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Carl Wernicke: Survival Is At The Very Heart Of Nature

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IHMC
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WUWF Commentator Carl Wernicke

Those who write or talk about nature tend to glaze it with a benign aura, Mother Nature as the source of life, fertile, welcoming and nurturing. I’m as guilty as anyone, as passing birds or a shady hillside painted with wildflowers can set me to waxing poetically about it all.

If man would just stop interfering – polluting, bulldozing, plasticizing everything – nature would keep rolling along its marvelous path. And it is marvelous. But we should never forget the underlying reality.

Nature is an organic machine dedicated inexorably to maintaining itself. Left alone, it does so with incredible resilience. Plant or animal species that consume each other to extinction go away, and something else fills the void. Nature’s beautifully self-regulated organism, barring some external event like an asteroid – or human recklessness – is the closest thing we have to perpetual motion.

But we tend to anthropomorphize nature, and give it human characteristics. We take sides. Little bunnies are good, the coyotes that eat them are bad. Rats should be poisoned, while squirrels will take peanuts from your hand. OK, strike that last one, those little rascals will eat your garden to the ground, and toss half-eaten tomatoes aside like they weren’t your last ones.

So while we humans, who can forget that we are part of nature, approve of what pleases us, like flowers and birds and little bunnies hopping behind their mother through the marigold patch, should never forget that under the bucolic disguise, nature’s prime directive is being ruthlessly enforced: survival.

I was reminded of this recently. Out in the front yard, I heard a customary sound. Bluejays and mockingbirds were raising a racket, a sign that a predator was lurking. Almost daily I see them chasing hawks and crows, driving them away with sheer determination. More agile than the bigger birds, they dart in and around them in a swirl, seemingly unafraid of these mortal enemies.

But the cacophony seemed louder than usual, and looking up I saw a crow flying swiftly away, with numerous jays and mockingbirds in close pursuit. Others, alerted by the racket, were flying in from around the neighborhood, and I suddenly feared that I knew what was going on.

Crows prey on the young of other birds, which explains their antagonism to the crow. This one, fleeing the gaggle of smaller birds, made for a large powerline. As it put its feet out to land, I saw what surely was a small bird flutter downward, released from the grasping claws. The crow dove down to retrieve it, with the jays and mockingbirds close behind.

I don’t know how this drama played out. My sympathies were with the jays and mockingbirds and the little bird, likely already dead. But in nature, the crow has to eat, too. Why it didn’t evolve as a vegan is a question I can’t answer; but nature’s answer played out in plain sight, all in service to its ultimate good, survival.

Carl Wernicke is a native of Pensacola. He graduated from the University of Florida in 1975 with a degree in journalism. After 33 years as a reporter and editor, he retired from the Pensacola News Journal in April 2012; he spent the last 15 years at the PNJ as editor of the editorial page. He joined the Florida Institute for Human and Machine Cognition in 2012 as Senior Writer and Communications Manager, and retired from IHMC in 2015.His hobbies include reading, traveling, gardening, hiking, enjoying nature around his home in Downtown Pensacola, as well as watching baseball and college football, especially the Florida Gators and New York Yankees. His wife, Patti, retired as a senior vice president at Gulf Winds Federal Credit Union and is a Master Gardener. Carl is a regular contributor to WUWF. His commentaries focus on life in and around the Pensacola area and range in subject matter from birding to downtown redevelopment and from preserving our natural heritage to life in local neighborhoods.