Saturday, November 9, 2013

The Incredible Dignity of Animals

It is fanciful, I know, to envy the wonderful "all-of-piece" lives of animals-from our own domestic dogs to the massive and wild denizens of the South African bush.We saw plenty of interspecies violence, of course-life is no romantic idyll out there.Take, for example, these two lion cubs gnawing on what's left of a wildebeest: Or, these wildebeest remains, left to decompose in the tree where a leopard carried them to enjoy his dinner in peace: We saw a dead black rhino (natural causes, thank goodness) and many predator animals stuporous and lazy after the hunt and a huge meal.So the dignity is not about living free or without threat.(The vegetarians outnumber the predators by many times, and still they get eaten!) The animals do battle with the environment (water is precious and there are predators out there) but they don't seem to do battle within themselves.The lion is at the apex of the food chain, but doesn't seem at all uptight about it: He's yawning, not roaring! And when he got tired of us, he and his son walked off into the sunset:

This dignity is in some contrast to the obvious social and economic conflict in South Africa (though the establishment of the Madikwe Game Reserve was in part an effort to provide meaningful work for black South Africans in the northwest part of the country).And it is in contrast to the fretful and anxious way we tend to approach our temporary life here in Africa.Walt Whitman comes to mind, admiring the animals that brought him "tokens of myself": They do not sweat and whine about their condition, They do not lie awake in the dark and weep for their sins, They do not make me sick discussing their duty to God, Not one is dissatisfied, not one is demented with the mania of owning things, Not one kneels to another, nor to his kind that lived thousands of years ago, Not one is respectable or unhappy over the whole earth. Marianne Moore is another poet who saw animals and their ways as helpful models and analogies for the human condition (her "Pangolin" is native of Cameroon!)You don't have to want to BE an animal (though I know that I am one) to learn something about inherent dignity from them.The impala, or example, thrive on the reserve, despite the constant threat of being eaten by lion, cheetah, panther, wild dog.And they move through the bush with the most astonishing grace: And then there are those animals who've evolved elaborate defenses against the predators, so they can go along munching grass or leaves and producing offspring. Giraffes, for example.Or rhinos: :

We never tired of seeing elephants-in herds, in pairs, enormous solitary old bulls just living out their days.Lately I can conjure them in my mind-their slow and steady movement, their evident care for one another, their fine sense of play-and feel suffused with peace.

Namaste, shanti, pace, paz, paix, amani.

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