In search of ponies: Primal instincts should not shock us

Sharna Johnson

Poor JoJo. It wasn’t his fault.

“I feel bad about it, but I can’t help that I’m just upset with him,” my mother told me.

My mother and step-father had chased and hunted the bird, until finally, thinking they had flushed it out of the house, settled in to relax — until JoJo started acting strangely.

He emitted a low growl when he finally had the flapping prize clenched in his jaws and refused to give it up.

When he scurried into the closet with his wounded, doomed prey, Mom said they closed the door, leaving him incarcerated with his deed.

Sometime later they opened the door and found the bird’s discarded and lifeless body beside a bored cat who looked remarkably like JoJo again.

But the sound of crunching bones, the primal growl and the vicious predatory look in their furry companion’s eyes changed the way my mother saw him.

I saw the same thing earlier this week when my youngest son came to me holding the body of a small mouse on a paper towel.

“Look what Java did,” he said, a newfound awareness of what his kitten was capable of painted across his solemn face.

These things should not shock us, yet at times they do.

It’s a strange game we humans play in pursuing domestication.

We cultivate and appreciate instincts — rolling the ball of yarn, batting paws with the cat — but we are repulsed when we see them applied.

We cultivate similar traits in ourselves; raising our children to be strong, fight for what they believe in, pursue their goals relentlessly and protect the ones they love.

We applaud our young men when they head off to war in our defense, but we really don’t want to know what that means for them.

And when they return, we conveniently forget that you can’t un-ring a bell, expecting they will turn it all off and resume mowing the lawn, changing diapers and carrying the baby — a soldier no more.

Ernest Hemingway admitted it isn’t that easy when he said, “Certainly there is no hunting like the hunting of man and those who have hunted armed men long enough and liked it, never really care for anything else thereafter.”

Perhaps soldiers of old didn’t talk about their experiences, not because they couldn’t, but because they didn’t need to — because society understood.

But increasingly, society loses that understanding.

Those instincts, whether suppressed, ignored, denied or punished, are there. But we, as the self-proclaimed masters of our reality, have tried to make believe they don’t.

As we move from farms to urban neighborhoods, we’re also leaving behind the realities of birth, death, concepts of survival and hard-won progress, and our children — insulated from the realities of life — do not learn these lessons.

And even we as adults have forgotten in the name of progress.

Our rural community is 100 years young and still carries with it the pioneer spirit, making us lucky to have a blend of the old and the new.

But we owe it to ourselves to remember and hold onto those realities as we move forward and grow.

For we cannot make a cat ignore the hunt anymore than we can turn a blind eye to the painful necessities, consequences or sacrifices that are part of the human journey.