“Aren’t two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them falls to the ground apart from your Father’s will. Even all the hairs on your head are numbered.”
That’s the gospel of Matthew, verses 29-30, positing a benevolent and merciful God who cares for and directs the lives of his creatures and creation down to the very last detail.
And in this corner, Tennyson’s “Nature, red in tooth and claw,” his famous poetic line denoting the unblinking savagery with which creatures stalk, tear into and consume other creatures for their own sustenance.
Which vision reflects reality, once we set down our books and toys, cast off our fanciful cloaks, and head out from our cloistered drawing rooms to confront the challenges of day-to-day survival?
This question is perhaps particularly relevant to the carnivores among us, who rely on slaughterhouses to go about the business that lesser animals must tend to themselves, using only the armaments—beaks, teeth, claws, natural poisons, constricting muscles—with which nature has equipped them.
Fellow blogger and bird photographer Loren Webster posted a remarkable sequence of photos the other day without any reference or context for the discussion above—but which spoke to it powerfully anyway. He has graciously consented to have me share them with you here.
In the first, we see a bald eagle—a species that Loren has stalked for years now for the sole purpose of capturing its beauty and nobility for his and our enjoyment. He catches it soaring in flight, the very picture of a creature wholly in its element.
Now something has caught its eye and it swoops in a rush to the ground, jamming hard on its brakes to come in for a perfect landing.
If any readers remember my post on “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For,” rest assured that this next photo is about quite the opposite.
Poor fish: it’s a bottom-dwelling sculpin, stranded in the mud as high tide recedes, in a classic case of wrong place, wrong time. (Though it is very much right place, right time for its predator, who most certainly finds what it is looking for.)
And so off we go, prey securely in hand, heading for the breakfast table and the feast that awaits.
Roosting time, and just in case any other creature has observed the proceedings and has designs on some quick thievery of the goods, our eagle friend casts a wary and menacing eye that wordlessly warns: “Don’t even think about it.”
That’s about enough said, I think. Photos like these—awe-inspiring, majestic, terrifying—suggest we walk and talk humbly about our knowledge of the divine. That tenderness, mercy, joy, beauty, wisdom, compassion and gentility exist, we know for a fact just by looking around and reaching out to each other every day, experiencing the love that is ever available to us, and which makes the human project such an extraordinary adventure far beyond mere strategies for survival.
But photos like these also show us, in the starkest possible terms, that the source of that love is not all sweetness and light. This eagle and its legions of naturally predatory brethren suggest a creator or ultimate reality more inscrutable, mysterious and contradictory than we will ever be able to process or nail down with words.
But sometimes, at a very basic level, one picture is worth thousands upon thousands of them.
And onwards into the mystery we go, some kind of native trust as a prerequisite…
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Deep appreciation to the photographers!
Elizabeth Haslam, whose photos grace the rotating banner at the top of this page. Some rights reserved under Creative Commons licensing, see more at: https://www.flickr.com/photos/lizhaslam/
Loren Webster, for all the eagle shots, including the small portrait shot near the top of the page that was not a part of the photo sequence that follows. All rights reserved, for permissions and more photos see: http://www.lorenwebster.net/In_a_Dark_Time/
Photo of walking girl by Massimo Valiani, Perugia, Italy, some rights reserved under Creative Commons licensing, see more at: https://www.flickr.com/photos/leader_maximo/