#StayWild Tip: “Ugly” creatures merit the same compassion as “beautiful” ones. Spend some time admiring an ugly creature!
Last night I stayed overnight at work, supervising a sleepover for young people. Reluctant to sleep and endlessly energetic, some were still awake as dawn approached. I took an opportunity to get fresh air in the garden and to watch the first pale-blue fingers of a new day rise from behind the crags.
I could hear a fox crying in the woods, and hesitant, burbling birdsong in the hedges soon escalated in volume and variety. The wet grass was teeming with snails and slugs, more than I have ever seen in one spot, and although I was fascinated I also feared for our vegetable beds.
Contemplating the snails, I thought about how some animals are cherished more than others. I’m always intrigued by the distinction individuals make between what is wild or not, what is loved or not, and what is a pest or not.
There are brown rats which visit our garden, pioneers from a population known to live on the shore nearby. They are few, and feed often on the scraps that fall from the bird feeders. Provided they remain few and do not cause destruction. I am content to tolerate their activity and acknowledge that they have a role in the world as scavengers and opportunists, but I doubt many people would share that sentiment. When I had a pet grey squirrel as a teenager, I had conversations with a number of adults who questioned how I could keep a dirty rodent – for some people grey’s are indeed pests. I wonder what the responses would have been if he had been a cuddly, endangered red?
Pigeons and gulls are birds that many people can’t stand, yet these area also wild creatures. I am conflicted by them because, when they visit the garden, they consume every morsel of food put out for the smaller birds. I’m also curious about my response to the increasingly regular visits from a sparrowhawk; I’m delighted to be able to witness this creature hunting in my garden, but again I worry about the vulnerable little birds.
Further down the food chain, things get even more complicated. Many people feel a revulsion toward insects, spiders and gastronomy, although I admire them. Even squirmy, wormy creatures are fascinating in their own unique life processes. T. H. White, in The Goshawk, describes “living and busy maggots, clean, vital, symbolical of an essential life – force perfectly persisting” . Having said that, I struggle to reconcile my natural tendencies towards analysis and conservation with the necessities of modern life. I had the opportunity to study a wasps nest at work before I had to sadly destroy it as it presented a risk to young children playing in the garden, and at home I had to put out poison to prevent a relentless horde of ants that, despite blocking every conceivable access, I was powerless to prevent from streaming into my kitchen. These options were last resorts, and left me feel surprisingly sad and defeated.
Compassion and coexistence are admirable characteristics, and should be encouraged, but it is interesting to question yourself – where do you draw the line on what is “wild” or not?
Is a cow wild?
What about a houseplant?
Can people be truly wild?