Saturday, April 16, 2011

Reproductive fitness

We live out on the far west side of town. The ride home almost gives the illusion of living in the country; we pass through a sort of buffer zone of open space, part of which belongs to the local community college and is crisscrossed with trails on which we and our neighbors walk and run (as does the school's crosscountry team). Then there's Greasewood Park, belonging to the city or county, I forget which, also with numerous trails and a fine place to get some exercise. Behind the houses across the street from us the land drops down into a wide wash, one of many that interconnect and provide wildlife corridors, for coyotes like the one whose picture I posted a while back, bobcats, javelinas, and the quail, rabbits, and other small prey the predators thrive on. The desert is not empty or barren, it is a rich and diverse environment, and the reproductive fitness of those smaller creatures is essential to its health.  Even the reproductive fitness of the ants in the picture below--hundreds of them busily harvesting thousands of leaves which are somehow essential to their community's survival--matters to the larger natural world of which we are a part. All of which is my roundabout way of getting to today's April poem, based on a concept I learned about in a physical anthropology course a long time ago in a galaxy far far away.

Reproductive fitness, the professor called it,
meaning not that the parents were necessarily healthy,
but only that they produced large numbers of offspring,
many of whom would survive and do the same.
We see it in rabbits and mice, starlings and doves.

Joe bought a new stepladder, shiny metal,
yellow plastic on the steps and a shelf
of yellow plastic, left it set up in the garage
where last year the doves tried to build a nest
on the motor of the garage door opener.

One built a nest on the stepladder shelf,
a very tidy nest for a dove, of straw
stolen from the mulch around my snow peas,
and laid one perfect white egg in it.
I’m sure she would have laid more, given the chance.

Four nights ago, while I was in my study,
we heard a commotion I thought was outside
but Joe saw, through the bathroom window,
the neighbors’ white cat with the dove in its mouth,
strolling lazily toward the open gate.

Next morning the garage floor around the ladder
was littered with silver feathers, some
with black and white tips. Everything looked
astonishingly clean. There was no blood.
The ladder was unshaken, though we’d heard it shake.

I climbed up, looked in the nest, found the egg
undisturbed in its Rumpelstiltskin cradle. 
I climbed back down and left it there.

We will have to move the ladder soon, I suppose,
fold up the legs and shelf and throw away
nest and egg. It hadn’t been there long,
would have been just a yolk sac and small dot of chick,
and now it will be nothing.

Besides, there are lots more doves.
They define reproductive fitness, in spite
of cats and hawks and kids with BB guns.
We hear them every morning, 
gently waking the world with their sweet round voices,
soft music to lure us into the violent day.

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