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  In the Outdoors: Narcissism in animals

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Have you heard the story of Oak Duke battling a whitetail buck at the Wellsville Daily Reporter ?

By Oak Duke,

    We all know what narcissism is… when someone spends an inordinate amount of time in front of a mirror, either admiring themselves, primping, or the opposite, obsessing about the tiniest facial flaws, seeing “through a glass darkly.”

   All sorts of emotions can be spawned when we look in the mirror.

   Same with animals.

   The tendency of humans to look in a mirror or see their reflection that becomes a super-personal reality goes back in history to Greek mythology where the name, Narcissus originated.

   Modern psychologists have even taken the ancient term and built it into their own behavioral constructs, coining elaborate models.

    Infatuation with one’s reflection is not just relegated to humankind.

   Here are three examples in the animal world:

The Robin, a sure sign of spring.

   The other day the driver’s side mirror on my truck became the object of a narcissistic attack by a robin.

   The window, mirror, and driver’s side door was not only scratched, but covered in muddy robin droppings as the bird fought his reflection, sure that the image in the mirror was another robin setting up in the same territory of the side yard.

   Robins are extremely feisty and territorial, and it threw itself against my mirror with a ferocity and tenacity, much greater than the bird’s diminutive size.

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A real peeping tom!

   While I was running the Daily Reporter, I received a lot of strange calls, as you can imagine, and many of them involved animals, from bats and birds, to rats and skunks, bees and wasps, and of course deer. But one, I vividly recall was about turkey. A tom turkey. A real Peeping Tom.

   My newspaper customer called in the morning, saying, “Mr. Duke, when I change my clothes in the bedroom each morning, lately, I am being watched…by a big turkey. And when I look outside…sure enough! The big turkey is there, all puffed out, staring at me through the window!”

   Yep, now that’s a real peeping tom!

   She asked if I would come up to her house and see the turkey, maybe get a picture of it…for the paper.

   After deadline that day, late morning, I went and checked out the house, on the edge of town, but no turkey.

   But outside, I noticed the bedroom window was perfectly positioned as a mirror, reflecting even the morning sun, and a mirror image in front, which the turkey saw.

   So instead of peeping at my customer in a creepy way, the peeping gobbler, Narcissus-like, was actually responding to his own reflection.

  Buck under the newsroom

   One early summer morning I was awoken by a call from my circulation manager, nearly in a panic.

“Oak, you have to come down to the office right now! I went downstairs to get a coke out of the machine and a big buck looked at me!”

   I calmed him down and said I would be right there (of course… expecting a prank, like someone put a mounted buck head next to the machine to be funny.)

   So I met him in the parking lot. He was too scared to go back in the building.

   He said, “Beee…eee careful, it’s a big buck.” I told him to sit in my truck with Susan and I would check it out.

   I walked in through the big double doors, flicked on the lights, and headed toward the stairway…when I heard, louder and louder, “clippity, clop, clippity, clop,” and out of the darkness materialized a nice-sized eight-point buck in velvet, head lowered, charging me!

   I quickly stepped to the side, the buck, which was having a difficult time getting traction on the smooth concrete floor, had a full head of steam and crashed full-speed into the opposite wall.

   Fell, picked himself up, and came running back towards me looking neither to the right or left. The buck disappeared into the darkest regions of the back cellar.

Not the same buck… but what a beauty

   All was quiet.

   I quickly propped open the double doors and picked up a wooden pallet off the floor to be used as a serviceable, if not a bit large, Viking shield.

   So when the buck made another run, “clippity-clop, clippity-clop,” I bull-rushed the deer from the side, using the pallet like a shield, and pushed the charging animal out onto the loading dock.

   With one bound, the deer landed in the middle of the parking lot, jumped West Pearl Street, and ran across the hospital’s front lawn, out of sight.

   Brian and Susan were staring wide-eyed out the truck windows.

   After the dust settled, I checked the side windows, and sure enough, one was completely broken out, frames and all.

   As to pure speculation… the buck saw his reflection, and like Narcissus, either wanted to get close to what he mistakenly thought was another deer, or saw “through the looking glass darkly,” and wanted to spar…fight, as is the way of their kind.

Oak Duke/Wellsville, NY/ March 2024

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