|Ducks at Play |
by Frank W. Benson
The struggle for life. Nature, red in tooth and claw. The survival of the fittest.
Since Darwin proposed his Theory of Evolution, such bleak slogans have summed a view of natural selection that has resonated perfectly with the conceits and obsessions of civilization.
On the one hand, civilization is supposed to protect us from all that blood, presumably lapping our city walls. Overrunning our plowed fields. On the other, it has been called upon to justify the eradication of wilderness, appropriation and concentration of wealth, war on every pretext, slavery and genocide.
So I'm sitting here, looking out at the ducks. I've watched them closely through a rather harsh stretch of local winter. Watching for signs of struggle. Shivering misery. Sudden death at the talons of desperate eagles.
Hmm... the eagles are there, alright. Sitting in trees with commanding views, round about this cove. They preen. Look lazily about. Occasionally take flight to change limbs or disappear around the point. They look, in fact, pleasantly, sleepily bored. I haven't seen a single eagle swoop on a duck - this year or last - much less a strike.
The ducks ignore them.
The ducks have been swimming about, diving to feed along the shallows. Socializing. Bathing. Preening. Sleeping, heads tucked cozily under wing. And now that the temperatures have warmed a bit, fornicating. Pretty much what I'm about, behind my windows.
It's obvious that the 'fittest' are those which are bred 'fit for Paradise'!
Natural Selection does indeed operate with a measure of bloody death, and total indifference to the comfort of the individual. But the gene pool is constantly being pruned to express individuals perfectly fit to their environment. Not so much that they are fit, but that they do fit. Natural selection - far from being cruel - blindly fits the living to their environment. Any viable environment comes to be Paradise enow for the life within it.
These ducks pretty much know when to shift (they relocated to open water bights when the bay froze over, were back the day it broke up). Where and how to find morsels clearly delicious to them. When and how to evade their predators, in the main.
It's why predators target the feeble. The slow. The unwary. The outlier.
Predators, too, are bargain hunting. For certain among the prey population, a combination of disease, age and poor luck in the genetic draw or timing can attract sudden and spectacular demise... that which so engages our imaginations. Most - not only the few who could be called the fittest - scamper expertly to safety. One or two in many generations, embodying more advantageous genes, may reach safety first, or more reliably... genes they'll be happy to share.
These ducks out my window have spent a winter in enviable peace and plenty. The plants and fish upon which they feed, meet their end, as individuals. One might say that they are martyrs on the ducks' path to earthly Paradise. But I'm not inclined to.
Our lives are lived in the paradise for which and into which we were born. Entangled in the food web of Life where 'up' and 'down' have little meaning. Part and parcel of a complex and joyous dynamic.
Each and every duck will one day perish, as will, eventually, the entire lineage of ducks. Red death may find them, or misstep, or the strange, sweet dreams of hypothermia. We each of us have our many hours of life. We have but one of death.
Until then, let us eat, drink and make merry in this wild and beautiful paradise.