The concept of balance, of symmetry and compatibility,is found everywhere in our daily lives. We like to know that actions have reactions, that left is accompanied by right, and that death is tempered by life. While we were on the Anhinga Trail last Friday, we took notice of one of these royal birds, perched in her dramatic, though unmistakable, pose. She regarded us casually, but was not as fascinated by us as we were by her. Not a feather moved out of place, not a muscle strained as she continued to sun herself, basking in the warm light of the Florida sun.
One moment later, we saw the anhinga spear a fish with her beak. I shuddered upon realizing how ineffectual my own skin would have been if I had been on the receiving end of that piercing stab. As crimson-tinted blood poured out of the fish, the anhinga ate it, taking that life and making it into her own. This give and take appeared to be present everywhere, and we had wandered through only a relatively small area of the Everglades. At all times, and without cessation, a new entity arose to replace one that was on its way out. Even as one leaf falls off of a branch, another grows in its place; as the bark of a tree peels away, new bark emerges from beneath.
Audubon himself, in one of the first readings for this class, was described as a man who was forced to find, within himself, a balance. Perhaps it was his own need to create a symmetry among the varying aspects of his life that made him so well-suited to the Everglades. Audubon was always caught in a struggle to find a niche that incorporated his many identities as an explorer in The 'Glades. He was often, though not exclusively, a hunter, an artist, a nature lover, and a scientist. Similarly, much of the wildlife that we came across during our last outing was also caught in a balancing act, as though it were trying to discover its true nature. Is the Everglades wildlife best described as a place of hunters or an area of art? Like Audubon, it is an amalgam of all of the four previously mentioned characteristics.
Indeed, the aforementioned encounter between the anhinga and the fish, or the predatory flight of a pelican swooping into the water to capture its meal depicts the Everglades as an exhibition of the relations between a hunter and its prey. Furthermore, it is equally impressive to view the absolute grace, beauty, and accuracy of a flock of birds involved in a seemingly impossible aerial maneuver. We may marvel at humanity's aerial accomplishments, but nothing comes close to the accomplishments wrought by the hand of nature. Watching these winged creatures create invisible patterns in the air with their wings is akin to watching an artist's paintbrush stroke over the bare face of a blank canvas.
Perhaps, to complete this fragile balance, and to extend our description and perception of "nature," we must also realize that it is humans who comprise the other two categories. It is we who are the nature lovers: we create and buy books and binoculars to gaze at and study wildlife; we do what we can to protect the wilderness that surrounds us. Additionally, it is we who are the scientists, seeing true potential in lifeforms that appear so utterly different from our own. We realize that by learning more about the wild we will also undoubtedly recognize something within and about ourselves. As such, the Everglades is not solely a place where the wildlife dominates and humans must take a secondary role.
The four aforementioned characteristics, or "people" inhabited Audubon. He was at all times either exclusively or combined, a hunter, an artist, a scientist, or a nature lover. These aspects represent not only the conflictive, though complementary aspects of one man, but rather the qualities that make up these Everglades and, ultimately, life.
We have all heard expressions regarding "nature's delicate balance." We may disregard it as merely a saying, but it does not change the fact that it is stating a fact that is generally true. However, it does not apply solely to cycles of life and death. It encompasses aspects of beauty and of curiosity as well. Perhaps more importantly, it makes room for people, who often appear to forget that they too are parts of and play roles in nature.
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