We’ve inherited survival instinct

Among the amazing and drama-filled photos of the deep freeze that enveloped most of the nation, at least east of the Mississippi, was a shot of a frozen Niagara Falls.

In the late 1980s, I was privileged to visit a scene similar, though perhaps not quite as iced over. The Niagara River had a good sized covering of ice on it, and significant areas of the falls itself were crystalline.

In the two-month stretch between Thanksgiving and the end of January, the areas on the New York and Canadian shores are covered with light sculptures, the usual theme being winter scenes, and since the area is frequently immersed in a drizzle, the otherworldliness of the sculptures is often accented by ice coatings.

Perhaps the most impressive memory I have of that late January excursion, however, is the bufflehead. The memory is one that attests to indomitable spirit.

A bufflehead is a diving duck that is about a foot long, and weighs less than two pounds.

As previously mentioned, most of the river was frozen over, with a ribbon perhaps 10 feet wide of open, icy water.

It was through that open stretch of polar cold river that a drake bufflehead swam with the current, diving repeatedly and coming up with food from the chilling undercurrent.

Terrifyingly close to the steep drop of the falls, he continued to dive, and I nearly turned away, fascinated but not wanting to see him tumble over the edge.

Just short of the drop, he lifted up and out of the water, flew back upstream from where he had come, then began the whole process over again.

It’s another example of the amazing way in which nature is provided for, and an example too of the amazing power to survive which animals have.

Happily, as we are sometimes witness to in survival stories of the wilderness, we as humans have inherited that same power to fight for survival, when the a situation warrants it.

Clyde Davis is a Presbyterian pastor and teacher at Clovis High School. He can be contacted at:


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