Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Insouciant species

As I was driving up to the house today, having been away for five days, the car startled two deer browsing in the little ditch next to the driveway. They jumped out, bounded to the leaching field, and stopped, not at the edge of the field near the safe woods, but right in the middle, just 30 feet away. I also stopped (the car). We stared at each other for a couple of minutes.

Clearly, a moving car spooked them but a stopped car did not. Or could they see me through the glass, even recognize me from previous encounters? They didn't care about the human or canine smells about the place (our poor hostas have proved that all summer), they apparently think a house and a garage are as dangerous as a tree.

My dictionary defines "insouciant" as "marked by blithe unconcern; nonchalant." It could have inserted a picture of these two deer and achieved the same result: the stare, the nearly haughty lifting of the noses, the jaunty ear-twitching. I moved the car. They moved into the woods.

The definition begs the question, unconcern about what? It seems like deer have reached that state with humans, or at least are getting there. (I doubt they would be so blithe about wolves, should we be so lucky as to get them back in Maine again.) Also seagulls, who go about their business more efficiently than any animal I know, who are nonchalant towards any species you might name.

And Homo sapiens? We might be the only species that practices insouciance on itself. We pretend to ignore the animal world, but secretly fear it; the plant world is altogether beneath comment; and any power greater than Homo sapiens is either slavishly courted or angrily denounced. I vote for the deer's approach: most things are neutral until proven otherwise.

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