Patriarchy – For Love of Predators by Sara Wright


I live just down the road from one of our many lakes and ponds here in western Maine. Almost every morning I hear the haunting call of the loons as they fly over the house. Although I cherish the symphony I have never figured out why some of these birds making this early morning flight from one lake to another. I have never seen any research that supports my experience – but obviously, for unknown reasons some loons  move routinely from pond to pond. Why remains a mystery.

I used to have a woodsman friend who once commented that he didn’t understand why everyone loved loons so much because they were fierce predators who speared their hapless fish, duck, or goslings to death before devouring them. At the time I found Don’s statement ironic (and irritating!) because this man was an excellent brook trout fisherman and deer hunter. In his defense I must add that I had to acknowledge that he also loved all animals; after deer hunting season ended he fed his deer all winter.

I want to digress a moment to tell a story about Don. The year before his death one buck left him a complete set of antlers on the night of the winter solstice; the next year on solstice night Don died. At the time of his death (I didn’t know this until the next day) an antler he gave me clattered to the floor.

Although we never spoke of it I understood that Don’s relationship with wild animals was as intimate as my own. Acknowledging this truth created enormous ambivalence in me because I loved and studied wild animals. I did not kill them. I wanted to separate myself from Don. But at the same time I ate fish and chicken so how could I really make a distinction between him and me? And what about all the plants I ate? Wasn’t I a predator too? I carried this contradiction with great discomfort for years before finally being able to accept it. All life feeds on the lives of others…like it or not. Life, death, and renewal, as Carol Christ believed.

To return to my original story, Don’s remark about the loons stayed with me because up until then I had never thought of loons as predators… I had grown up falling asleep to the sound of loons calling on the lake, watched them raise their young ones at a time before speedboats became a summer reality. Whippoorwills, loons, frogs, and lightening bugs brought in our joyous summer nights. Who could imagine that all of these animals would become so endangered?

Loons are iconic water birds and once they began dying Audubon, followed by many other groups, attempted to bring back the loons, many of which were dead from lead poisoning. As most people know this effort was successful. Today loons once again grace summer ponds…

Eagles also became threatened but through tireless conservation efforts these birds returned to our waters too. On the pond closest to me eagles abound, often plucking loon chicks for dinner. Initially, I took sides with the loons, especially after witnessing a lone chick being snatched up by deadly hooked talons to be swept away, perhaps to feed one of the two eaglets. For years now we have had a giant eagle’s nest on one of our islands that attracts enormous attention from people in boats every summer, people who hope to get a glimpse of one. And everyone I know covets an eagle feather except me.

On our lake we also have a whole gaggle of wild geese who are   shot (- illegally in summer – during the fall  migration there is an open hunting season on geese as well as other water fowl -) by the people who live here because they don’t like geese fertilizing their lawns. I happen to love geese. They are birds that live in genuine community. As vegetarians they munch away at wild grasses and raise their young with great tenderness gathering in large groups to surround the fuzzy goslings as they mature. There is always a papa goose who acts as protector keeping a sharp eye on all of the others. Geese are shy of humans because they have been treated so badly. Whenever I am paddling in the pond I talk to them hoping they will allow me to kayak close by, but they make no exceptions. In the fall, one of sounds I love the most is listening to the geese as they gather in large V’s to migrate south – a perilous journey. At dusk the skies overflow with their poignant goodbyes. Often, as these birds take flight above me, Mother Goose tales come to mind, because as most feminists on FAR know, geese are associated with the Great Mother. I think it was my love of geese that also helped me to answer a question I had.

I wondered why saving predators of all kinds, loons, eagles, raptors, wolves, wild cats etc. was a priority for the American people (true for other countries too). It is only now, for example, after we have lost 2.9 billion birds, that songbirds like nightingales and warblers, are finally getting some attention. Other birds like geese are perceived to be nothing but a nuisance – an expendable one at that.

What is it about predators that humans find so attractive?

I think predators reflect the patriarchal structure that humans have adopted for the last five thousand years. Patriarchy supports a hierarchal society where some people – mostly middle class white men have all the power. I think our love of predators is a mirror in which men and many women see themselves, one that reflects the power over model, while peaceful matriarchal egalitarian societies like the ones Carol Christ studied, as well as other Indigenous peoples, animals and birds are ignored or hunted, often to extinction.  

Bio

Sara is a naturalist, ethologist (a person who studies animals in their natural habitats) (former) Jungian Pattern Analyst, and a writer. She publishes her work regularly in a number of different venues and is presently living in Maine.



