knee-deep in the trash, the devil buried its nose in it and steadily crunched
away, occasionally clacking its teeth and making grunting, choking sounds.
After it had settled in, the other animals moved back, without showing much
concern for the living garbage Disposall in their midst. There followed an
interesting behavioral vignette. Why it occurred is inexplicable. Despite all
man's science and curiosity, the inner life of other bloods is more mysterious
to us than the workings of the solar system; professional jargon tends to
obscure facts, and we therefore describe things analogously, in anthropomorphic
terms. With this qualification, what appeared to occur at the garbage pile was
A stout possum
moved alongside the devil and turned to stare at it directly and deliberately.
It was as if a decent citizen had entered a rough bar purposely to outface a
notorious bully. The devil raised its big head until the noses of the two
animals were almost touching and stared back in a puzzled way, as if trying to
remember or figure out a formula for dealing with impudent possums. After
holding its ground for a minute or so, the possum was satisfied, or perhaps
grew bored with the confrontation, and moved off several feet and recommenced
feeding. The devil held the same position and continued to stare at the spot
where the possum had stood. Then, rather suddenly, it seemed to come up with
the answer to its problem, something to the effect of: "Ah yes, what I am
is a ferocious Tassie devil. I act savagely."
devil emitted a fairly savage squall, chomped its teeth and wheeled in a
staggering pivot toward the possum, which long before this awkward movement was
completed, leaped up onto a post. The other browsers did the same, swarming
into trees and bushes, whence they studied the devil, which stood shaking its
head dumbly. The incident suggested that the devil had some predatory
inclinations, of which the possums, wallabies and quolls were aware. But they
also seemed to recognize that the physical and intellectual limitations of the
beast made it not much more dangerous than a falling tree.
The devil began
feeding again, but after about 15 minutes stopped and abruptly lurched back
into the bush, from which, almost immediately, there issued thrashing and
caterwauling sounds. When they subsided, a second, larger devil emerged.
Perhaps because it had become habituated to humans by eating their garbage, or
because it didn't recognize or care what we were, or for reasons we wouldn't
recognize as reasons, it walked directly to Sam and me, sniffed our boots
slowly and then stared dully at our upper parts.
This animal may
have routed the smaller one we had seen, but there had obviously been other
battles in which it had been a loser, or only a Pyrrhic victor. One flank was
scored with a deep, partly healed, suppurating wound. It had lost an eye and
was left with a socket of knotted weeping scar tissue, which twisted its face
hideously. It wheezed. Its jaws hung open. Its muzzle was covered with mucous,
and its odor was rank.
this was an extremely satisfying animal, in part because it was a trophy
representing the successful conclusion to a considerable quest. The best thing
about it was that it was completely and convincingly another blood, known for a
brief moment more intimately than we thought we would ever in our lives know
one of its kind.
expressed theological observations ecologically and vice versa. He was of the
opinion that we seek other bloods not out of curiosity about their
what-hath-God-wrought peculiarities but because we have a desperate need to
know and recognize them as our peers and are delighted and comforted by
innocent association with other of God's creatures. Lewis thought that since
the Fall of Man we have been tempted and seduced by clever but fallacious
arguments that we have been set above the rules and rhythms of nature and
charged with dominating it. To the extent that we have accepted that
proposition—that man is the unnatural animal—we have been made the loneliest of
animals, confused about our origins and divorced from the company of our peers.
However, our persistent yearning for other bloods is evidence that we haven't
completely succumbed to hubris and that we continue to resist dangerous claims
about our superiority. Lewis' conception is an elegant, comprehensive statement
of the web-of-life, we-are-all-in-this-together thesis currently well thought
of nowadays by pop ecologists.
By and by, the
battered devil, finding us either unsavory or unfathomable, turned away and
satisfied its blood by scavenging garbage. Shivering in the midnight cold, we
watched until it had finished and departed, feeling, as questing beasts,
fulfilled in our blood.