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It’s the Month of May and Everybody’s Hungry, Ward reviews Alan Eckert’s Wild Season.Think you could feel sympathy for an eight-foot bull snake that eats other animal’s babies? How about a grain seed that gets eaten and defecated and sprouts anyway and gets eaten again? If you don’t think you could, then let me recommend Alan Eckert’s Wild Season. The book was originally published in 1967 and became something of a must-read amongst the Boy’s Life crowd. It’s out of print now and too bad, although I wonder whether or not boys today would appreciate the book the way boys did back in the 60s.What Eckert does, he follows the animals, one to another, the former generally going into the mouth of the latter. What you get from Wild Season is a sense of timelessness. The year doesn’t matter, the month does. It’s May and in May, everybody has babies to feed.It’s a simple book, written in simple language. It’s what happens in and around a lake in a month’s time and there’s a lot happening. May explodes with new life, all those hatching babies. It’s not so much eat or be eaten as it is eat and be eaten. It’s the chain of life and Mr. Eckert doesn’t sugarcoat the harshness of nature. The message, the key to survival, is vigilance (although oftentimes vigilance isn’t enough.) Be alert, be prepared, learn from your experiences, do everything correctly and maybe, just maybe you’ll live long enough to become a procreating adult, which is, after all, the reason you were born. More likely you’ll die so some other animal might live.All the animals (and plants and insects) have certain intrinsic advantages, all exist on different rungs of the hierarchical ladder.Take, for instance, the snapping turtle. He’s vulnerable when hatched. He’s tiny and with a soft shell and if he can somehow get to maturity, he becomes too big to any longer duck inside his shell when danger threatens. Size as a disadvantage? Not quite. Once he outgrows the protection of the shell, the shell is superfluous. As big and mean (and quick, not to be confused with fast,) as the snapping turtle is, there’s few who’ll mess with him. Better to be big enough to not be able to get inside a shell than to be small enough to need its protective covering.A female snapping turtle can live to be eighty years old and can lay ten to thirty eggs per year. Do the math and we should be overwhelmed with snapping turtles. Except we aren’t. In the few years it takes for the little snapper to become a big snapper, danger abounds. The mother buries the eggs a short distance away from the water and along comes a raccoon, sniffing, and locating the eggs and eating them, all of them in one sitting. Or the little guys hatch and make a break for the pond and in the sprint to the water, many get eaten by birds or snakes or even by mom, before they get there. Or they reach the safety of the water and get eaten by a fish or a mature bullfrog.The bullfrog may be the most repulsive character in the book. He’s an eating machine who swallows his prey alive, stuffing it into his mouth with two hands and ignoring its struggles while he’s eating and ignoring it’s struggles afterward too, when it’s in the frog’s stomach, getting juiced. The bull snake at least constricts its prey before swallowing it, most times, anyway. The bullfrog is prey too and when he finally gets it, you might be thinking he deserves it, after having swallowed all those cute little baby turtles. But nobody deserves to die or doesn’t deserve to die. They just die. It’s how it is.The most pitiable character is the rabbit. He has no protective shell and no hope of one day growing so large his enemies shrink away from him and although he’s not without defenses, he’s food. While most mammals in the wild have a litter or two in the spring, the female rabbit has litters year round, every thirty or so days. This prolific procreation is nature’s way of maintaining the rabbits, a popular species indeed, and if you don’t believe me, just ask the fox or the owl.At the top of the food chain is Man, sometimes wise, usually foolish. Ironic, Man alone has the ability to think and yet he so often doesn’t. That bull snake comes along to rid the farm of rats. The snake doesn’t intend to do Man a favor, it just wants to eat, and dinner is in the woodpile. As soon as all the rats are devoured, the snake will go on his way. Same with the owl. He’s not after the rabbits kept in the hutch for a man’s dinner, although he’d take them, given the opportunity. Shoot the owl and the rats rejoice. (Although we don’t see them rejoicing. There’s no anthropomorphism going on here.) Don’t shoot the owl and keep a fence around and above the rabbits and the owl gets the rats before the rats get the baby rabbits. It’s all so simple and logical yet most men insist on going after the snake and the owl with shotguns and with weapons that aren’t intended to be weapons, like pitchforks and cars.In the natural world of Alan Eckert, wild animals are capable of learning. Maybe not thinking but learning and if there’s a hazy area between thought and instinct, Eckert has found it here. The bass that knows where there might be food because there’s been food there before, the raccoon whose instinct has him sniffing the ground but whose experience tells him what ground to sniff.There’s no resting in the unforgiving natural environment. There’s no relaxing of the senses and the more vulnerable the creature, the more crucial the vigilance. A mature snapping turtle, sometimes exceeding sixty pounds, can maybe afford to rest his senses as he dozes in the mud, same for the owl, pressed against a tree, the bark of which uncannily resembles the owl, but for the more vulnerable creatures there’s little respite. You snooze you lose. Sleep mostly comes in short snatches, food too; rush out, swallow, retreat, or rush out, retreat and swallow. How comforting the autumn hibernation must be, the thought of digging down into the mud where nobody can find you and staying there, safely asleep, for months until spring comes around again. But, wait, animals don’t have thoughts, do they?

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