Monday, 19 May 2008

the sound of a carnivore

After I'd been asleep for about an hour or so last night (that translates to about an hour before dawn, for those of you who aren't familiar with my sleeping habits) I was jarred awake by a horrible racket outside my window. It took me a moment to focus on what I was hearing and where it was coming from, but it quickly became clear that I was listening to at least two different animals having a violent encounter. The louder and more aggressive of the two distinct sounds was somewhere between a snort and a snarl, similar to the angry noises one of my cats used to make in the midst of a fight, only louder. The other cry sounded distressed, possibly fearful or maybe in pain.

Still somewhat groggy but with a heartbeat that pounded in response to the racket, I went outside to see if there was anything I could do - without initially considering whether it was my place to intervene. Snarls and cries became even louder as I stepped outside and approached the neighbour's tree. A large branch maybe 5 or 6 m up (this is a wild guess; I wasn't thinking in terms of distance at the time) shook violently right above my head. I thought about banging the tree trunk, but didn't think that would have any helpful effect. The leaves are already too thick for me to have seen who or what the struggle was all about, but I figured it had to be a couple of animals just doing their harsh natural thing... And then I also began to wonder whether I had any business getting involved.

Of course, it wasn't that easy to let the experience go, even if it was just a sound and a shaking branch. I can still imagine them both vividly, but even more vivid is the memory of my pounding heart and my distress. It reminds me of the lines in Wells's The Island of Doctor Moreau where Prendick admits that he is bothered not so much by the thought of a puma suffering vivisection at Moreau's hands but by the fact that he can hear the creature's pain. I am bothered by the thought that the crying animal was suffering last night, but it is my own emotional reaction, my imagining of its suffering that haunts me, and the emotion I imagined I heard in its voice. The sound itself, as I have no comparative reference for it, is already lost amidst a world full of other sounds...

Makes me wish I had been able to attend this conference (and been in two places at once):
Giving Voice to Other Beings.

And on a somewhat related note, recently I was sent a link to an article suggesting that starlings can tell when we're watching...

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