Categories: Earth-based spirituality, Eco-systems, General, Nature, Patriarchy

Tags: , , ,

12 replies

  1. I’m at our family cabin in Northern Minnesota and had just had the exact experience with loons chortling overhead, moving from one lake to another, when I read your post, Sarah. The message that came to me as I heard the answering calls was, “So now you know where I am.” I think, based on this intuitive insight, that they may be checking in on one another. As for your theory of predation mirroring the patriarchy, I think it may be more about pure survival instinct in animals.

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  2. I am happy to hear about the return of the loons and the eagles. Thank you for sharing these lovely images and the story about Don. I do think it’s dangerous to compare human patriarchal structures to the complex nature of animals and plants and to negatively judge animals in any way for being “predatory.” I am not entirely opposed to anthropomorphizing. Assigning positive human traits to animals and plants can create positive bonds, and help us humans be better stewards of the planet. But there is also danger in anthropomorphizing, of judging and categorizing animals for their “predatory” or “bad” behavior. Not to mention the simplistic equating of predatory with patriarchy. (There are plenty of predatory humans who do not fit into the standard definition of white, male patriarch, and to suggest otherwise is to discount whole categories of human perpetrators and victims, among other issues.) Assigning human values to animals and plants, calling their biological functions “predatory or non-predatory” or “right or wrong” and making consequential decisions based on our negative biases towards certain living beings are what’s gotten us into these global ecological dire straights. My concern is that by suggesting that predatory animals have anything to do with predatory humans, we give those advocating for non-predatory animals similar license to impose harsh sentencing on so-called predators. Yes, non-predatory animals may have suffered because of our collective love of predators, and perhaps this has something to do with the prevailing patriarchy, but we will never know if animals see their world (and it is their world) in such black and white terms. We can never truly know what it is to be a loon, a wren, a tiger, a cicada, or a coral reef. The way to preserve them is to observe all of them without judgment, dropping our own biases, and consider that while predator and non-predator alike would be better off without humans, we would not and cannot exist without them.

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  3. Very interesting observation about our love for predators, at least the wild ones in nature. And your comment that wild predators reflect the human patriarchal structure makes great sense. Thanks for that observation, which gives me something to think about today. Bright blessings!

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    • Uhmm…. glad you liked my observation… I think there is something to this…. and there’s something else too – I find it fascinating that for Indigenous peoples the eagle is sacred – a spiritual messenger – whereas the colonists took the eagle and turned it into a symbol of corporate power (eventually) … Between the two we see both the positive and dark side of this predator. Thanks Barbara.

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  4. What an interesting idea, and I think it makes a lot of sense, especially when the interest in the predator is widespread. I think sometimes, though, people may not think of a species as predators and care about them for other reasons, loons being a great example. I love loons and know that they fish, but I never thought of them as predators. I frequently vacation on a lake in northern Michigan that has loons as well as piping plovers, another endangered species, and everyone loves them. There is a community effort to provide nesting platforms for the loons and a regional organization helps out the piping plovers. The talk among those who come to the lake every year is always about the birds’ family lives, partly because everyone wants the efforts for the species to survive to succeed, but also because I think it creates a sense of connection between the people and the birds. The big discussion this year was about a particular nesting pair of plovers. Apparently plovers in general are breeding partners for life, but migrate separately then come back together to lay and hatch eggs in the summer. Well, this year, the female plover dumped her male partner and showed up at the lake with another male plover, leaving her previous one, who also showed up, out in the cold. I don’t know if he ever found another partner, but it certainly generated a lot of comment…

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  5. Yes, we have the same thing going on here with loons. In fact I am the Audubon loon counter for North Pond! People do love these birds – and I love them too – have since i was a small child – so the predator aspect of these birds remained veiled – now that its in the open it hasn’t changed my love for them but it has made me appreciate the geese even more!

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  6. Take heart. The geese I see here in California, and there are many of them, seem to have hardly any fear at all of humans. They barely budge off the path when passed by. I like to think that people in the Bay Area have been kind to, or at least tolerant of, geese, but it may be that the geese just find us clumsy and inept.

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  7. Oh, I do take heart – geese are friendly creatures when not persecuted – and one of my greatest pleasure is watching them raise those goslings every spring. They are truly birds that belong to the goddess!

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  8. Well over 30 years ago I dreamt of loons. They showed me in the dream that they have 2 different kinds of feathers. When I looked it up I found that they have different winter and summer plumage. I had had no idea. Ever since then I have had a great love for loons.

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  9. I just discovered your blog and love it! I live on Pocasset lake in central Maine and cherish my neighbors – the loons and geese that live here.

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