While it is true that it is “dog-eat-dog” (strange saying!) in the wild world 24/7/365, it is always most apparent to me when spring, summer and fall are past and our world seems like it is stripped down to its basics — just the bare winter sky and the seemingly barren, brown earth. Now that winter is ﬁnally upon us, let the game begin — the Great Cycle of Life and Death. As the cold penetrates our bones and makes its hoary way into bark and under ground, the eternal natural cycle of life and death, hunter and hunted, predator and prey comes into clear and sharp focus. Until such time as the snow (if any) becomes deep enough to hide them readily from the hawkish glare, small rodents have to scurry quickly from one newly-fallen leaf to the other, hoping not to be seen. For their part, the wintering falcons, hawks and owls know that they must feed to keep warm in order to survive. Luckily for them, nature has provided a plethora of mice, moles and voles for them to watch for. These same rodents also supply much of the winter diet of the local wild canines — eastern coyote, grey and red foxes. Black bear have pretty much gone to ground by now, settling in for a (hopefully) long nap. Notice I said “nap.” The black bear doesn’t truly hibernate. They sleep deeply, unless awoken by a warm spell, in which case they are apt to wake up and do so hungry. And what’s the first thing they might smell with their most-powerful-of-all-mammals nose? Any birdseed someone left out. So remember, if the weather does warm up, bring the feeders in. Smaller creatures also play the predator-prey Great Game. Woodpeckers look under bark for insects and their larvae. Skunks will do the same thing on your lawn while it is snowless. Fishers will be hunting for whatever they can find, including porcupines. Then there’s the “clean-up crew,” our local crows and ravens, who assiduously find and dispose of the roadkill remains of squirrels, raccoons, opossums and deer. It’s all part of the process, the checks and balances of Mother Nature, keeping wild populations under control.
Also, I believe that wild animals and plants intrinsically understand their role in the Great Cycle and — unlike most people — do not fear death.
I’m not saying creatures don’t fight tooth and nail to resist a predator — of course they do. I just doubt they lose sleep over the prospect of dying — it’s part of their very real world. It’s almost like the cold, darker half of the year is the hunter, continually consuming the lighter, warmer half (or maybe the other way around?), then being reborn and renewed again — hunter and hunted — over and over. Nice coincidence that Orion, the Hunter, dominates our night sky.