When Compassion Kills (Caterpillars)
A charming encounter on a camping trip takes an unexpected turn
Early in the morning I found two vivid green caterpillars coiled into snug spirals clinging to the exterior mesh of my tent door. Punctuation marks in nature’s mysterious narrative.
It was my last day of camping. I had to remove them from my tent or else crush them to death in rolling it up, so I ate a small breakfast and took to gently prying them off my tent.
Their bright faces and humanlike expressions amazed me. I had no doubt their species’ name and full scientific dossier was available at the flick of an internet finger, but I didn’t want to know. Still don’t. This attitude is sacrilege in the Information Age, I know, but I like finding things in nature and not knowing what they are. I could probably write some poetic philosophical essay on why that is, but I really don’t care about that, either. Sacrilege upon sacrilege. That’s okay. Sometimes I just like to live.
Anyway, I placed the two caterpillars in the brush a few tent from my tent. I did so very carefully. I hid them in the shadows of a big leafy bush, wished them well, and went back to folding my tent.
A few minutes later a finch landed in my site. He hopped around the empty space outside my tent. I watched with amusement his frantic little head nods and spastic hops.
I turned my attention to wrapping up my sleeping bag. By the time I thought to check on the finch again he was already inside the bushes tossing a plump green caterpillar around in his beak.
My first instinct was to drive him off and rescue the insect. It was already too late for the other one (or perhaps in some fantasy we can say the other had found some avenue of escape; either way the creature was gone).
It wasn’t that I blamed the finch for finching. Animals eat animals. Life feeds on life. This is the way of things.
What bothered me was that this time I’d been the one to deliver the caterpillars to their terrible fates. The final death wasn’t quick, either. The caterpillar was huge for caterpillars and the finch was small for birds. He had to really work to get that poor little insect down his gullet.