I was sitting on the back porch at the cabin, delighting in the sound of the hummingbirds that had just returned. They were zooming all around me, their tiny engines revved, when I saw two of them fighting in the air, locked in combat. These small, brazenly colored and feisty birds never fail to entrance me, but when they brought their fight to the ground, I was reminded that nature is not all cute and charming antics but can be a fight for survival.
One of the males was on top of the other (below), with its sharp beak pointed into the other’s head, while the other struggled to get free. This must have gone on for at least 10 minutes, enough time for me to make two separate trips to grab my binoculars and camera. Watching them close up, I was convinced the dominant one was going to kill the other one, and I could no longer watch the flailing, helpless body of the victim, so I left. But when I came back out about 10 minutes later, both had gone.
What likely had happened was some kind of battle over territory or females. When the stronger hummingbird subdued the weaker one, the strongly delivered message was something like: stay away from my territory and away from my female.
Later that afternoon, a friend and I were hiking on the Fern Lake trail in the park, next to the Big Thompson River, full with snowmelt. On our way back, across the creek I spotted what looked like a large white fern straddled against the tree. Then I saw a pile of bleached bones nearby and realized the fern was actually a rib cage dangling from the pine.
There’s a plausible explanation for this. After mountain lions kill their prey, they stash them in a place hidden from view and not easily accessible to other meat eaters—the branches of a tree work well. A deer is too much to eat at one time, so the cougar drags the carcass up to the higher branches and returns for several meals. When it’s sated itself, the birds and rodents descend, and when they’re done, the insects will eat what’s left, until finally what remains is just the stark white bones.
It all makes sense, and yet the sight of the dangling rib cage in the dark woods, next to the swiftly moving creek, is haunting, another example of how nature swiftly and heedlessly does what’s necessary to survive.
That night, I heard a coyote across the valley. It sounded like a young one yipping, alone, because no other coyotes echoed its cries. Maybe it was just the mood I was in, but I imagined that its parents had abandoned it or maybe been killed, and this youngster had to fend for itself.
Or maybe that cry just reflected the pain of a world that sometimes seems heartless and cruel.