Biff America: In the natural world, it is survival of the fittest
The little guy was probably having a pretty good day; right up to the point where he was nearly decapitated.
Like my mate and me, he was up early on a morning that was clear, cold and provided an amazing sunrise. While my bride and I had eaten before we embarked on our pre-dawn hike, the victim looked to be relishing a little early-day meal in the sun on an otherwise chilly morning at 12,000 feet.
Ellen and I were heading toward a ridge on our way to climb a peak. We passed a few rock outcroppings, where rodents chirped at us as we passed.
We continued on our way toward one last cluster of rocks. Perhaps I noticed the shadow, which must have passed very near to me. Or maybe I just imagined it after the fact. Whatever the case, seemingly out of nowhere, a huge bird plummeted from the sky, about a hundred feet to our right, and hit the ground hard. It was like seeing a car crash right in front of your eyes. It happened so fast and violently. Soon we came to realize the bird hadn’t crashed; it had killed.
Even at that distance, the bird looked large. It wasn’t until it took off again, with the marmot in its talons, and flew overhead that we saw just how big. The marmot seemed to be putting up a good fight trying to get out of the eagle’s grasp.
The wingspan of a golden eagle can be more than 7 feet; this eagle looked to be on the large side. It turns out I only imagined that the critter was franticly struggling to free itself from the bird’s grasp. We later discovered that the rodent was most surely dead by then. Because just as the eagle passed over us, it — I would guess inadvertently — dropped his meal. The deceased marmot fell like a stone from about 40 feet high and landed not more than 20 feet away from where we were standing.
For some unknown reason, I ran to it. Not sure what I was thinking, but I did have a first-aid kit with me.
The marmot was as dead as Bill Cosby’s career. We left the carcass and moved on, knowing the eagle would soon return for its meal.
If you exclude my wife fighting for bargains at Mountain Outfitters’ half-off sale, that kill was the most ferocious display I had ever witnessed up close and personal. It was just another reminder that life is precious, temporary and sometimes ruthless.
Existence in the animal kingdom is stern and majestic. Yes, it would be nice to be able to run like a cheetah, fly like a hawk and to never have a need for toilet paper, but living in a world ruled by the law of “tooth and claw” would take a lot of the fun out of being Charmin-free.
In the natural world, it is survival of the fittest, but there is also a genetically established pecking order and established food chain. Unfortunately, you could be an incredibly fit marmot and still get eaten by an eagle that is out of shape and has asthma.
We humans don’t kill one another for food; we do so unforgivably for God, politics and profit. We also are less discriminating in terms of any innocents whom we take with our targets. “Collateral damage” is an entirely human phenomenon.
Brutal Symmetry of Nature
The killing I witnessed was both violent and striking. Though I was grateful to be a spectator, rather than a participant, I felt privileged to witness the brutal symmetry of nature.
If the eagle doesn’t kill, then he dies; it is that simple. I have no idea if the animals in that drama feel fear, pride, anger or remorse — or simply hunger.
What I can say for certain is that, given the choice, I’d rather be an eagle than a marmot, a predator rather than prey and most definitely a homosapien opposed to a beast in the wild. Though it would be nice to leave bathroom tissue off the shopping list …
Jeffrey Bergeron, under the alias of Biff America, can be seen on TV-8-Summit and read in several newspapers and magazines. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Ferreira is a Ski & Snowboard Club Vail alum who is from Aspen. In accepting his gold medal, he shouted out boot fitter and ski tuner Dano Bruno of Gorsuch in Vail.