Never Give Animals Names

These days, living in nature, as I often do in the homemade fort in my backyard, I find myself getting too chummy with animals who pass by my gate for grain and photo ops.
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I hope you are better at staying emotionally detached from animals than I am. Like me, do you have problems going into a pet store and making eye contact with a pug puppy without asking his price?

Do you wonder, when your pet dies, if it's worth getting another, knowing you will be grieving again in a few years?

As a teenager on a hobby farm, I raised two pigs, Porky and Bess, and cried when I saw them hanging from a butcher's hook.

These days, living in nature, as I often do in the homemade fort in my backyard, I find myself getting too chummy with animals who pass by my gate for grain and photo ops. There's Zorro the raccoon, Tommy the turkey and Dora the deer. What really warms them to me is that they trust me to come close enough that I can see the fear in their eyes.

Sadly, our view of animals comes largely from dog houses, municipal zoos, Saturday morning cartoons and clips on YouTube.

This summer, why not see them up close -- go out and watch animals in their natural habitat and how they interact with their surroundings while removed from our influence.

You'll find that canaries actually fly, Great Blue Herons create majestic shadows but often crash land into trees, rabbits dart in and out of holes, and wild dogs mate with coyotes to produce "coy dogs," which yap the night away in dense thicket.

Then there are Cervidae (deer), those fragile kings and queens of the forest, with their royal expressions and soft brown eyes.

Until I started sleeping in my fort, I knew precious little about nature, apart from what Mr. Goldenberg taught us in biology. I knew that turkey was good in gravy, blind bats fly into your hair (well, usually not) and you must bathe in tomato juice when zapped by a skunk.

Now I've learned from experience: to stay upwind to avoid spooking the wildlife, that coyotes have enhanced smell and hearing but taste like dog meat, that spiders and bats are your allies against blood-sucking bugs, and about the only difference between crows and ravens is that crows don't have a publicist like Edgar Allan Poe.

As I learn about the misconceptions of animals, I recall an old South African proverb: "Until the lions have their own historians, history will always be written by the hunter."

If you spend considerable time out here in the wilds, be prepared to see another side of nature. The woods are teeming with predators -- coyotes, brush wolves, and a lone cougar, who screeched with joy one night when the littlest faun, Bambi, went tragically missing.

Yes, I've always known that Bambi, Zorro, Tommy and Dora could be taken from me by predators at any moment.

In fact, it happened recently one morning when my salty old neighbor, Jack, a retired carpet layer and turkey whisperer, found Tommy with a hole in his heart and his little gobbler head gone.

In the brush were signs of a terrible struggle, shedding of feathers and of life oozing away. If my nephew Matt, a former football player, hadn't scared three brush wolves off, they would've eaten the rest of brave Tommy, who had likely been protecting his rafter (clan).

My other neighbor, Rex, a former military man, was angry because he'd been trying to hunt Tommy with his crossbow. "Coyotes are evil," he says. "They've overpopulated and are threatening the faun and turkey populations."

That sounds strikingly like man, who has become the most dangerous creature in the trees. At one time, we were terrified of things moving in the dark, but we've learned to dominate larger and faster animals than us through our organization and our adaption. Man adapts better than anything alive; we even live in Antarctica.

Anyway, I feel guilty that, by leaving corn cobs for Tommy, I might have lured him to his untimely death.

Here am I, caught between coyote and turkey, Rex and Jack, smack in the middle of life and death at the edge of the woods. As a recent city dweller, I'm somewhat squeamish, but I hope to learn something from it and where I fit in, if I do, in the nature of things, in the circle of life.

Every day I must ask myself if I'm living in the fort strictly as an observer, risking the wolves gnawing on my ankles, or do I interact with my surroundings and become captain of the neighborhood watch for the vulnerable prey?

Until now, my general policy has been to live and let live, although I do swat the occasional mosquito, and last muggy summer, I reluctantly drowned a hundred flies with honey in a bottle on the back porch because they were getting into the house and our food. If you're gonna go, buzzing on your back, it might as well be in maple honey, right?

I think I'm a pacifist, but I also know that, as long as we have prime beef on our menu, somebody's got to whack the animals. It just can't be me. Recently, I tried eating a fish I caught in Lake Erie and promptly threw up. Poor Billy Bass.

Don't mind my predicament, though. While the weather is still warm, get away from the traffic and the pavement and go into your parks and woodlands to observe real nature in action. Take a camera, not a gun. Sit still and let your beard grow. Just don't give names to things you'll miss.

To give you an idea about my life with animals, here's a homemade video I put on YouYube.

Author/speaker Michael Clarkson is writing a book about his life in his backyard fort.

For more by Michael Clarkson, click here.

For more on mindfulness, click here.