by Andrea Williams
This time of year, I’m noticing more and more offspring off on their own. From a young bobcat making its way past my office last month, to the fall harvest, the young are making their own way in the world.
I find the different life strategies fascinating—thousands of thistle seeds float by from an annual plant; a pair of young sister does bound across the road; a juvenile raccoon pops up from a culvert to check his surroundings; a coworker sends his daughter off to college; redwood shoots sprout from the base of a parent tree. Some species invest their reproductive energy in making many offspring; others invest a great deal of energy in just a few offspring. Some plants can do both, like the redwood: A single giant produces hundreds of thousands of tiny seeds from diminutive cones throughout its life, but generally the successful trees are daughter clones that sprout from the roots of a parent tree, taking nourishment through the difficult juvenile time of establishment.
Being a species that invests a great deal in its offspring, we tend to value that strategy more, thinking it superior at least morally. What kind of parent would toss thousands of copies of itself into the harsh world with no guidance or care? But then, look at how many thistles there are! And how many goldfinches eating those seeds—fewer finches than thistles, but still more finches than hawks that feed on the finches and other small birds. But those seeds, those young finches and hawks have sprung off (mostly) on their own now to succeed or fail; and by their success or failure feed others making their own way in the world.