Life and death

Today something happened to remind me of the fallibility of that thread which separates life from death.

It sometimes seems that everyone we know is suffering some kind of intense pressure: either illness, set-backs financial, accident or 'bad luck', the inadequacies of youth or the debilities of old age - it's never easy for any great length of time, is it? Not so strange then, that humanity Western style is so utterly security obsessed, so fanatically intent on reducing risk, protecting health, wealth and of course lives.

We had set off for our usual mid-day walk along the bouldery foreshore of Loch Ewe, had found a spot part-sheltered from the cold northerly winds that have afflicted us these past weeks, bringing rains and volcanic ash-clouds with them. We talked about the pink-footed geese. A flock of fifty or so arrived a month or so ago from the Arctic. They've been feeding on the sweet new grasses of a well-tended field - rare in these parts. Whenever we pass by, the birds rise in a honking squadron intent on taking shelter (from us!,) landing in a welter of spray out on the waters of the loch. 'Where' I wondered, 'did these great birds nest and produce their young?'

As if in answer, not twenty feet away a pair of pinkfoots emerged from the gorse with about fourteen grey and yellow chicks. Spotting us they set up a great hullabaloo, talking excitedly to each other as they waddled away towards the supposed safety of the tide-line. But unfortunately the tide was out and their route traversed a fifty metres wide jumble of football sized rocks. Very difficult for the big birds, an extreme test for the chicks and impossible for some. By the time the vanguard reached the sea mum and dad had with them only half their family, the rest being trapped out of sight between boulders, vainly calling out in panic.

The parents and their bobbing flotilla of fledgelings waited for a few minutes, floating just off-shore. Obviously mum and dad had a hard decision to make. Wait for any stragglers able to do so or leave them there, paddle well out to join the raft of their pink-footed friends. They chose the latter. The squeaking soon stopped, all chicks bar one invisible in hiding.

In spite of my urging to leave well alone a distraught Delia was unable to resist going to the rescue. She scrambled across the weed covered, ankle breaking terrain, gathered up the one visible strandee and managed to get it to the water's edge. There she was able to place it on the water, assuming it would swim away as had the others. But - nothing; the little goose had disappeared at once beneath the wavelets. With the best possible motives a problem had turned into a tragedy. Why had it not floated like its siblings? Would the parents return to the shore to look for the rest of the refugees?

Walking in silence home we stopped, turned, looked back. Swimming strongly shorewards we could see the whole colony of adult pink-foots, our six or seven tiny newcomers in the centre, for all the world as if under group protection.

Two things: one, let Nature take its course, it can do without our help; two, in life we all are in death, and that's the way of it.

1 comment:

  1. Nature is a stern, but good teacher.

    On a lighter note. In Africa my parents had Barbets nesting in their one tree. Think something the size of a starling with a chunky body and beak that flies like a puffin. They dig out holes in dead wood to nest in.

    The first year they nested the baby birds kept falling out and my dad would lovingly get the ladder and pop them back in the nest. Then one day as he was climbing down the ladder he saw the baby bird shoot out once again.... with a very angry parent bird's head behind it. The parent bird fluffed and screamed at my dad.

    It turns out (we did some research) that barbets don't leave their babies in the nest hole for long - probably too much danger from snakes? Whatever the case as soon as they can hop and scramble the parents boot them out and let them hide in the bush. My dad had been making fledging a whole lot harder by "helping out."

    The next year we let the drop and vanish and within a week they were flying about the garden after their parents.


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