Doc Bushwell's Chimpanzee Refuge

Sunday, May 14, 2006

What? No Mother's Day card? Into the casserole you go!

Oh, the sweet tales of Peter Rabbit! I fondly recall reading Beatrix Potter's stories to my kids when they were small imps. Old Mrs. Rabbit patiently and lovingly tended to her baby bunnies, Flopsy, Mopsy, Cottontail and that young rascal, Peter. She was a model of motherly behavior which included the threat of disaster should her bunnies stray too far afield:

'Now, my dears,' said old Mrs. Rabbit one morning, 'you may go into the fields or down the lane, but don't go into Mr. McGregor's garden: your Father had an accident there; he was put in a pie by Mrs. McGregor.'

Then she said she was "going out." Flopsy, Mopsy and Cottontail remained in their assigned territory and dutifully gathered blackberries. But not the disobedient Peter. He was too tempted by Mr. McGregor's radishes so he defied his mother's orders with near dire consequences. Perhaps Old Mrs. Rabbit should have told Peter something to really put the fear into him. Had Peter led Mr. McGregor to their cozy burrow, and had the farmer prodded around the rabbit hole a bit, Mrs. Rabbit would have returned from her jaunt to the bakery and set to making hasenpfeffer out of her children as an accompaniment to her brown bread and currant buns. In the world outside of Beatrix Potter's anthropomorphized bunnies and pastel Lake District scenes, a mother rabbit will eat her own young if her nest is disturbed. Furthermore, Old Mrs. Rabbit spends most of her time "going out" and visits her nest to feed her bunnies by high pressure lactation for about 2 minutes a day.

It's little wonder that Peter is hiding under the covers. What, is that a spice mixture which Mrs. Rabbit is stirring in the cup?Mama animals, as warm and fuzzy as the concept of the loyal, saintly, self-sacrificing mother might be, can be a ruthlessly practical lot. Check out One Thing They Aren't: Maternal by Natalie Angier and published in the NYT, 05/09/2006.

Oh, mothers! Dear noble, selfless, tender and ferocious defenders of progeny all across nature's phylogeny: How well you deserve our admiration as Mother's Day draws near, and how photogenically you grace the greeting cards that we thrifty offspring will send in lieu of a proper gift.

Here is a mother guinea hen, trailed by a dozen cotton-ball chicks. Here a mother panda and a baby panda share a stalk of bamboo, while over there, a great black eagle dam carries food to her waiting young. We love you, Mom, you're our port in the storm. You alone help clip Mother Nature's bloodstained claws.

But wait. That guinea hen is walking awfully fast. In fact, her brood cannot quite keep up with her, and by the end of the day, whoops, only two chicks still straggle behind. And the mama panda, did she not give birth to twins? So why did just one little panda emerge from her den? As for the African black eagle, her nest is less a Hallmark poem than an Edgar Allan Poe. The mother has gathered prey in abundance, and has hyrax carcasses to spare. Yet she feeds only one of her two eaglets, then stands by looking bored as the fattened bird repeatedly pecks its starving sibling to death.

You get the picture. Motherhood in Nature is not a sentimental Hallmark greeting card. Although my adolescents rest assured that I will not selectively starve one over the other, and they know they will not end up as a roast or stew, they don't call me "Winged Harpy Mom" for nothing.


Post a Comment

<< Home