All my life I have spent time with animals: dogs, cats, goats, donkeys, rabbits, guinea pigs, hamsters, lovebirds, budgies, chickens, ducks, lizards, frogs, fish. But I have never really been in the position to spend time as I do now, and it has been so rewarding. With pets we take on the responsibility of feeding, cleaning, caring. We do chores around them, we pet them, we interact with them. We are predators making predatory gestures and actions in their environment. While we are not being aggressive, we are in authority and controling the lives of our animals. And the animals I have spent most time with have been dogs and cats: other predators.
Predators have a gloriously relaxed relaxation: we lounge, we are lazy (with full bellies), we snooze. If something catches our attention we spring into predator style behaviours: we confront, we appear aggressive or at least appear strong and confident. When the moment passes we relax back into our unconcious selves.
Not so prey. I've taken to sitting on the steps by the chicken run while the chooks free range - they don't go far staying within about 40 feet of the run in all directions. So I can see them and them me. We like each other and chooks will come by for some lap time or just to sit beside me on a step. The run sits in an orchard with several varieties of fruit trees around and normally something is in season, so there is fruit on the ground. We have a good population of agoutis and so an agouti or two will arrive to eat the fallen fruit. Agoutis sit on their haunches to eat, holding the fruit with their front paws like squirrels. They come close to within about 15 feet of me. There are wild birds that come close too. (Sometimes I feel like Snow White in the Disney version sitting with all the forest animals - if only I could sing . . . )
It was sitting like this one day when I realized how very different it felt. Everyone was relaxed, eating or haven eaten, but the relaxation was full of presence. Not fear, not anxiety, but presence. If a branch fell or a bird higher in the trees dropped some fruit or a vulture passed overhead - everyone noted and reacted, but no one squawked or bolted. There was an instant of awareness and a split second of decision then they went back to resting or relaxing. It was never lazy, or confident or indulgent. It was acute awareness within calmness. And it was really wonderful. It was like those moments in meditation that meditators get really excited about. (Of course not really because then it wouldn't be meditation :) ) Except it wasn't just a moment.
We have a couple of hawks with regular perches close by: the chickens are all too big I think, but the smallest silkie is just a little smaller than the hawk and bright white. The hawks are really vocal and call back and forth to each other, so there's no secret to their whereabouts. One day someone gave a warning cry and the smallest white silkie - Madame Twankey - took off straight into the long grass and crouched down. She was the only one to do so. It was a false alarm and everyone returned to their business, though Madame Twankey had to be called back out of her hiding spot. Was the alarm call addressed to her, or does she actually really know she's the only one in possible danger (her attitude in the coop seems to indicate she thinks she's just as big as the rest)?