my sorrow was a prudent reaction on my part, but a little selfish nonetheless.

It is my long held belief that our entire planet earth is one living organism.  This is known as the Gaia principle. Like a simple cell, earth is comprised of living and nonliving parts, each important and symbiotically related so that our planet may live and evolve.  Our living planet has taken many forms.  It has had atmospheres comprised of varying level of gases that have supported different life forms .  It has survived moving continents and cataclysmic collisions with asteroids.  It has withstood many great ice ages that have ravaged the landscape north of the equator.  This planet has been the host to endless volcanoes, earthquakes, tsunamis, and tremendous cyclonic storms and yet life has continued.  It has changed but it has persevered.  There has always been something old that makes way for something new.

All of these thoughts moved about my mind like a maddening tornado.  I am a pretty simple fellow.  My mind likes to put everything in perspective.  It likes to line things up in rows and neatly file items in their proper place.  Thinking about the universe does not lend itself well to an orderly mind.  There is too much information to sort through and sift.  There are too many thoughts to make every thing make complete sense.  I compensate by simplifying.  I can picture a universe.  I can picture a galaxy that we call the Milky Way.  I can picture our sun and solar system.  And I can picture the third planet from the sun being in just the right place to sustain an atmosphere and life.  I can picture earth adjusting to the circumstances of the universe in order to maintain its own life.  It is perhaps the only true miracle I will ever witness and it stands before me each and every day.

This rabbit, this wonderful furry creature that ate clover and grass, nurtured young, warmed itself in the sun on bright, beautiful days, and likely survived more than one harsh winter, was part of our living planet.  The balance of the natural world employs both violence and peace as mechanisms of control and continued existence.  Our planet is a delicate balancing act, but nevertheless changing on a continual basis in an effort to sustain its own life.  It is a planet of checks and balances, yin and yang, and equalizing  opposites.  In the long term, as they say, the only constant is change.

I am by nature an observer of the natural world.  I record my observations so that I can better understand all that is around me.  It is how I make sense of the world.  From the subatomic to the astronomic I love to see the links and relationships of all that inhabit the earth; a never ending task in which I will never loose interest.

So, on that dark night, from the safety of my deck, I sat there and pondered the death of a small furry animal.  I thought I understood the importance of both its life and death.  Both must be celebrated and revered.  We are all part of a continuous chain of life. We must all make way for what comes next.

In the distance the coyote sang one more long mournful song and I smiled as I looked into the black night admiring a universe lit with shining stars.

Originally written for the Heath Herald in May 2010

  • Diane Tucker

    Bill, Lovely post and what a nice perspective on the balancing act the universe performs. Thank you! Diane Tucker, Estate Naturalist, Hill-Stead Museum, Farmington, CT

  • Ratty

    Very good story. Life and death, and constant change is what nature is really all about. A fairy tale with none of these is fun at first, but this is what’s real. And the reality is much bigger than any fairy tale.

  • bill

    Thank you Diane. I really appreciate your comments.

  • Sandy

    I read a similar story an hour ago from Montana. My friend watched an eagle snatch a grebe chick from the mother’s back. That too, darkened her peaceful canoe trip. I know like you say, there is a grand plan to sustain life, but it is often hard to watch and hear. Even worse, when you are sitting on your own deck.

  • bill

    Hi Sandy

    But it is all so marvelous, life and death, bright and dark, it is the acknowledgment and understanding of these contrasts that makes life so miraculous.

  • Brendan

    Nice article pops

  • CC

    This view makes me happy – the view of our Earth – in its history – in its connectedness. You really create the scene here for picturing this. The rabbit’s life is necessary for the coyote. Gaia – oh so nice to ponder this. Glad you shared this from your archives today.

  • Nature Drunk

    I like this: “Our planet is a delicate balancing act, but nevertheless changing on a continual basis in an effort to sustain its own life. It is a planet of checks and balances, yin and yang, and equalizing opposites. In the long term, as they say, the only constant is change.” I often wonder if humans were no longer part of the equation what the earth would look, feel, smell, sound and taste like. Thanks for the perspective. Blessings : )

  • Montucky

    I also observe, appreciate and somewhat understand the activities which keep our Earth in balance, reserving a lot of questions about some of the “whys”. I am terrified though about the part that mankind, with little understanding of the whole, is now starting to play in all of this.

  • Wild_Bill

    Yes, except I’m not sure about the “starting” part. We’ve been meddling for years. Recently, though, with the advent of genetic modifications we may be stepping well outside of the circle of life. The old adage “It’s not nice to fool with Mother Nature” could prove to be our undoing.

  • Wild_Bill

    If the planet is one living organism that has a built in self defense mechanism that aids its own survival as I believe than the planet will likely react to our foolishness. Earth will go on without human life and likely other, and hopefully more intelligent and less destructive, species would evolve.

  • Wild_Bill

    Thank you CC! I am only an observer. Nothing more, nothing less. And I’m happy to have shared it too!

  • CC

    Something just occurred to me. It is easier to accept a rabbit being eaten, its life being kept in the realm of the living coyote and beyond. It is harder to accept the loss of a tree to drought.

  • Wild_Bill

    I see your point and agree with this thought. Keep one thing in mind, the perished tree will still host millions of other species as it decays on the ground and it will recontribute all of its nutrients into the soil for future growth. A slightly positive spin on a grim situation.

  • Teresa Evangeline

    Bill, this is a beautiful piece of writing. I loved every sentence and the closing is poetry. I think similar thoughts when I see nature in action. It’s all so necessary and yet we assign a sadness to it. Perhaps it is that instinct for survival that does it, but whatever it is, I try to see the cycles of life with more acceptance, as part of this amazing journey. Your ability to do this and write about it is very inspiring.

  • Wild_Bill

    Thank you. Because I admire not only how you write but what you have to say, this means so much to me. And yes, the miracle of natural cycles holds a certain beauty, and that death begets life is more than inspirational.

  • Guy

    Hi Bill

    I have to say that I also enjoy observing the nature world and certainly once you step away from the city, the tv you become much more aware of the seasonality and the cycles of birth and death that shape our world. Something like

    the cry of a rabbit that you don’t really expect ( in my case an owl got it ) can remind you of your everything’s (including my own) place in the universe. A friend asked me how I would spend my time at the cabin, thinking I would be bored. I noted I could spend hours just watching clouds. So endless to say I enjoyed this post and it did indeed give me something to ponder.


  • Wild_Bill

    Of course you are absolutely correct. How could anyone be bored in the wild when there is so much to witness, observe, and think about! There are endless possibilities. And I, too, think of my own place in the universe often. It is very, very humbling.

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