In this hectic, high-speed world in which we live, it seems like we can never get our food fast enough. There is an endless race to shorten the time span between that initial twinge of hunger, and the moment we take the first bite of our next meal.
We use the drivethru at fast food restaurants, because actually parking and going inside would just take far too much of our precious time. We want everything to be "express" this, and "ready-to-go" that.
We buy instant oatmeal, because breakfast has gotta be faster. Our popcorn now comes folded up in a paper bag as a thin brick of oil and seeds, and we tap our fingers impatiently while it takes nearly three minutes to prepare in the microwave. We never stop to acknowledge what dad used to make on top of the stove smelled better, tasted better, and was better. It just wasn't faster.
Our world has one-minute microwave bacon, heat and serve chicken, and pre-washed, pre-shredded lettuce. Our meats come pre-sliced, our yogurt is individual serving-size, and we can even buy fruits and vegetables that are washed, cut, and arranged ready-to-serve in a plastic tray.
For humans, it's all about being in a constant hurry. We too often take the easy meal because it is the fastest option. In the outdoors world, many animals take the easy meal because it is, well, the easy meal. And there are not many of them to be had.
There is this persistent red-tailed hawk that makes regular stops in the high branches of the poplar trees that shade our chicken house. He has made previous attempts at snatching a quick and free meal from the site, but been thwarted by the netting that keeps the hens from flying out of their large penned area, and keeps predators like him from flying in.
But this hawk keeps coming back, hoping for a breach in the netting, or an escaped hen he can grab and consume. It's all about the easy meal.
One recent summer night, the neighbor forgot to put his couple of dozen turkeys back inside the protection of their roost. The feeder is kept in this small barn, so after a day of foraging in their large section of fenced pasture, the turkeys are anxious to get back inside. The lowered trap door then keeps them in until the next morning, and keeps unwanted guests out.
When he got too busy and neglected to put the turkeys in that night, an opportunistic coyote or fox found the waiting meal just too tempting to pass up. Four turkeys never made it to the butcher because they became that all too convenient easy meal.
This pattern even plays out under water, and it has forced me to lose some of my long-held respect for the mighty bass. Ever since we were little and fishing the ponds and quarries in the area, the bass was always the ultimate prize. The blue gills and sunfish came pretty easy and readily took our variety of baits, but the bass was always a much more smarter, much more discriminating eater, so we thought.
Well, when the young kids around here recently took to feeding the blue gills with little scraps of stale bread, it was shocking to see the larger bass in the pond come charging onto the scene. They would hang just below the surface, and then use their superior size and speed to scatter the school of blue gills, and snatch the largest pieces of bread. So much for the wise, wily bass.
The easy meal is just too tempting for animals to pass up. That is why we see powerful hunters like grizzly bears and bald eagles content to occasionally dine on road kill or rotting carcasses, when the opportunity presents itself.
Their instinct tells most animals in our outdoors world that they need to be on the hunt for something to eat for nearly every hour they are awake. They have food on the mind all of the time, so if something easy comes along, they will devour it.
And most of us have a son or brother-in-law that also meets that general description.
Matt Markey is The A-T's outdoors columnist.
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