Wednesday, April 8, 2009
Resentment, and other fine feelings
The warm spring weather is back now, but winter returned for a couple of days earlier this week. It even snowed a little. The pretty dwarf larkspur, which is very plentiful here, has gone a little droopy and sad as a result, but the blooms have survived. Wildflowers are tough.
No matter how many times I remind myself that it’s absurd to resent the weather, I can’t stop feeling irritated when I have to haul the winter coat back out after I thought I had put it away for the season. It seems unfair to be given a taste of warmth and light, only to have them snatched away. I assume most people feel the same way, since everybody whines about the cold. It’s a craziness we all share, this grudge against nature. Sometimes I think peevishness was our principal reason for inventing God--not so we’d have an explanation for consciousness or what happens when we die, but so we could feel that someone is responsible for all the annoying glitches in earthly life. The faithful like to praise God for creating a beautiful world, but somewhere in the back of their minds they’re ranting at him about late freezes and fire ants.
The cold snap silenced the birdsong and the frogs went back to sleep. The squirrels stayed out, along with the deer, and I saw a quartet of turkeys marching single file through the trees on the morning it snowed. I wonder how they felt about the cold. I know they suffer from it, but do they ever resent it? Do they think the day should be warmer, or even conceive that it could be? It seems ridiculous to suggest that they might, but animals certainly make qualitative judgments about their environment. One of my dogs hates the wind. If you make her stay outside on a breezy day she gets very crabby and snaps at the other dogs. How is she different from me, when I get in a snit about the unseasonable chill?
Even after the thousands of studies of animal behavior, the emotional lives of animals are still opaque to us. We don’t know anything about their passions, about their interior experience of life. One morning before the temps dropped, I watched a mating triangle being worked out among downy woodpeckers. The trio flew from one tree to another, chasing and chattering with the intensity you always see in courtship rivalries. Even when the intruding male tried to retreat, the other two kept chasing him, not wanting to let go of the fight. It certainly looked as if they were feeling all the fury and anxiety humans feel in the same situation. I wonder if they were. And if they weren’t, I wonder what that says about us.
Photo of dwarf larkspur from Virginia Tech Weed Identification Guide.
Photo of downy woodpecker from Wikimedia Commons.