Nature Doesn’t Do “Ugly”

Just now when I stepped outside to wash a couple items of clothing and hang them on the line, I saw a tiny form on the ground that I could not immediately identify. When I got closer I saw that it was the corpse of a baby bird. It was partially eaten; the feathers and beak were gone, and it was just delicate bones and some flesh.

Poor little thing! I said to myself. I wondered how it had died. My first guess was that it had been knocked out of its nest by yesterday’s high winds, but there was no way to tell. It could just as well have been killed by a cat. In any case, its tiny body had become food for a cluster of ants, finishing the job some other force of nature had started.

A lot of us humans tend to think of some creatures (like baby birds) as beautiful and lovable, and other creatures (like ants) as not so beautiful or lovable. But nature doesn’t play favorites. Nature doesn’t do “ugly”.

Human beings of some religious denominations celebrate a holy day called Easter, which is tomorrow. It commemorates the resurrection of Jesus. In U.S. popular culture, the holiday has become associated with images of eggs, hatching chicks, baby bunnies.

A person used to these cuddly greeting-card images might well be horrified to come upon the sight I saw on my back patio. But the ants are a key player in the cycle of birth, death, and new birth, and as such I cherish them as much as I cherish the sight of birds making their nests in spring.

“Nature’s undertakers,” I once heard someone call ants. “Imagine the mess we’d have without them.”

Isn’t nature amazing. And our human minds, being part of nature after all, are amazing too. Just as my human mind is the one that originally might label the sight of the ants and the baby bird corpse “sad” or “ugly,” I can just as well label it “natural” or “remarkable.”

And so I do.

Postscript: This morning when I took my usual morning walk around the yard, there was no sign of yesterday’s sight. Some other critter had evidently stopped by; there was no sign of the little bird that had died. But, as usual, the cool morning air was filled with the chirps of live birds. Happy Easter! (if you celebrate Easter.)