Sunday, August 14, 2016

Not Zen 188: Trust

Between the grasslands and the hills, there lived a tribe of crested boar. The sows and children kept close together as they roamed for food. The males roamed the edges of their pack. The boar territory overlapped with other animal groups, such as blackbucks, sambar, and small animals like hares. In general, the boars did not need to compete with the other groups. They were too large and too tough. When a herd of wild horses ventured upslope to try to crowd them out, the largest boar charged a stallion and lamed it. Soon, the horses migrated back down to the grasslands.

Food grew so plentifully on the eastern slopes, however, that in time larger animals moved in that could not be pushed aside. The gaur, with their mighty horns, migrated up from the south and displaced the horses. A year later, a second herd of gaur drifted in from the northeast. The two herds squeezed out other grass-eaters between them like the sambar, who decided to find a new home over to the western side of the nearest mountain. Smaller animals likewise made themselves scarce. In time, only the boars and the gaurs shared the border between the grasses and bush-laden hills.

Then a new set of predators drifted in from the east. Tigers discovered the boar valley.

At first, the boar had no defense against the mighty hunters. A lone tiger could scatter the sows and target a half-grown child. The first time it happened, a single boar rushed in to counter-attack. He was the male who had knocked down a horse. But he was only half the size of a tiger. When the beast dropped the child and turned on him, he took a grave wound. He barely escaped the deadly grip of claws and teeth and he fled, bleeding.

Other senior boars and sows conferenced. One of the sows checked on the wounded boar, whom she announced would likely survive. She suggested that the rest of them observe the gaur tactics for dealing with tigers. 

“The eastern gaur, at least, must have dealt with them before,” she said.

“Why is that?” asked her son, a member of the boar leadership.

“Did you not notice? The tigers found our home by following their herd.” 

The boars grunted and nodded. They knew the gaur must have a defense. The northeastern herd did not seem much bothered by the tigers. In the weeks that followed, the boars came to understand at least one important point from their observations. Their new predators, although nimble, detested slopes of loose stone. The sows led their herd uphill to a large rockfall. Boars placed themselves between the herd and the tigers. Every one of them, young and old, missed the roots, berries, truffles, and sweet nuts that were staples of their usual foraging grounds. 

At least they could see their food. Every morning, the sows led them downslope to feed and drink. In the evenings, they climbed to relative safety. From a bluff above the grasslands, the elders continued to study the tigers and gaur. Tigers isolated and picked off the youngest gaur calves from the eastern and southern herds.

One day, a bull gaur in the northeastern herd saw an attack beginning on a calf. The tiger took a long run. Instead of stepping aside and letting the predator take his prey, a male gaur turned and knocked the tiger from the air, mid leap. His black-furred muscles bulged. He drove the attacker into the ground, pressing with his horns. Other gaur joined in, males and females alike. They smashed the tiger, four or five times in quick succession, until it fled, mortally wounded.

The next morning, the boars migrated downslope, as had become their habit. A male boar found the tiger's body between bushes not far from a watering hole. He showed it to the others. They were impressed.

“The southern gaur have never done this,” said the senior sow.

"There are differences between the two groups," announced a younger sow. "The southern gaur are not like boars or even like other cattle. The mothers don’t share the suckling of their young."

"This, I have noticed," the senior agreed. "The females do not share food, either. They try to hide it from one another. They don't trust even their children with their secrets."

"Have you asked why?" said a boar, her son.

"They will not let sows approach." She shook her head.

"The southern bulls roam the outside of their herd," the boar observed. "Like the females, they fight over food even when there is plenty."

The boars eyed one another warily as they contemplated the emerging pattern. The youngest among them kicked a stone. It rattled down the slope.

"Is this why the southern herd has never killed a tiger?" he asked.

"Maybe," the senior sow grunted. "Mighty as they are, it took more than one to do that."

In the coming weeks, the boars lost a young male and a sickly female to different tigers, both times while the pack was rooting along the edges of the trees. The southern gaur lost more. As the boars observed, where the eastern herd members formed teams, the southerners relied on individual power. Where the eastern herd cared for their ill members, the southern herd shunned them and they fell to the predators.

