Beastly beatitudes

Issue 4/2001 | Archives online, Fiction, Prose

From Hämärä luonto. Aamunkoista Yön tuhmaan lintuun (niiden käyttäytymysestä ja elämästä yleensä) (’Natura Obscura. From the Moth of Dawn to the Naughty Bird of Night. On their behavior and life in general’, Tammi, 2001. Illustrations by Tatu Tuominen)

Anas cummea

Rubber duck

There are three species living on Earth which, it can be assumed, will survive a possible nuclear catastrophe: the cockroach, the rat and the rubber duck. Of these, the rubber duck is perhaps the most durable. Nothing affects it.

As soon as it emerges from the shell, the rubber duck secretes around its down an insulating layer of gum elastic for it cannot survive among bacteria or other non-mathematical creatures. Here begins the journey toward perfect self-sufficiency.

When young, the rubber duck looks at the world from behind its transparent membrane, protected from causes of disease, bad influences and modern poetry. With age, the rubber layer strengthens and becomes cartilaginous. Finally, the rubber duck lives alone in its own microcosmos, where there are no inter-species competition, nest-usurpers or elephant seals that mishandle their young. On the other hand, it has no room, either, for sunsets, litters of furry soft toys, or the lusty touch of lovers.

Sometimes the rubber duck finds itself in an existential panic: is there anyone, anything, outside the insulating layer? And does it itself exist? Who is speaking? Wrapped up in these thoughts, it reels around, bouncing from one bath to another, one season to the next.

Anas latrinae

Toilet duck

This courageous, long-necked species is, in a word, a long way from the ugly duckling. The history of its birth is exceptional. One W. Chisney spent his childhood in the poor backwoods of Utah, chained to a drainage pipe. His only company was a flock of ducks; in passing the time with them, he somehow managed to dull the population to form an entirely new species.

The value of toilet ducks as companion animals may have been self-evident to Mr Chisney, but today the ducks are cultivated essentially as fish-food. Their miserable unhygienic cages and their dull, submissive gaze have melted the hearts of many animal-lovers and infuriated activists throughout the world. Freedom strikes have caused modest economic losses and deep consternation.

Liberated toilet ducks fare badly in the wild. Their wings do not carry particularly well, and in other senses, too, they feel themselves to be less than useful. Running to and fro at the mercy of nature, the ducks seldom encounter other members of their species, which makes mating almost impossible. Instead, their sickly smell entices the wrong species to attack them. Their enemies also include human beings walking in the wild, who do not like to hear their repellent gargling, and may even kick them.

Canis caudus

Hot dog

This close relative of the Andalusian dog (chien andalou, Canis baeticus) is known to descend from the ship’s dog, which smugglers wanted, in one way or another, to get rid of. Today it can be found wandering along the dark alleys of large cities, rattling chains of sausages, or, for example, at big sporting events, where it can move, protected by the crowds, without being spotted by the municipal dog-catcher. It is like a cat on a hot tin roof, except that it is a dog.

The oval body of the hot dog recalls the legless sausage-dog Rollo. With the aid of its stunted prehensile limbs, it drags itself, fire under its tail, along the filthy asphalt. The hot dog’s coat has generally been burned to a cinder, and to its unpleasantly sticky skin adhere the various bits of litter and pieces of paper in which it curls up at night in order to preserve its body warmth. Sometimes some absentminded or tender-hearted person offers the dog a place for the night on the kitchen floor, but it does not stay long in human habitation; instead, it goes on its way quickly. Attempts to tame this street-‘walker’ to be a lapdog are doomed; if you hug it, its innards are inclined to squeeze out at both ends, and at the very least it will spray its yellowish excreta over your white shirt.

Some scholars believe that the hot dog is distantly related to the mythical Store Klaus, which is the suspected cause of the unexplained disappearance of tourists in various parts of Denmark over centuries. Most of us have indeed become accustomed to avoiding the animal’s company: there is something rotten about it. If, as you walk along a side street late at night, you hear the enticing whine of the hot dog, you should know that most individuals are carriers of listeriosis or mad cow disease.

Lapus electronicus

Electric hare

Bang! The electric hare hurtles out of its hole and disappears from the watcher’s view as fast as it appeared. And no wonder, for the electric hare is, with the polar hare and the duracell rabbit, the busiest of our lagomorphs. For makers of nature documentaries, the creature has caused headaches for a long time, and only a few sharp photographs have ever been taken of it. Like some species of eel and ray, the electric hare has a charged electric organ which, combined with its over-active instinctive activity, has it moving like a bat out of hell. It can with good reason be said that in the case of this species mother nature’s connection scheme has gone awry.

The electric hare is seldom seen in a state of rest. It moves in circles and mates quickly. In Finland its territory extends from the nuclear energy plant at Loviisa to that at Olkiluoto, and it overwinters in the tropical warmth of condensation water. When summer comes, it exchanges its electric blue winter coat for a shining coppery summer version. Negatively charged individuals meet the challenges of nature by burning their coils and transforming blows of fate into positive energy.

When they find a mate, electric hares congregate in larger populations which are called batteries. Hare batteries cause significant losses to society every year, as they gnaw power lines and insulation as food. They cause farmers headaches and sleeplessness by sparkling, crackling and flashing in the earth. A type-approved electric hare circles its track as if driven by a polar fox, tireless and tiring, leaving behind it smoking fields and shocked cattle. The territory of an individual electric hare is wide, and it does not rest until its energy is gone. Then all it wants to do is withdraw to the shade of the forest and sleep, sleep….

The electric hare is also a game animal. Electric hunting is a traditional leisure activity, particularly in the vicinity of Virtasalmi, where the challenge of the prey and its mature, slightly burnt-tasting dark flesh are admired. The electric hare has, however, not attained very extensive popularity among gourmets, however, as, handled carelessly, it may burst into flames or explode. The inexperienced fitter should indeed leave handling of the game to an expert.

Lupus solitaries

Lone wolf

Wolves are large predatory beasts which generally move in packs across quite extensive areas. Of their near relatives, the lone wolf is distinguishable above all by its one-eyedness and one-dimensionality. Its area of distribution is elsewhere. Often it attempts to join wandering packs of wolves or even coyotes, but no one can really bear to listen to its whimpering. Its breath, too, smells repulsive.

Living in isolation has emphasised some extraordinary features in the lone wolf’s behaviour, and scientists dispute whether these models belong to the realm of genius, madness or perhaps sheer stupidity. It dances with stones and other inanimate objects and listens to a different wavelength from the others, and no one hears its distress. Its desire for company may induce it to push its head into, for example, a lion’s den or to try to join the fateful company of bloodthirsty hunters; a huntsman sitting by a campfire may see it at the edge of the circle of light, weeping with its only wet eye. The moon gazes at it and howls.

Many lone wolves die of hunger, as they fawn on their natural prey rather than eating them. For example, having mauled a sheep, the remorseful lone wolf may lie down beside its carcass for some days and whimper pathetically. Although the animal is eager to push its nose in to every place, very little, in the end, is known of the life of the species. It is doubtful whether they breed a great deal.