Monday, February 20, 2012

Anthropomorphism? Don't think so.

At first light I went outside to sit on the patio and enjoy my morning coffee.   A group of tiny ants  were moving among some leftover crumbs on the table near my chair. Absent-mindedly I reached out with a finger to crush one ant, and then a second.  Instantly the ants scattered, running in various directions.  I had not moved the table during my attack.  Nor did I speak or even breathe upon them.  Yet the escaping ants knew that their lives were in danger.  It seemed to me that they were able to communicate with each other.  They were capable of making sounds which I could not hear.  They understood danger and they knew fear.  Not instinctively, but from a warning.
Naturalists have known for sometime that elephants are capable of feeling grief and anger and loyalty.  They know that the elephant's trunk is used, not only to bring food to the mouth, but to identify other animals.
Recently scientists released a study about the lives of elephants under observation in an African preserve protected by the State.  The new knowledge reveals that elephants communicate using sounds far below the frequency range of humans.  They can speak without our hearing and knowledge, and these sounds can be heard by other elephants up to a mile away.
I find this discovery exciting, even uplifting.  I have long believed that the flora and fauna of the world have a purpose other than to be foils for man's ego, or to be exploited for man's greedy uses.  Despite teachings in the Old Testament I believe that God has a purpose for everything He put on this Earth.  Who knows how patiently He waits to see if we will ever know what those purposes are?

The renowned anthropologist Loren Eiseley relates an incident he observed which he calls :The Judgement of the Birds."
"...I had slogged through fern and pine needles for half a long day, and on the edge of a little glade with one long, crooked branch extending across it, I had sat down to rest with my back against a stump.  Through accident I was concealed from the glade, although I could see into it perfectly.
     "The sun was warm there, and the murmurs of forest life blurred softly away into my sleep.  When I awoke, dimly aware of some commotion and outcry in the clearing, the light was slanting down through the pines in such a way that the glade was lit like some vast cathedral.  I could see the dust motes of wood pollen in the long shaft of light, and there on the extended branch sat an enormous raven with a red and squirming nestling in his beak.
    " The sound that awoke me was the outraged cries of the nestling's parents, who flew helplessly in circles about the clearing.  The sleek black monster was indifferent to them.  He gulped, whetted his beak on the dead branch a moment, and sat still.  Up to that point the little tragedy had followed the usual pattern.  But suddenly, out of all that area of woodland, a soft sound of complaint began to rise. Into the glade fluttered small birds of half a dozen varieties drawn by the anguished outcries of the tiny parents.
    " No one dare to attack the raven.  But they cried there in some instinctive common misery, the bereaved and the unbereaved.  The glade filled with their soft rustling and their cries.  They fluttered as though to point their wings at the murderer.  There was a dim intangible ethic he had violated, that they knew.  He was a bird of death.
     "And he, the murderer, the black bird at the heart of life, sat on there, glistening in the common light, formidable, unmoving, unperturbed, untouchable.
     "The sighing died.  It was then I saw the judgement.  It was the judgement of life against death. I will never see it again so forcefully presented.  I will never hear it again in notes so tragically prolonged.  For in the midst of protest, they forgot the violence.  There, in that clearing, the crystal note of a song sparrow lifted hesitantly in the hush.  And finally, after painful fluttering, another took the song, and then another, the song passing from one bird to another, doubtfully at first, as though some evil thing were being slowly forgotten.  Till suddenly they took heart and sang from many throats joyously together as birds are known to sing.  They sang because life is sweet and sunlight beautiful.  They sang under the brooding shadow of the raven.  In simple truth they had forgotten the raven, for they were the singers of life, and not of death."

Would that people could do as well.

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