Yesterday morning my wife and I noticed a pair of coyotes walking the path behind our house. Our yard backs up to a wetland that attracts wildlife year-round. Rabbits lurk in the hedge between our property and the tall grasses behind.
That’s what the coyotes were seeking. There was a pale, smaller coyote and a large dark, wolf-like creature who moved with such authority and stealth it gave you the creeps.
Catching rabbits isn’t easy for a single coyote, so they sometimes work in teams. When the rabbit flushes it might mean one coyote gives chase while the other runs reconnaissance. A species of bird called Harris’s hawk excels at this kind of predator and prey collaboration. The net gain is less energy exerted by the predator and a shared meal at the end.
Thus nature has its forms of cruel altruism. Human beings work the same way across a platform of social constructs from politics to religion to family fights. The entire premise of the show Survivor is learning how to leverage alliances to one’s own advantage.
I well recall races in which I worked with teammates to chase down opponents and demoralize them. Sometimes this was a natural part of the race dynamic. But often it was verbalized and calculated. Coming to the last half mile in a competitive invitational, a teammate and I spotted the last guy we needed to pass to win the meet. We made a purposeful plan to pass him on either side and close the space in front of him. That was our way of shutting the door on his hopes of keeping up with us.
He was the rabbit. We were the coyotes. It’s a classic theme played out every day of existence. Thirty years ago I read the series of books under the Rabbit title by John Updike. Those books immerse one in a world of raw endeavor, success and failure. Here are some quotes that apply to today’s blog theme of “run or be eaten.”
“If you have the guts to be yourself, other people’ll pay your price.”
― John Updike,
“…hate suits him better than forgiveness. Immersed in hate, he doesn’t have to do anything; he can be paralyzed, and the rigidity of hatred makes a kind of shelter for him.”
― John Updike,
“I once did something right. I played first-rate basketball. I really did. And after you’re first-rate at something, no matter what, it kind of takes the kick out of being second-rate.”
― John Updike,
That last one rings true for all of us that once excelled at running and now plod along as part of the pack. We’ve been the rabbit, and now the world preys upon that sense of loss and age and mortality. It takes a strong person to avoid feeling defeated by that realization that you aren’t as fast as you once were. In some ways, one must be stronger to stand proudly in that moment than any other you faced in life.
And keep an eye out for the coyotes.
You’ve invited to connect with other writing by Christopher Cudworth