Genetic lessons

Simon caught a chipmunk today. If you’ve ever watched chipmunks for long you know that’s a nifty trick. Simon is, oh, about 520 times their size, and though I wasn’t there for the chase, I can imagine how incredibly fast and nimble Simon appeared as he ferreted (or chipmunked) out the little creature.

That’s what Simon’s ancestors were trained to do — find little furry critters who discover too late that a burrow in the ground is no match for a Weimaraner. This one wasn’t in her burrow, though; she was crossing our porch. I’m sure she was out shopping for the kids because that’s what’s happening in the chipmunk world this time of year. It seems to be a full time job for chipmunk moms. (It may be for the dads, too; honestly, I can’t tell the boys from the girls, so I’m shamelessly anthropomorphizing that feeding the ‘munklettes is a motherly task.)

Catching is only half the job, though. These dogs were also trained to kill what they caught, and millennia of genetic coding can’t be ignored. Simon dispatched the little body quickly and efficiently.

But there he stood, his prey at his feet, just staring down at her. Or him. These dogs were trained to kill for killing’s sake, not for nourishment. I suspect the behavior was developed to make human life less complicated — let the dogs rid the place of rodents. So Simon wasn’t sure what to do next. In fact, I don’t think he was sure what he had just done.

I’ve seen Simon ecstatic, and I’ve seen him when he’s angry (he bites the door when he’s not allowed to come with us in the car), and I’ve seen him sad. I know these are human emotions and words, but the stimulus and response of a dog are suspiciously very much like our own.

Simon looked at that little chipmunk, and he looked at Sr. Lilli Ana, and he look at me. His ears were “hanging low”, a sure sign he was feeling lost and unhappy. He loves animals, and I wonder if he just couldn’t figure out why he, of all creatures, had just committed this violence. Of course I don’t really know what he was thinking, but he moped around for hours afterward. Very uncharacteristic Simon-behavior.

I felt sad for him, and I felt sad for the little chipmunk and her babies, and I felt sad for Sr. Lilli Ana who had stood witness to the whole thing, helpless to stop the inevitable. But there’s more to this than sadness. We humans have fooled around with Earth’s life systems so much that we have no idea what should be or might have been if we’d participated as one species among many rather than as clumsy tinkerers and destroyers. We’ll never know.

But I do know that violence has always had a place in this sacred Universe, much as we’d prefer it otherwise. Death is the only door to transformation, the only way for the adventure of life to proceed, for diversity to blossom, for vital energy to be exchanged. So I buried the little chipmunk in the fertile soil of the forest, blessed her life and her death, and thanked her for gift to the Earth.

And I hoped that chipmunk dads do go shopping.


One thought on “Genetic lessons

  1. Thank you for so beautifully putting into words nature’s way. At one point I tried to stop Simon but then realized damage had already been done and the chipmunk was suffering. I, then, had to let Simon “finish the job” he’d started. Even though it was difficult to watch, I was mesmerized by the playing out of years of genetic encoding.

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