Hunger Makes the World Come Alive

<i> Jeffrey Reel writes from Ossining, N.Y. </i>

I worked outdoors in Wisconsin one summer, maintaining filtration pipes that were laid out over an 80-acre pasture. My only companion during the workday was Fred, a house cat that had recently been abandoned to the fields. My circumstances were such that I could not take him in and, with a long and warm summer ahead of us, I thought it would be best to encourage his independence.

For the first few days Fred remained within the security of the compound. He didn’t hunt for food, and soon his sleek and well-groomed coat began to lose its luster; but by the end of the week he had made his first few clumsy attempts at hunting. He re-established his grooming habits and ventured farther out into the fields, and within no time he had honed his instincts to meet the demands of his new way of life.

Watching Fred hunt became a daily ritual. He would stop short at the edge of our lawn and stare toward the fields. I would gaze out over the same general area, but all I ever noticed was the tangle of vegetation, nothing that would seem to warrant his attention. But he would begin to stalk, stepping gingerly around the dried leaves and twigs, advancing far out into the field before pouncing, and he always returned with his catch. He would even offer me a mouse on occasion, trotting proudly into the compound and dropping it at my feet.

I was fascinated by Fred’s ability to detect the presence of mice from such a great distance, and I wondered whether his hunger might be playing a role in his ability to hunt. I decided to explore the thought by experiencing hunger myself, but only for a short time, just long enough to feel some of its physical effects.


I reduced my diet to juice and an occasional piece of fruit. As the days passed, my hunger increased, and with it an enhanced sensitivity to my surroundings. Sounds that had barely been audible were amplified, from the drone of a tractor three fields away to the rustling of leaves and grass at my feet. The smell of earth, flowers and grass grew pronounced. Colors became more vivid, and I began to see details that I hadn’t noticed before. It was as if Nature had turned up its volume, exaggered its movements and illuminated the colors of the landscape. But why?

About one week into my fast, Fred came meandering past, then stopped to gaze out over the field. As I had done time and fruitless time again, I followed his line of sight with my own. This time I easily noticed a tuft of grass that quivered alone against the undulating movement of grass around it. It was being disturbed by the presence of a mouse at the base of its stalk.

Fred retrieved the mouse within minutes, and while this satisfied his hunger, mine grew, along with a sharpened awareness of my surroundings. Out of the corner of my eye I would catch sight of rodents and reptiles, bugs and birds and the unusual movement of grass. The flash of a red-wing’s feathers startled me, even on the sunniest of days. The fields assumed a thousand shades of green. The drone of bees and dragonflies captured my attention, and the smells of the fields rose up to delight my senses.

It all began to grow toward sensory overkill. The creative energy that I had once used for more cerebral pursuits was being directed back to the primal and fundamental need to eat.


These heightened senses that accompany hunger gave Fred and me the competitive edge in tracking food. It seemed that Nature was throwing all of its weight in our favor, and it was not until I reintroduced solid food into my diet that these sensations subsided to within the normal realm of the senses. That sensitivity still ebbs and flows around mealtimes, as it does with everyone, but never with the intensity of those days in the field.

I ended the fast as I had started it--out of personal choice. That makes me one of the more fortunate, not having to suffer through any length of time without food. Ever since that summer, I’ve tried to eat what is appropriate for my well-being and to avoid overeating to the point of dullness, for that seems to take the edge off life. Just as a little bit of hunger creates a sense of keenness, satiation dulls the senses and ushers in a sense of complacency. And while hunger asserts itself in my life each day, it does so to ensure my very survival. That is its curse and its blessing.