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Empathy and action

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Imagine, for a few moments, that you are a female mallard duck. You have been struck by a vehicle and are wobbling around Route 6 in Hawley, PA in front of Wallenpaupack Brewing Company. A tractor trailer is bearing down upon you as you hobble in confusion, broken right wing distended at an unseemly angle away from your flank. A young woman dining at the restaurant has noticed your plight and runs outside to see how she can help. Two more women pull to the side of the road to see how they can help. The driver of the massive rig manages to carefully swerve around you instead of simply rolling right over your vulnerable body. The women manage to capture and place you in a dog crate for transport to the Pocono Wildlife Rehabilitation and Education Center (PWREC) in Stroudsburg, PA.

Imagine next, that you are a timber rattlesnake, attempting only to cross a road as vehicles approach from both directions. Two women notice your plight and stop to position their car so that you might make it safely to the other side. They ask approaching motorists to simply pass by without harming you. One says he would rather kill you, then speeds off. Another drives away, then returns, only to attempt to run over you. You’ve done nothing to harm or threaten either one.

As one of the women in both of these encounters, I was struck at the disparity between the reactions of the people to these circumstances. Perhaps it’s easier to feel compassion for the plight of a wounded duck. But the encounter with the snake was a strong reminder that fear is a powerful force that can drive behavior that harms the animals we share our lives with in the Upper Delaware region.

Animals we might find alarming, such as bears, coyotes, bobcats and even porcupines (which can NOT throw their quills) most often intend us no harm. Make an effort to learn about their behaviors to minimize fear and increase understanding of the valuable and interesting lives that they lead. Give them the space and the respect they deserve. Above all else, please don’t harm them as they simply try to navigate their lives around ours.

Two informative websites to explore are the Pennsylvania Game Commission and the New York Department of Environmental Conservation. Both provide information specific to the Upper Delaware region and its wildlife. Attend educational programs offered by PWREC, the Delaware Valley Raptor Center, Pocono Environmental Education Center, Lacawac Sanctuary and more. Take a friend along.

The American poets, Mary Oliver and Stanley Kunitz wrote poems that explore a sense of empathy with snakes. 

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