Tuesday, August 28, 2012
Lewis Donohew: It can be unsettling when confronted with role in nature’s cycle of life
While mowing the front pasture the other day, small birds—I think they were meadowlarks—started swooping past me and soon caught my attention. Why were they buzzing the tractor? When I realized what was happening I was startled out of the good feelings I was getting from seeing the freshly-cut fields. The birds were warning me they have nests in the field. Somewhere along the ground were as-yet unhatched eggs.
I climbed down from the tractor and walked around the area I had mowed, looking for remnants of destroyed nests, but I couldn’t find any. I walked ahead to the weedy spots and searched. Still no signs of nests.
Now I was confronted with a mean decision. Although the welcomed rains of July had renewed the pastures and given some of the corn a fighting chance, it had also revived the weeds to the point that they would have to be cut well ahead of our fall mowing in order for the cows to have better access to the grass. Also, some of the weeds carried burrs, which would be collected in the tails and around the ankles of the cattle. Especially not good as we approached the time of marketing.
Having found no nests—I was pretty sure they wouldn’t be underground—I made a decision which undoubtedly will be considered wrong by a number of our readers, while others will laugh and call me wimpy. So be it. I got back into the cab of the tractor and continued mowing.
The birds had been doing their very best to warn me there were nests in the field and I went against their warnings to provide greater protection for the cows and growing calves.
Mowing is one of the farm chores I enjoy most. It is pleasant to drive the new tractor with an air-conditioned cab, and there is a sense of accomplishment when I look out at the fresh-mown fields appearing swathe after swathe, although the bumpy ground made rough by the cows’ hoofs takes away some of the pleasure. Now the thought that I am undoubtedly destroying some of the nests takes away more.
I continued to think of the difficulties these birds faced in making nests on the ground, hiding them in densest weeds. (I later verified that in Stan Tekiela’s Birds of Kentucky.) There are many predators to eat or otherwise destroy them. Now I am one of those predators.
In nature, of course, at all levels there are those who destroy others in order to protect and feed themselves and their families. Coyotes have severely reduced the small animal population of the farm, especially rabbits and one small pet dog. In the wild, there is no mercy. Even among the cows, if one is lame or ailing, she gets pushed away from the feed trough to leave more for those that are healthy. It is little comfort to realize that I am part of that cycle.
Lewis Donohew retired from the University of Kentucky College of Communications in 1999 after nearly 35 years of service and having earned a national reputation as a communications scholar and researcher. Now down on his farm growing grapes and living close to the earth, he contemplates issues of the day from a lifetime of experience and a love of the land.