From the Archives: A Tiny Life by Barbara Ardinger

When I first wrote this post in 2014, I said the news was getting me down. A terrorist gang in Nigeria had kidnapped, raped, and “married” two hundred schoolgirls. Kids were even then taking guns to school. What’s better as I rewrite this in March 2022? Not much. The pandemic and idiots still refusing to be vaccinated. Putin’s invasion of a former soviet satellite country. (I think Putin thinks he’s the tsar and wants to rebuilt “his” empire.) Road rage, hate crimes, kids still taking guns to school. I think we can all agree that the news is still awful. The following is what I wrote in 2014.

A couple Saturdays ago, I heard an enormous noise of cawing and shrieking and wings flapping outside my window. It went on for several minutes, so I finally set my book aside (I was trying to ignore Eyewitless News), got up, and looked out into the courtyard. Two huge, noisy crows were chasing a smaller bird. I think it might have been a scrub jay. I have no idea what the jay’s crime had been in the crows’ eyes, but they were chasing it back and forth and up and down until one of them finally speared it with its beak. The jay fell. The crows landed on the roof of the building across the courtyard and strutted back and forth for several minutes. One of them went down for a closer look at the fallen jay. Then they flew away.

I’ve seen crows attacking other birds before. They’re extremely intelligent birds, but they also get aggressive. Some years ago, I sat at a desk in an office, gazing out the window, and saw a crow destroy a hummingbird’s nest and eat the babies. Sad, yes, but this is how crows around the world find food. My coworkers wanted to storm outside immediately and (I guess) shoot the crow and maybe tear the little tree out of the ground. “No,” I said. “Leave it alone. Tennyson was right when he wrote that nature is bloody.”

Who trusted God was love indeed

And love Creation’s final law

Tho’ Nature, red in tooth and claw

With ravine, shriek’d against his creed….

These lines come from “In Memoriam, A.H.H.,” written by the Victorian poet laureate Alfred Lord Tennyson in 1849 or 50. It’s an extremely long and all-but-incomprehensible poem about the death of Tennyson’s beloved friend, Arthur Hallam. (I still remember a joke from my Victorian poetry class: The title of Tennyson’s poem “Maud” has one too many vowels.) (Think about it.) In the late 19th century, Darwinists immediately pounced on Tennyson’s line “red in tooth and claw” to “prove” the survival of the fittest and that the toughest guy always wins. We see movies all the time that tell us the same thing. Not just predatory animals like lions, but superheroes, too.

And the little scrub jay in my courtyard? Its body just lay there. I went out later and got a closer look. Its head had been nearly severed. “Well,” I said to myself, “the building manager will no doubt send someone to toss this corpse in the trash.”

That didn’t happen. The jay’s body was still lying there on Monday. I also came to my senses. “A life is a life!” I said to myself. “That’s why when I found the big spider in my bathtub, I scooped it up on a sheet of typing paper and carried it outside.” When I took my walk that afternoon, I picked up a little branch of violet statice and brought it home and stuck it into the ground next to the dead jay. “After all,” I said to myself, “this was a tiny life, but it was a life. I can give it this tiny bit of honor.” When I looked out my window on Tuesday morning, I saw a red flower lying next to the jay’s body. Tuesday evening, there was a cluster of white flowers next to the jay. With Thursday came the so-called gardeners (who mostly rake the dirt in the unflower beds). And, yes, with Thursday the little jay went into the trash.

I suppose I could draw a couple lessons here. The pre-Christian peoples of northern Europe, who recognized a predator when they saw one, honored a war goddess named Babd, who appeared as a hooded crow. Babd was one of the Morrigan, a trio of sister goddesses who appeared as crows and were often seen flying above warriors in their battles. Their cawing, it’s said, inspired both fear and courage in the boys.

We can also consider “His Eye Is on the Sparrow,” a popular gospel song published in 1905 by two white songwriters and used by Ethel Waters, the great black actress, as the title of her autobiography. The gospel song was suggested by the words of Jesus in Matthew 6:26: “Look at the birds of the air; they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they?”

And, finally, now I’m wondering if there’s an allegory in here somewhere. The crows I saw were just doing what crows around the world do. Looking for food. What divine eye is looking at hungry predatory birds? At the human predators of the world? Smaller birds and those who seem helpless often meet violent deaths. What divine eye is keeping watch over the hungry women and children of the world? Over the refugees? Over the increasing feminization of poverty and homelessness not just here in Los Angeles but around the whole world? Is there a divine eye??

