Blowin’ In: Ruby: A Parable
By Susan Mangan
Sunlight dipped like foam atop an undulating tide across the rocky hills and heathered pastures of County Mayo. Stone appeared textured like fawn colored velvet. Deep greens lightened to mint beneath the dappled gloaming of early July.
Changing light mystifies the beholder into believing that that which is unyielding is supple, that which is hard is soft. With this rare scene playing out before me, I stood alone in a farmhouse kitchen cooking pasta and homemade tomato sauce. The irony of this vision did not escape me.
This poignant Irish memory involved penne rather than potatoes and Vivaldi on my laptop rather than Christie Moore on the radio. No matter, it is the peace that I recall – the quiet of the house, empty, except for the company of my daughter.
Yeats reflects on the fleeting quality of contentment in The Lake Isle of Innisfree: “And I shall have some peace there, for peace comes dropping slow.” At that moment of seeming harmony, I could only hear the baying of lambs and the soft weeping of my daughter as she stood by my side watching an orphaned lamb who was blind and deaf being bullied by another strong-willed lamb who didn’t quite have patience for her differences.
Now, the lamb may have been unlike the others in her flock, but she was steadfast whereas others were skittish. She was loyal to the farmer’s hand who fed her and the human hearts who adopted her when her mother died at birth. This lamb had a name. To the humans her cared for her, she was Ruby, a fitting name for a gem of a lamb who unknowingly wedged her way into the hearts of many.
At dawn and dusk, you saw Ruby waiting patiently at the fence, at first for her bottle, and then for her feed. Ruby was a good friend to those lambs who recognized her playful spirit. The lambs would play on the small hillocks that rose in the fields. If they were human, they would cry, “King of the Mountain!” Ruby would surely call out, “Queen of the Mountain!” And so, the game among the lambs would progress in harmony, until one lamb would become frustrated at the benign game and switch the tides until aggression and jealousy reigned.
Survival of the Fittest
By rule, there is a practical order to nature. Alpha animals lead, while the others follow behind. Darwin discusses the survival of creatures great and small in his work “On the Origin of the Species.” Oftentimes people mistake the definition of natural selection with the coined term survival of the fittest. We have come to understand that to survive, a species must be the strongest, the fittest, and in our human world, the most beautiful, the richest, the most influential. Scholars argue that this understanding is incorrect. Darwin meant to explain that creatures survive through adaptation to their environments. They develop survival tactics and physical traits that help to ensure their existence.
On a base level, animals such as the Arctic hare or polar fox are white to blend into their snowy environment, protected from predators. In the absence of fur, humans must rely on scarves and woolen hats, but in life there is more to survival than warmth and safety.
I have witnessed an army of robins chasing off a crow from the vulnerable body of a newly hatched chick. I have watched a cow nurse a calf who was rejected by its birth mother. Arguably, animals do possess a need for comfort, an affinity for companionship, a call to nurture.
Calling for Conformism
In this way, creatures of feather and fur are not unlike humans. If theory is applied to reality, emotional need is a necessary consideration. As humans, we realize that we must fit in to live, we must reach out to others to survive, but how do we do this while still retaining our integrity during trying times, our unique qualities when scorned, our individual curiosities, and at times eccentricities which make us special, when society is calling for conformism?
It is here that I look to nature. I admire those birds and cows who accept others into their folds and fight for their well-being. Mostly, I remember Ruby. I can hear the charm of her baying, off pitch and not quite in rhythm with the other lambs.
I recall her blindly stumbling in play while the kindest and most patient lambs would wait for her by the hillocks, or cautiously step in her way when she needed protection from the steely bars of the chain-linked fence. Above all, I remember the way the play ended on that Irish twilight in early July. A trio of handsome lambs surrounded the frightened Ruby and butted the bully away with their newly burgeoning horns.
As the sun began its slow descent, my daughter’s tears slowed. Quietly, we watched the lambs accompany Ruby, gently and companionably to safer pastures covered in the softest heather.
*On-line Source Consulted: Darwin Correspondence Project: Survival of the Fittest. University of Cambridge.
*Susan holds a Master’s Degree in English from John Carroll University and a Master’s Degree in Education from Baldwin-Wallace University. She may be contacted at su*******@ya***.com.