In the last post, I anthropomorphized birds, accusing some Steller’s Jays of being “stubborn” and “cantankerous” because they refused to come to get peanuts placed on top of my car. (As you can see, they finally did, but it took them a full 24 hours before they succumbed.)I charged an Oregon Junco with impertinency and suggested that hummingbirds think they have property rights. None of those adjectives can be applied to any animal in the world except Homo Sapiens Sapiens.
That we attribute such emotions to animals says more about us than it does them. A tribute to our egocentric view of the world that often misses the richness of differing awareness, it perversely reinforces a view of the world in which we are separate from nature. That’s not to say that animals don’t have emotions, many obviously do. But they arise from differing consciousness and from senses that perceive the world differently.
For example, this deer obviously can hear better than we can. She’s at a salt lick in these photos and every few seconds yanks her head up from the salt and has a look around. Actually, she’s probably having a good listen around. Those ears hear further than her eyes can see, especially in an old growth forest. A human will likely ascribe her apparent nervousness to fear. She is a prey species and, to our minds, it makes sense that she is afraid, but I wonder. Checking around like that is bred so deeply in her genes, I bet she is completely unaware that she does it, like a fish is unaware of water. More likely, she’s just enjoying the salt.
Which is not to say that animals don’t know fear.
But they don’t know, probably, anything about the Great Mystery, the possibility of non-being, mortality. That saves them from the Great Fear. Foreknowledge of death appears absent in animals and they don’t seem to understand the world’s absences. Humans can never entirely rid ourselves of the Great Fear. We know too much about death and not enough about the aftermath. The best we can do is try following Emily Dickinson’s advice, “I hope you love birds too. It is economical. It saves going to Heaven.”