Never Give Up !

You never know when you number will come up…

They say zebras do not get ulcers since they do not worry about the future.  At any moment they could be eaten by a lion.  Wildlife has to deal with acute physical crises where their life suddenly depends upon an immediate response.  Their physiological response mechanisms have evolved to deal with such short term emergencies [R.M. Sapolosky, 2004].  In a few short moments they either survive the crisis, or they die.

Great Blue Heron at the Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge, New Mexico

Staring through the lens at a Great Blue Heron at the Bosque del Apache it suddenly plunged it’s long neck deep down into a pond.  The heron was after something very deep in the water.  Its head was submerged for at least a few seconds.

The heron dives deep for something…

When the heron came up for air it had a catfish in its bill.  The catfish was perpendicular to the long and slender bill of the heron.  Now the heron had to carefully turn the fish around so it could be swallowed face first.  Can you imagine being that catfish!

… and comes up with a catfish.

Carefully the heron devised a strategy to flip this catfish around in its bill.  Meanwhile the catfish is alive getting a new view of the world above the pond.

Holding the catfish carefully the heron set it down on a log, while still keeping a tight grip with his bill.

The Great Blue Heron tries to line up the catfish head first down its throat…

The heron did this a few times.  It seemed like the heron was slowly positioning the fish for the “big gulp”.  Setting the fish on the log, adjusting the grip, raising the fish back up in the air, then back to the log.  This went on for a few minutes.

On the log the catfish would try to get its tail in the water.  Each attempt at getting his tail deeper in the water seemed to be working.  The heron kept a tight grip on the slippery catfish though.

Don’t let the catfish get too close to the water…

Hold him tight…

With a surprise reserve of energy the catfish worked its tail to go deeper in the water, forcing the heron’s bill underwater.

Then it was all over. The fish that got away…

The catfish survived!  After minutes out of the water it was able to persist and not give up.  The heron now seemed embarrassed and tried to maintain composure after this loss.  I had to wonder about the stories that catfish told the others later that night.

Humans are very different than wildlife in the way we worry about the future.  We generate all kinds of stressful concerns in our head (mortgages, relationships, jobs, etc.).  These stressors trigger similar physiological responses in humans as in a wild animal escaping a sudden attack.

The problem is that humans often turn these into chronic stressors.  It is thought that the human body is not equipped to handle these stresses for long periods of time.  Our societal stressors seem to have evolved faster than our bodies have had time to adapt our physiological responses.  Chronic stress leads to all kinds of disease in humans (digestive problems, heart disease, weakened immune systems, etc.).

Books on worry offer rules of thumb to counter this effect:  Live in day tight compartments  (i.e. only worry about today), Do not worry about tomorrow, since tomorrow may never happen, only worry about things you can affect, etc.

The catfish did not give up.  It was able to survive this acute stressor event to swim off and live another day.  My bet is that it does not worry all day long about being eaten by a monster bird.

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