Once, when a southern bull met the charge of a tiger and stunned it, no other gaur in the herd came to help. The tiger retreated, hurt over its left eye. A few minutes later, the bull was strutting around the meadow triumphantly. The boars glanced to one another. They saw the worry in everyone else's eyes. They knew the tiger would live to hunt again. It would come for the young and the lame. That evening, the sows decided to lead the pack up to the rockfall before the sun set as far as the treeline.

"Come!" said a boar the next morning. "Southern bulls are fighting."

The elders trotted in twos and threes over to the bluff where they could look down over the trees to the gaur herds. Sure enough, they saw a pair of gaur bulls smashing their heads together and twisting their horns. One of them ripped a wound in the other's neck. A minute later, he head-butted the wounded gaur and knocked him down. The loser scrambled to his feet. He fled for cover.

"He's running into the woods!" a boar squeaked. "Doesn't he think about the tigers?"

"He judges that the other male will kill him if he stays."

"At this rate, by the end of the rainy season there will be no southern herd at all."

The elders grunted in agreement. That did seem to be how events were unfolding. 

The young boar was proven right over the next few weeks. Tigers took down the weakest gaurs of the southern herd, one by one. The rains fell, not too heavily, and the soil on the hills grew treacherous. Boars slipped. They hopped up, looking for predators. None came.

Food started growing on the slope where the sows preferred to stay. The boar pack grew by two litters. Yet the tigers continued to hunt the southern gaur. In time, there were only a dozen of those remaining. They were the mighty, broad shouldered, big-headed, and fast. Among them were only nine males and three females, no calves. The tigers did not seem to care to approach them but, on the other hand, the males fought one another. One bull died of wounds inflicted by his brother. The females didn't trust the males, either, because of the increase in violence among them.

Finally, one of the southern females tried to join the eastern herd. She stood nose to nose with the eastern matriarch. The boars watched as the two negotiated. After an hour or so, the herd accepted their new member. They allowed her on the outskirts of the group. Likewise, her brother and sister applied in the evening and, by dusk, they too were accepted.

The remaining southern female was driven off. The boars tried to understand why. She had been the dominant one, easily the most desirable. But she turned south, from where her herd had come, and some of her males followed. 

The number of tigers decreased that week, it seemed. A few must have followed the southern herd.

Unfortunately, at least two remained. They began to hunt the boars in earnest. A tiger ventured up the rocky slope, scattered the pack, and took a piglet.

So it was that on a warm, sunny day after the rainy season had ended, a boar approached the remaining gaur herd. He had traversed the edges of it before. He'd talked with the bulls. In time, he'd gained their acceptance although they seemed to consider him too large and dangerous to let near their calves.

"We lost one of my sons last evening," he said.

"You are part of a fearsome pack," said his friend, the bull. "Your toughest males might be a match for us. Why did you let an attack happen without consequences for the tiger?"

"That is the real question," the boar admitted. "Now I have a question for you. Several days ago, your herd rejected the best female of the southern gaur. Why was that?"

The bull snorted.

"That's between the females," he said and shook his head side to side.

"But I think you understand. And I do not."

"Very well." The bull paused to help himself to a clump of tender broadgrass. "We could not have her because we could not trust her. In fact, none of their herd rises to the right level of trust."

"Will they, in time?"

"Perhaps. It is a long process. Our herd has worked on this for my entire life and for several long generations before. We are now free to speak our minds, to express our ideas without being shouted down. We can depend on one another. When someone makes a promise, they keep it. We know our roles in the group. We don't fight over them."

"So that is how you rise to a better level than the tigers."

"It seems so."

"The southerners were fools, then." He shivered. Sweat dripped from his haunches. He knew he stank of fear and it came from what he was contemplating.

"Is that what you boars say? But I do not think you boars trust one another well enough, especially you males. I have not seen it."

"We must learn. We have to depend on one another or die, I think." He shook off the sweat. His bristles flopped from side to side. "Yet I have doubts. I don't know that the larger boars will help."

"Your tribe has not yet been scattered."

"So far. But I fear that, in the face of the tigers, it will happen."


"My friend, how does trust begin?"

"Carefully." The bull closed his eyes for a moment. "Tell the others that you are going to fight the next tiger. Ask them to come to your aid.”

“It is not my place. I am not the strongest boar.”

“Sometimes it can be like that,” said the bull. “Make sure the others understand. Do your part. There is no guarantee your trust will be returned. Your friends may falter. You may die. But you see, there is no other way. Someone among your group must establish trust.”

No comments:

Post a Comment