The complete unawareness of the local wildlife of what’s happening in our world acts almost like a reassurance for me. It can serve as a reality check as to what’s actually important.
I was thinking about this recently when watching a Tawny Eagle fly past. It had swooped low to investigate something, then when it realised there was no food to be had it flew off to a land in a dead tree nearby. And it struck me that its curiosity was solely related to the here and now. What is on the ground there? Is it food? If so, what effort do I have to go to to obtain it? Nothing more. It probably doesn’t posses the ability to reason much more than that anyway.
Granted, the eagle also wouldn’t have been thinking in English, but its motivation – along with the motivation of pretty much every animal living at Londolozi – is pretty much confined to survival. Energy flow. Risk vs. reward. Stimulus – response. The Tawny Eagle is not afforded the luxury of an innate curiosity to explore beyond the next horizon. I doubt it revels in its ability to fly. The eagle is all about the day-to-day business or survival and – if it’s lucky – reproduction as well, which for most creatures is really the end-goal of survival anyway.
We could go really deep into this and talk about cognitive ability and Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, and why it was probably because we evolved to satisfy our own needs with greater efficiency that we earned/developed/evolved the cognitive ability to want to explore, to be curious about what else was out there beyond the next valley, but let’s simply confine it to the Tawny Eagle’s simplicity of existence for now.
It’s Christmas Day tomorrow, and that Tawny has no clue. Stock market fluctuations don’t trouble it, rising fuel prices aren’t a concern and whether we watch it through binoculars or not doesn’t factor into its decision making process. There’s something enviable in just how basic its life is.
Sure, each day carries with it some big risks – much like life in the bush for most of its inhabitants – but the lack of clutter in the Tawny eagle’s life is, I think, the take-home message. Not material clutter, but more the existential concerns of the mind. Most of what we worry about never comes to pass, and the whole ability to worry is I suppose a uniquely human trait. Wild animals on the other hand deal with the here and now. Granted, many of them have brains the size of peas, so it’s all they can do, but still…
When I started writing this post I thought I’d get to more of a point, but now that I’m concluding I’m finding it harder to come by. “Try be more like a Tawny eagle” doesn’t exactly grip you. Hallmark certainly won’t be on the phone in hurry. And upon consideration, I realise it’s only really the lack of worry of the Tawny that I find appealing.
The curiosity, the ability to dream, to imagine, and all the things that ultimately permit worry to exist in the first place, the things that make us human… I wouldn’t trade those for anything.