Walking through the zoo today, an eerie cry from above caught my attention. It was the long and ghostly call of a seagull in battle with a red-shouldered hawk. Although it was unclear what caused the argument, the gull was continually diving aggressively toward the hawk who appeared to remain unperturbed and gently swooped out of the gull’s way each time.
The gull’s screams seemed to become more forlorn and desperate as the hawk continued to glide toward its destination, ignoring each of the the gulls valiant attempts. Eventually, the gull gave up and turned to fly off into another direction, its cries continuing to echo throughout the area. Watching all this, my hearbeat changed as I simultaneously felt the desperation of the gull and the satisfaction of the hawk, feelings that come from some far more ancient part of my body and that do not require words or detailed thoughts to comprehend.
This is part of what it is to connect with animals and nature — to have moments where we can share emotions, experiences, and to learn from them about how the Earth works — to know that it is always in a balance of giving and taking, of life and death. Beautiful, breathtaking, and heartbreaking all at once.
As I was having these thoughts, I glanced around at the zoo visitors near to me. There I was obviously staring into the sky watching other beings in an intense moment of life experience and no one else had even noticed, despite the desperately loud alarm calls and all of the amazing aerial acrobatics. The people were walking along pointing at lumps of sleeping animal masses. They were showing their kids confined animals, trying to make a connection with the natural world, but missing the point and missing the amazing display of animal behavior directly above their heads.
Many people seem to come to the zoo because they want to connect with animals, they want to feel like they still have some understanding of nature. They tap the glass trying to get animals to look into their eyes and acknowledge that they exist, but all the while ignoring the animal life that is going on around them.
Animals needn’t look into our eyes to remind us of a connection to nature because it’s already there, it has just been forgotten. And the best way to remember the connection is not to try to capture the attention of zoo animals, but to reawaken one’s senses and notice that nature is everywhere and is always communicating. Like, for example, this interaction between a gull and a hawk and all that this can teach us about the balance between perseverance and of letting go.
Do these life lessons come from watching confined animals at the zoo? If not, what type of lessons do arise from watching animals at the zoo?
And when animals at the zoo do share eye contact with us, when we recognize them as individuals in their artificial enclosures and feel a connection, what does this reflect back to us? What does this say about how we relate to nature currently and how we live our lives? Are we living freely and in balance with the rhythms of nature, or have we created a system of captivity for ourselves?
What does this mean for our health and for the health of the planet?