Thursday, January 28, 2016

The Instinct for Survival (and the tale of two cats)

When the brown bear was charging, a million thoughts went through my head. Mostly, stay put. Do not run (Trust me, harder than it sounds! Every instinct said to run!). When I found myself lost in the talus, trying to find my way back to a goat trail, it was tempting to hurl  myself down the steep slope with abandon rather than carefully scan the landscape for where that trail would be and slowly inch over to it. When the mountain lion stalked my camp, the impulse to scream and run was overpowering. For some reason, I did the right thing. Luck, or survival instinct? The same impulse has turned me around from rivers that should not be crossed, snowfields that were unstable, or urged me forward in other times when things only looked threatening, but turned out not to be.

I've never been in a life or death situation (well, maybe the bear counts), where I had to rely on determination for hours or days to stay alive. Hopefully I never will be. But it fascinates me to read stories of survival, when others in the same boat (sometimes literally) gave up. Would I have that same will to survive? Would you?

Animals have more of a survival instinct than we do.

This is Scout. He is one and a half years old.




When Scout was so little he could barely walk, his eyes still blue, (probably 2 weeks old if that), the owner of the barn in which he was born found him crawling into the yard. She put him back in the barn (lots of barn cats live out their lives in this county. It's a tough life). She noticed he crawled out again. The third time, she realized something was wrong and investigated. There were five abandoned kittens, their mother having left them for an unknown reason.

Three kittens quickly died, despite her best efforts to feed them with an eyedropper. Scout and his brother responded and began to grow. We babysat both kittens, feeding them with a bottle and holding them in our laps for hours. Scout was definitely the most determined to live. His brother seemed less sure.


J feeding Scout...
And Puffin.

Eventually both kittens made it (you have to teach tiny kittens how to pee. Don't ask). I adopted the black and white one, now named Puffin. Scout lives happily with another friend. It's only because of Scout's will to survive that I now have one feisty cat who does things like chase deer out of the yard.

It makes me think. What would you do to stay alive? Would you be willing to take a big risk to save yourself and others? A man I worked for was mauled by a grizzly while on an outing. He said he saw husbands push their wives aside so they could climb higher in the tree. Everyone abandoned him to save themselves (he was a child and his parents were not there. To be fair, it sounds like it was chaos). When I worked for a short time on a recue helicopter, people ran the gamut. There were those that folded and others who were brave. Of course, we all hope we are the brave ones.

Puffin would have died if his brother hadn't had the will to survive. I think about that a lot. Hopefully none of us will ever be tested to a point where we have to find our inner steel, but it is something you take on when you go to the woods. May we all make good choices and live to roll around on the carpet another day.


A happy tuxedo.



17 comments:

  1. Awwww, I love a good kitty story. A+ Puffin, you're one quality dude. :)

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    1. I'm pretty fond of Puffin. Glad he made it. He's very entertaining

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  2. Wow, the story of your friend and the grizzly really gave me pause. I think we'd all like to think we'd be brave and selfless. I count myself lucky to have never been in a situation that forced me to choose.

    Puffin is so cute! I love his name :)

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  3. He got his name because he flies through the air like a bird and lands on my shoulder. It's an endless source of entertainment with him.

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  4. Flight or fight . . . it's an interesting instinct and one I think you have to decide upon and live by. I think flight is our automatic response, fight is trained and a conscious decision.

    I staged emergency preparedness drills at work on a quarterly basis. It was interesting to see who ran for the doors, abandoned their responsibilities, their coworkers, and the patients. Self preservation weights heavy.

    I've noticed my immediate reaction is panic followed instantaneously by calm. It gives me pause to think and react.

    I hope I'll behave appropriately when confronted with life and death danger but it'll take a lot of fight to make that flight instinct go away.

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    1. I was in an earthquake and some people froze, others ran, and still others took the time to pick up their purses. I panic also initially. I'm not sure I really get calm, but I do try to focus and not freak out.

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  5. Having just completed my Alaska boater/survival training in preparation for the boat trip I'm going on this weekend, the concept of 'will to survive' was emphasized. Giving up hope can be the deciding factor. And those who have a strong will to keep going can help others who may start to succumb. Like Scout with Puffin. Puffin sounds awesome.

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    1. Interesting, giving up hope. I hadn't thought of it that way. I don't know that I could cut off my arm with a leatherman for example. But you never really do know. Did you have to do the underwater escape training in the pool? Maybe that's just for floatplane travel.

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    2. Haven't had any situations in the wilderness to test how I would react but did while kayaking a river that we should never had been on at the time because it was at flood stage(dumb idea). There were so many strainers in the water and one caught me and flipped me and and my boat, no time to think that's when adrenalin took over. I was close to the bank and managed to grab hold of a overhanging tree branch and pull myself out. My husband was fighting to keep from flipping himself but managed to pin my boat against his as it came rolling toward him at a high rate of speed. He then was somehow able to paddle to the bank while towing my kayak with him. At that point I reached over the bank(it was about a 6 foot high bank) and grabbed hold of his boat and pulled him while in his boat while he was hanging onto my boat half way up the bank until I herd him yelling stop Kim stop, we are ok. Mind you our kayaks are 15 foot touring kayaks and weigh 60 pounds and S weighs 190. It did not even phase me at the moment all I was thinking about was getting him to safety. I guess that's what adrenalin can do and that's how I reacted.

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    3. Wow, that is quite a story. Have you read the book The Carry Home? Your story reminded me of that.

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    4. Carry Home was sad, but also courageous. One of those books that stay with you. Have you read Paddling North by Audrey Sutherland...before your time in SE Alaska but you would recognize most of the shoreline, waters, coves and camping places she writes about.

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  6. Hi Mary, quite a story there. I can't count the number of times I have been charged by bears in my 68 years. In that time I've had to drop two of them. The one thing I'm not sure of is going up against a Mountain Lion, seems they are not so easy to predict. Not sure I want to find out. Thanks for sharing.

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    1. That's stories I'd like to hear...well maybe not. I never really was sure if I could shoot a bear. I was afraid of just wounding one. Luckily never had to do it, but friends have.

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  7. Wow Mary, I just read a review on that book you mentioned, I think I will check it out. Probably will make me cry a lot but thank you very much, I'am going to check it out. I love most books about nature and wild places.

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  8. That's quite a story about your kitty. Glad it had a happy ending for your little guy.

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    1. I know, I tell him all the time how lucky he is. Not sure he understands though!

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