Cheetah vs. the snail

By: Tricia Caspers / For the Auburn Journal
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   Jaguars, bengals, panthers, lions, raptors, grizzlies, hornets — do we love our predators, or what?
   If team mascots are any indication, yes, we do.
   It makes sense. As humans — with our big ol’ brains, fancy thumbs, and forward eyes — we’re at the top of the food pyramid, so it’s natural that we celebrate the predators who are closest and most like us on that high peak: Fast, keen, stealthy.
   Think of the cheetah in the nature documentary; its long striding sprint across the savanna, its golden coat gleaming in the dusk light. We appreciate every lithe muscle as it leaps for that sad, slow gazelle. 
   My friend tells me there are places in the Northwest where folks head into the mountains before daybreak, bag Bambi, strap him to the roof and drive to the local tavern to compare the day’s haul with other hunters.
   We love human predators, too.
   OK, I can’t really see myself drinking a brew over a deer carcass, but I would happily eat a smoked Bambi, so I don’t begrudge a hunter. 
   We don’t really draw the line at humans hunting animals, as we are equally — or possibly more — fascinated with the idea of humans as predators of other humans, as long as the hunted are considered bad people.
   Detective shows, Westerns, 500 versions of Call of Duty — we have a plethora of evidence to show that we are fans of predatory humans, and I don’t exclude myself. I very much enjoyed watching Charlize Theron kick some tushie as a predator in “Atomic Blonde.”
   Do we draw the line at the idea of humans as predators of good humans?
   I mean, obviously, we hate that.
   But we’re also weirdly fascinated by it, as long as it’s not any human we know.
   That message is mixed for sure.
   It’s kind of like if, as a child, my parents told me not to kick the dog (to be clear, we didn’t have a dog) but then every day we watched movies about people kicking dogs, we read books about dog kickers, and every time a notorious dog kicker died, we were inundated with photos of him and headlines about his passing.
   I may, for want of attention, consider kicking the dog.
   No, I would never kick the dog, but you get my point.
   These thoughts aren’t new, of course; we’ve thought them all before. Though, it occurs to me now that the difference between a good predator and a bad predator is only our perception of the prey — or victim — as good or bad.
   Clearly, Americans have a hard time agreeing on who’s good and who’s bad.
   Also, we live in a country founded on the way-back Puritan belief that God favors those who are most pious by showering them with wealth.
   Does that mean that in our ancestral hearts some of us believe that rich victims are good? Poor victims are bad?
   I’m getting into some complicated territory here, and I don’t have a neat answer — only more questions.
   Here are a couple of them: What if we thought of ourselves as living in a food web, instead of a pyramid, placed nowhere special, just as dependent on every other species as they are on us.
   Wait. Are they dependent on us?
   In any case what if we, like the poets, took time to praise the less glamorous, less deadly creatures. The snail, for example, can lift 10 times its body weight. It has both male and female reproductive organs, and its mucus is used to combat wrinkles.
   “He/ moves in a wood of desire// pale antlers barely stirring/ as he hunts,” Thom Gunn wrote in his 1961 poem, “Considering the Snail.”
   And in his praise, even the gastropod becomes a predator.
   Ah, well, I suppose a garden cucumber is another kind of prey.
   Tricia Caspers is an award-winning poet and journalist. She may be reached at