Who Adapts Well to Captivity?

The pangolin does not adapt well to captivity…

pangolin curled up
pangolin curled up

This from an NPR report yesterday on the endangered mammal species in Africa, which has all but been wiped out in Asia. This tiny animal, that looks like an artichoke and curls up into a ball when it’s frightened.

Who doesn’t?

What struck me, as I listened to this story, wasn’t the inhumanity of seeking to kill such a unique and precious animal for its scales, and then in China, for the you’ve-made-it status symbol to eat its flesh. No, it was that one sentence, the assertion that the pangolin does not adapt well to captivity.

And I began to wonder, does anyone? Any creature?

In our modern lives, we all endure a sort of captivity.

Perhaps we’re held hostage by bills and debt. Maybe it’s a sense of shoulds, expectations.

I believe that the progress of western society has cornered all of us into a de facto jail, where our aspirations, ambitions and desires keep us from truly enjoying the beauty of a simple life.

We must have the bigger house, the better car, a new car, that $400 dress. We must throw parties that are the envy of the neighborhood, join clubs where we will be seen, noticed.

We must run, and go, and do, because to just sit and enjoy, say, a book, or the way the light angles onto the back lawn, or the sounds of the birds in the trees or the neighbor mowing his lawn or the far-off traffic breezing past is just not enough. It’s not inspiring. It’s not what life is about.

Or is it?

The pangolin may not adapt well to captivity, so animal rights activists are trying valiantly to save it, make sure its species survives. That’s in a small part of the world.

In the rest of the world, no one even knows what a pangolin is. They don’t care if it lives or dies. It’s a species unrecognizable by the majority of us walking the planet.

So if people in China want to chop it up and eat it, we are not bothered. We cannot even relate to the conversation.

Unless we step back and consider for a minute that all of this world is a miracle creation. And every creature on it, every plant, every scene, is full of wonder and ecstasy. If that, then we cannot idly toss aside any species, any landscape, as non-essential.

Girl in boxI wonder why we race so much. Why our lives are filled with to-do lists and stacks of bills. Why we insist on running ahead of our hearts, instead of slowing to listen to the beat.

Last night, I sat in an 8-person hull and rowed in rhythm with my 7 compatriots on the Detroit River. We were rowing around the island of Belle Isle, clear around it, just to do it. The coxswain called the order of the pairs rowing, issuing us in and out so we didn’t tire too quickly.

On the Canada side of the island, the waters were choppy, with big swells of wake to throw us off course. Two immense freighters slipped benignly past, seeming to move so slowly but creating an immense wake in their path.

A man on a wave-runner grandstanded for all of us to see, throwing us off with his wake. It was as if he wanted to be seen, needed to be noticed. The river was wide, with plenty of room for all of us, but he rode close, then stopped to look our way.

A lone kayaker waited for us to pass and waved as we did.

At one point, we rowed at a 22 stroke per minute pace and my eyes blurred into the vision of the green-gray waters gleaming like jewels in the setting sunlight, and I breathed into each stroke as if it were my only one.

Rowing-000001092858_MediumThe man in front of me lost his count, fell off the rhythm. We chuckled together until he got back in time. I never caught a crab, but the continuous rowing for perhaps 5 miles of the 8-mile island perimeter had sweat trickling down my spine and my right arm sore from feathering.

I was so in the moment, and it was glorious. The water, the people, the fact of the boat, which was so perfectly sculpted to hold us all, as if cupped in a sacred palm.

Our coxswain called encouragement, shared information about the details of each stroke, taught us as he guided us onward. And at the end, tired in that good way, we were all glad we came.

To me, that is the glory of life. To be glad you came.

It doesn’t happen when you’re racing or running or envying the person next to you. It only happens when you care enough to hear the footsteps of the rabbit in the yard, and you allow the squirrels their curiosity around the garbage cans.

The pangolin does not adapt well to captivity. Big surprise. Neither do I.

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