Why do dogs chase sticks?

Sitting on the beach at Fairy Lake, Diana and I watched a pair of otter, hunting in an area where a fish had jumped some moments earlier. As we watched, a third otter made a beeline for the same zone.

That got us thinking about the remarkable intelligence and resilience of nature, and how quick we human beings are to underestimate the other animals that share this planet.

The evening before, for instance, we spotted a young crow rustling about in the underbrush near our campsite. Later we discovered it had an injured wing, and couldn’t fly. So it was foraging on the forest floor.

A few days earlier we had watched a Facebook post about a rescued dog, which was found starved, cold and dying, abandoned to a miserable fate. A few months later that same dog was running about, playing joyfully with its adoptive family and others of its kind, oblivious to the fact that it was minus a leg and had so recently suffered such a severe trauma.

Observation, memory and experience converged as we sipped our morning coffees, our lawn-chairs parked on the beach as if we were watching a spectacular drive-in movie. A sense of wonder blossomed as the sun rose, and Diana said suddenly: “Animals never ask why; they only want to know how.”

Both of us were amazed at the obvious and profound implications of her remark.

A dog that has lost its leg doesn’t ask why that happened, why the world is so cruel and unfair. It simply gets on with its three-legged life as quickly and best it can. A crow that has broken its wing doesn’t trouble itself with questions about why, it simply gets on with the business of feeding itself and avoiding predators without flying.

We humans are forever asking why. Why is nature so harsh? Why don’t I have as much or more than my neighbour? Why am I sick? Why must I die?

How we answer those questions – those QUESTions – determines to a large degree the fate of our earth.

Of course, we also ask questions like, Why do rocks fall the way they do? Why does the sun rise each morning? Why does metal expand when heated? Why do people get cancer; and once we’ve answered that, why do cancer cells mutate the way they do? Why must we die? Why can’t I fly like a bird, run like a dog, or swim like an otter?

All of which makes us look intently and minutely into the how of things.