BIO: Barbara Ardinger, Ph.D. (barbaraardinger.com), is the author of Secret Lives, a novel about crones and other magical folks, Pagan Every Day, a unique daybook of daily meditations, and other books. She really enjoys writing her monthly blogs for FAR. Her work has also been published in devotionals to Isis, Athena, and Brigid. Barbara’s day job is freelance editing for people who have good ideas but don’t want to embarrass themselves in print. To date, she has edited more than 400 books, both fiction and nonfiction, on a wide range of topics. She lives in Long Beach, California, with her rescued calico cat, Schroedinger.



Categories: Earth-based spirituality, General, Mother Earth, Nature

Tags: , , , , , , , , ,

9 replies

  1. So much to ponder here… I love your posts.

    As a naturalist I pounced on the crow! Most animals (including birds) only hunt for food but a few are real bullies. Crows fall into this latter category. They gang up on smaller birds (sometimes hapless owls as well). They not only intimidate but murder them as well – and not just for food. Apparently for love of the kill (one hunter said to me ” I get high just knowing I can shoot a deer”- at least he was honest). I think it’s the same with crows.

    I personally have never understood this feminist association with the crow as a positive figure. I see crow as yet another patriarchal figure in disguise…

    What I loved about this essay is the message you impart. Our world has become a deadly place but acts of mercy and compassion like yours with the scrub jay may not change an overall outcome but I think they matter – at least I hope they do.

    They matter to me.

    Amazingly, as I am writing this post a huge screeching mob of crows suddenly appear just outside my bedroom window. The noise is so deafening I get up to see… nothing visible but crows soaring madly in circles screaming – I believe they trapped a raven in the trees – ravens are rare here – this one is croaking wildly in distress. Hopefully, the crows will not be able to kill this relative of theirs. All corvids are smart but so are all birds (we worship corvids because they use tools like us – the usual anthropomorphic materialistic “scientific” perspective) – Hopefully raven can outwit this mob.

    This has been one of the worst winter – springs of my life and crows are everywhere around me every single day. My little birds routinely disappear.

    Patriarchal humans are the ones ‘red in tooth and claw’ and we also see this tendency in some animals, but overall we are finally learning from the new sciences (Simard, Kimmerer and the like) that cooperation is more the norm than survival of the fittest in nature. Did you know that Darwin wrote about this and patriarchy dismissed it? Surprised?

    The crows are still screeching but the raven outwitted his tormentors – he is gone.

    Thanks for this post Barbara.

    As to what’s happening now in the human world – well – there’s nothing left to say.

    Like

    • Thanks, Sara. I generally like and admire crows and other birds and always feel a tiny flash of good luck when I see a hummingbird. Years and years ago, while I was walking down the street, I heard a ruckus. I stopped and watched two crows eat a lizard. I guess the whole world is now “red in tooth and claw.” So very sad. Bright blessings!

      Liked by 1 person

  2. A great post full of important questions, especially with all the recent news. I am getting to be old enough to realize that I don’t have the answers and never will, but I think sometimes that we can be the divine eye. We can’t stop the way nature can be bloody, but we can do gestures like yours that honor the “little lives.” We can try to steer our own species away from its crow-like behavior and make the planet a more welcoming place for all living beings. Will it make a difference in the long run? I don’t know, but we can either spend our lives trying or spend our lives not trying, so we might as well try. We have had an influx of raptors lately in my neighborhood – mainly hawks, I think – and I am both in awe of their majestic beauty and abilities and sad knowing that they are looking for little creatures for lunch. I am learning to hold both those ideas at the same time.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Thanks, Carolyn. You know what? I think the real raptors we’re dealing with these days are members of Congress and the Senate. You know which party I’m thinking about. And Putin is a raptor. I still think he thinks he a Tsar, and he creating a gazillion tiny deaths (well, not really tiny) in his invasion and war. What can we do to encourage people to be less predatory? I wish that question had an answer.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Carolyn – no one seems to have the answers – I’m with you there – one disturbing trend regarding raptors – around here I have more of them than I ever had in almost 40 years (enough to take in my bird feeders – the little birds didn’t have a chance) – equally disturbing to me is that more and more people are posting raptor pictures (rather than some of our little friends who are so beautiful without all the drama) – especially those on the two bird sites that I belong to – there is a terrible fascination with these predatory birds maybe because they are so much like us as a species? – Humans are the top predator of all. And our destructive impulses seems to be escalating on every level… it is strange to say the least. Nature so often acts as a mirror and we miss the implications…

    Liked by 2 people

  4. PS the “both and” perspective is not what I am withnessing – I’m talking about imbalance here.

    Liked by 1 person

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