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Symbiotic

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The animal kingdom is just that-- a kingdom. Mother Nature wove the lives of her children together so tightly that her kingdom’s hierarchy is inescapable. Each creature’s movements seem set in stone. Mother Nature, after all, is always watching, ensures that there is always balance.

Deep in the sea, clownfish dart in and out of the sea anemone-- flashes of white and orange breaking up blue-green tendrils swaying in the water. To most fish, the tentacles are poisonous. But to the clownfish, gifted with a unique skin coating, it is simply home. To the butterflyfish, however, the anemone is a tasty treat. When a school of butterflyfish approach, the clownfish emerge. A flurry of color-- and the yellow fish retreat. Satisfied, the clownfish swim back into the anemone’s welcoming embrace. The tentacles caress the fish in a silent thank you. The clownfish thinks nothing of it-- time and time again, the anemone’s poisonous tentacles have scared away the clownfish’s enemies. That is the way it has always been; that is the way it will always be. They are two unlike creatures living in perfect harmony, each totally dependent on the other. This is Mother Nature marrying two of her creations so they will never have to be alone. This is mutualism.

Out of the water and onto the earth-- In the great plains, livestock roam. They plod slowly through the grass. As each hoof connects with the ground, a flurry of insects fly into the air, trying to remove themselves from danger. But the Cattle Egret has been patiently waiting for this moment. The long-limbed white bird swoops in and snatches up the fleeing bugs until its hunger has been satiated. The cattle look on disinterestedly. As long as the bird doesn’t get tangled underfoot, there is no quarrel between the two species. That is the way it has always been; that is the way it will always be. One animal needs the other to get by. This is Mother Nature demanding that the stronger of her children be kind and allow his younger sibling to tag along. This is commensalism.

In a place not so far from these cattle, a dog rolls frantically in the grass, trying to alleviate the itch in its back. Eventually, he gives up, and resumes chasing his tail. The dog can’t know that there is a flea buried in the folds of his skin. The flea unapologetically sinks its teeth into its host. As it laps up the blood, the flea considers how lucky it is-- it has a never-ending food source and a warm, safe home to call its own. Whether or not the flea realizes the pain that it is causing its host is inconsequential. That is the way it has always been; that is the way it will always be. One animal abuses the other because that is the only way the parasite knows how to survive. This is Mother Nature nodding her head sadly, for she knows that she cannot change the nature of her children. This is parasitism.

Yet across the way, in a place tainted by people, nothing seems right. Mother Nature cannot quite figure out what right actually is. She watches as man spills his brother’s blood and recoils as it seeps into the ground. It tastes of anger, and it disgusts her. Yet in the same moment, she is aware of joyful humming mixing in with her birds’ songs. She watches a young man, a smile plastered on his face. That woman, there, she must have said something to him. Her face is blank-- she has already forgotten the interaction. He clearly has not. And now, Mother Nature waits anxiously to see if these humans are capable of honest compassion and cooperation. Try as she might, she cannot force these creatures to feel anything they do not choose to. Has it always been this way? Will it? Mother Nature cannot understand how this is humanity.




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