A Three-Week Inquiry into the Predator-Prey Relationship

The moment Homey introduced himself, I knew this was going to be one of those phone calls. “Look,” he said, “I have an idea for something you should write about – or maybe revisit, if my dad is right.” Once we got a bit centered, he explained. “We have been talking with our son and daughter – 11 and 13 – about bullying and abuse and violence and all those things we tell each other to talk with our kids about, and how to respond or not respond, and who to talk to if there’s trouble, and all that business. They’re great kids and there’s just so much we want them to know. At some point, my dad said ‘Well, we are all outdoor and wildlife nuts, maybe you should help them understand how the natural world of predators and prey works. Might help them with their own decisions.’ Then he said that, like maybe 15 or 20 years ago, you and that bird whisperer woman, Deborah, wrote something that he used when he was talking with me and my brothers. Do you think you guys might do something like that again?”

I told him I would think about it. As I did, I realized that, with the #metoo movement, the news and media filled with stories, advice and whatever, the subject of the predator-prey relationship is as relevant now – if not more so – than it was in when we first discussed this in 2003. I called Deborah Essman, and a couple others who concurred with our (and Homey’s) thinking. Thus, for this week and two more, we shall consider the predator-prey relationship.

Somehow, nearly three decades ago, I stumbled across the summer 1991 issue of “Parabola – The Magazine of Myth and Tradition.” Still published quarterly – each issue on some particular topic – Parabola ( is currently using the byline “The Search for Meaning.” At any rate, the issue I found was titled “The Hunter.” The 100-plus pages of 20 ancient and new writings on my favorite activity were delicious. Two of the writings, however, haunted me.

As a kid, I wondered about robins eating worms, people eating animals, and critters eating other critters. I’ve spent days of my life watching coyotes and cats catch and play with food. Often, when hunting (being a predator) I have found myself deep in thought about the relationships involved. At odd moments throughout my life, I have pondered the intricacies of this prey-predator relationship. Deborah and Bill Essman and countless others have, as well.

It is not just about wildlife, either. We’ve seen the TV dramas. We’ve watched abusers and sexual predators talk about how they recognize a victim – prey – the moment they see him or her. I coached my young sons and daughters on important, related, life skills, teaching them to carefully observe their surroundings, to pay attention to how they were moving and interacting in public, finding options if something seemed “off,” and so forth. I always acknowledged that there are, indeed, a few evil people in the world so focused on their intentions that no amount of preparation could protect their prey. “If somehow you become a victim, don’t waste time blaming yourself,” I would tell them, “focus on being a survivor.”

The two Parabola articles to which I alluded, above, were about the truth lived by predators and their natural prey – animals and beings with an innate understanding of their roles on the planet. The authors had thoughts, also, about humans and the sacred understanding of such relationships.

The first article in that summer issue was “The Never-Ceasing Dance,” by Martha Heyneman. Martha wrote of being in struggle dressing an unruly toddler when a flurry of red and a streak of white suddenly caught her eye…

“Across the hall is the baby’s room, and in it the diapering table – turquoise blue. A low beam of morning sunshine lies across the table and illuminates the stacks of neatly folded diapers so they give off a vaporous white light. Against this background and in this light an astonishing drama is being enacted.

“A strange white cat has got in through the small door in the basement through which our own cats come and go at will. The flurry of red was a young male cardinal. He has taken refuge on the turquoise table, and now the cat has leapt up heavily and joined him. They are face to face, inches apart, looking into each other’s eyes. Neither one moves.

“Never have I witnessed, as I am witnessing now, the moment before the kill. The two are unaware of my presence. I feel like a country bumpkin who has stumbled into the sacred precinct of a great mystery. In the brilliant light the white cat and the red bird on the turquoise table are like a pair of flamenco dancers when the spotlight suddenly flashes on to reveal them motionless in its cone of swirling smoke, eye to eye, he erect and defiant in a red dress, she in a skin-tight white suit, taut as a coiled snake ready to strike, the air around them full of the accelerating rattle of castanets…

To be continued…

Written by Jim Huckabay. Posted in Uncategorized

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