Tuesday, June 15, 2010

From the Archive: On Seeing a Bunny In the Road

Overwhelmed by a hectic professional/personal schedule, and all but entirely cut off from the world of current events this week, Pankin has decided to reach back into his past and post an unpublished aphorism from his college days rather than craft a new blog entry. Enjoy!

10/4/07

As I was walking home one night, I spotted a bunny sitting just off the path. Instantly I froze. Not from fear of the bunny by any means; it’s just that we so rarely come into contact with any wild animals nowadays that I wanted to take stock of my situation.

Encountering a bunny is somewhat different than encountering a squirrel. Squirrels have been so domesticated without actively ever having been domesticated that at this point in their evolution they’re barely worth noticing. They’re so used to our company that our interactions with them have become almost formulaic. They run around in broad daylight, seemingly heedless of people, but if you so much as look at them the wrong way, they bolt in the opposite direction.

Bunnies are quite different. They aren’t around all the time, and when they are it’s only at night or when they’re well hidden. This suggests that they’ve retained some of the instincts that squirrels have lost through living in such close proximity to humans for so many generations. Thus the latent naturalist in us (or at least in those of us who care) wants to see how much of our natural instinctive relationship with the bunny still exists.

This is why we freeze. It’s a way of pausing the part of our brains that has been developed for human interactions, throwing off the burdens of society (just for a moment), and seeing what form our relationship with nature will take. In other words, we pause to see how we will choose to approach the bunny. For as soon as we see the bunny, we know that we will approach it - that much is inevitable. There are two fundamental forms that our approach can take; there may in fact be many more, but these are the two that I’ve noticed: the Hunter or the Druid.

The hunter’s relationship with the bunny is obvious enough: he wishes to see whether his natural instincts to stalk prey have remained to him. He freezes as an attempt to disappear (at least to the bunny), to become invisible against the backdrop of his environment and remain undetected by his prey. His first step is stealthy, tense. He tries to make as little noise as possible, but it is not only noise that concerns him. He wants to in a sense shrink his very essence: the less of him there is, the less likely he is to be detected. Thus this set of primal instincts takes over.

The druid’s relationship with the bunny is not one of stealth and deception, but of acceptance and harmony. Re-forging our bonds with nature does not have to directly reflect the food chain; it can take a harmonic character as well. The druid wishes to become not just “friends” with the bunny, but to become part of the bunny’s system of operation. Thus the druid freezes in an attempt to become part of her environment, to “become one with nature,” as the hippies or Shintoists might say. The rationale being that if she can appear totally comfortable in nature, not at all out of place, the bunny in a sense will not even perceive her as other and thus has no reason to be scared of her. Free and relaxed, she can now approach the bunny in peace.

Both outlooks, druid and hunter, are in a sense roles taken on by the observer in order to aid in getting as close as possible to the bunny. And both eventually lead to the same result: you take two or three steps without being noticed (or so you think), but suddenly the bunny takes a small hop away from you. You freeze again, worried that you’re either not stealthy enough (hunter) or not relaxed enough (druid), and you take a few moments to compose yourself. After one or two more steps towards the bunny, it takes another little hippity-hop away from you. You freeze again, and the process continues until you lose patience and either turn and walk away or take a lunge at the bunny. In the latter case, the bunny will take off running – not just hopping, but running so fast that it makes you wonder why you ever thought you had a chance to catch it in the first place.

From immediately reflecting on the thought process that went through my head during this ordeal, I lamented the degenerate state of our relationship with nature, but at the same time felt optimistic about the instincts that (I believe) most of us experience when we see an animal like this. I was determined to work towards gaining more self-understanding and inner peace, so that next time I had the opportunity to approach a bunny, I would be able to do so from a more prepared and accepting standpoint.

All this was going through my head as I continued walking home, when I spotted another animal, a skunk, and froze for an entirely different reason. After taking stock of my situation (for about half-a-second), I firmly decided not to test my oneness with nature in this particular situation, turned tail and took a wide berth of the striped beast. Sometimes reflection on your instincts and thought processes can provide you with great insight and understanding… but other times, all you stand to gain from such hesitation is a strong spray from a pair of anal scent glands.