Cafe notes from William Mutch, January 19, 2018.
I took a sick day from Tracking Club, this Sunday, and was drinking tea and making breakfast, watching the array of Birds in the yard, when a Coyote walked through, along the edge of the “lawn”, leisurely sniffing and peering into the Juniper bushes. I was the only one who was startled. Everyone else-Quail, Sparrows, Juncos, etc, while they were clearly aware of the Coyote, just kept doing their thing, moving aside to let the Coyote pass, without alarm or even apparent hurry.
I am used to usually having advance notice of when predators are active in the area, because the Birds are aware, and respond in ways that anyone paying attention can pick up on and usually figure out what kind of predator is coming/present. In some situations, certain Birds (and other critters) will recruit aware Humans (and other critters) to assist with problems that are beyond them. These Birds, multiple species, were behaving as if this Coyote were a Deer (yes, I know Deer will eat Birds if given the need and opportunity, but, anecdotally at least, that seems rare).
This Coyote is male, and seems to have a scar on the left side of his face. He was soon joined by a female with a heavy left ear, and another whose gender I couldn’t figure out. We have seven Coyotes who are regulars on the land, up here, maybe related, maybe not. I have watched them frolic and wrestle with each other within feet of a day-bedded buck, who seemed interested, but unalarmed. These three were interested in an old Deer leg which one of my housemates had found in the Oaks and brought up into the garden, with one or another running around with it and chewing old hide and muscle off of it. It was like watching Domestic Dogs wrestling over a bone.
Why no alarms sounded about the Coyote? Was he offering body language, scent, pheromones, or something else, indicating he was not hunting? Was he clearly hunting Rodents or Lagomorphs, instead of Birds? More study needed. We are told, of course, that the lives of Birds, and others, depend on being able to tell when predators are hunting, versus not, so they get out of the way at the appropriate time, but don’t stay in a constant state of agitation, burning precious calories, when predators are either absent or not a threat.
Of course, a predator’s life depends on being able to think like their prey, and also convince prey that they are not hunting or non-dangerous. I have watched Sparrows fade into the underbrush, repeatedly, exactly two minutes before a Hawk flew over (after watching this a couple of times, I started timing them), but have also seen another Hawk fly low over feeding Sparrows without striking or them reacting in any way that was obvious to me. (I have also heard a Sparrow sound an alarm at a Turkey Vulture, but that only happened once, and I assume was an adolescent Sparrow.)
Many authors currently writing about community building among Humans talk about the necessity, even urgency, to be able to identify Human predators and parasites, as they will erode or even detonate a community. They refer to the “Dark Triad” although some are suggesting that it should be the “Dark Tetrad”, adding in another personality type, but these are basically folks who are wounded, angry, needy, etc. in ways which even extremely healthy communities have a hard time providing a container for.
Each of us, obviously, has wounds, and some of us “self-medicate” those wounds with one behavior or addiction or another, or treat them as “sacred wounds” which drive and inform our passion for self-healing (as opposed to self-medicating) and being of service to the world. Some of us use those wounds as a reason to hurt others, either the folks who hurt us, to hurt ourselves, or to hurt folks who remind us of either the folks who hurt us or of ourselves when we were hurt. Many of us, if we are honest with ourselves, probably shift through those different solutions, over the course of our lives, or maybe even over the course of a day. Most of us have a default setting, though, which we return to when we are hungry, angry, lonely, tired, dehydrated, etc. We refer to this as “Life”.
If this is as crucial as many suggest, then how do we identify Human predators and parasites? Some are so good at mimicking healthy folks that they are practically invisible, but their effects on a community are not. Like icebergs, destructive behavior patterns and personalities leave ripples around themselves. “Traditional” cultures would have identified a Donald Trump or an Evita Peron well before they had amassed a fortune or a strong group of followers. The consequences of failing to identify and deal with them would have been well-represented in the oral traditions, and the elders would have been constantly vigilant.
Who has that job, in our culture? Who educates the young on how to tell the predators from the ones the predators are mimicking? We do as much of disservice to our children, of course, if we mistake a non-predator for a predator, as the other way around. That is sometimes called “Friendly Fire”. The first job of the predator, of course, is to take out anyone in the community who can identify them or stop them. They generally act by destroying their reputation and getting the community to turn away from or exile them, but sometimes by other means, like isolating and controlling them, or simply killing them.
Grim topics, and ones which Good People don’t discuss, or even spend time thinking about. Best to go back to our reality shows and celebrity gossip. After all, why worry about something that hasn’t happened yet? Why prepare for something which Can’t Happen Here? The Gazelles who insist that that Cheetah is actually just another Gazelle don’t live much longer than the Monkey who thinks the Snake is a log. But, if Gazelles think all the other Gazelles are Cheetahs, they isolate themselves from their allies, and can fall prey to the very ones they were trying to protect themselves from. Good thing that Can’t Happen Here!