The Bottom of the Food Chain Bites Back

I ever return to the question of whether we can know anything about what it is like to be another kind of creature. And so, while perusing the carefully researched and oddly entertaining new book, Does it Fart?, I learned that we do not know with certainty whether or not spiders pass gas. Theoretically, they do have the digestive capacity, but no one has done the research. We do know, however, that they bite.

Little did I know when I wrote my last post that I had just been bitten by a ragno violino, the Mediterranean version of the brown recluse spider. Sure, I'd felt the pinch, and had taken off my shirt and shaken it out. It just didn't seem big deal in the context of a summer in which I've been morning and evening meal for a host of insects, mosquitoes fierce and relentless at the top of the list, ticks next—and yes, I do wear protective clothing with repellent oils.

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On Bugs, Generally Speaking

It’s been almost two months since I promised to start writing about bugs. It’s not that I haven’t been spending time with them; I have! The problem is that in my new life as an organic farmer, I don’t have time to write during May and June, and other months as well. . . because I’ve got weeds that grow shoulder high in one field during the time it takes to clear another field. This reality causes me to recall with some longing the use of herbicides: how easy, how convenient. But I’ve left that behind, along with many other easy and convenient things.

The fact that I am out weeding manually almost every day instead of spraying poison means I am also spending time with bugs. It even means I begin to notice a relationship between the weeds and the bugs and me, though I do not yet understand what I notice.

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Ants and Mosquitoes and Ticks, oh my!

This morning I stepped barefoot across the stone floor, moving out of the bedroom to greet the new day, and what did my wandering feet behold? A small pile of grit in the doorway, grit that wasn't there when I went to bed. I looked up to see a new hole in my star-vault stone ceiling, a hole made by ants chomping through the stones. I didn't actually see any ants this morning, but I saw them last summer, marching across the ceiling and chewing the stone, and far too frequently falling into bed with me! No one told me about this when I expressed my romantic fantasy of living in an old European stone farmhouse. And this morning I wonder why there is a "yuck factor" to ants falling into my bed that I don't feel when my three little dogs burrow between the sheets! 

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Cusp of the Years: 2017–18

I wonder what my cat Jou-Jou might have had as her New Year’s resolution. Trap more mice in the basement for Jimi, the Jack Russell terrier, to finish off? Double the rate at which she traps Bunny, another JRT, in an ambush at the foot of the stairs? Eat more tuna and less kibble? I wonder what grade she’d give herself. Actually, I can’t imagine her caring ~^..^~  . . . the dogs might be better candidates for resolutions.

So here we are at the cusp of the year, the last twilight seconds of 2017, with a yearning towards the first glimmer of 2018. Of 2017, I can say that I failed to write the book. I miserably failed my number one goal! On the bright side, I did lose twenty pounds, but that doesn’t satisfy my goals and resolutions for 2017. Because, guess what? It wasn’t on the list.

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On Feasting, Fasting, and Food

Several years ago, in my haste to reincarnate my deceased Molly Brown, I put in a request to the Jack Russell rescue site: I wanted a female puppy. Ha-ha, they replied, highly unlikely, but we will keep your request on file. A week later, a message arrived that a female JRT puppy was available if I could drive 500 miles and pass the adoption fitness course. I could and I did, and I drove home with Bronwyn, a really messed up little dog. She did not want to cuddle, and, as I soon learned, was more likely to bite if reached for—I recalled that part of the adoption test was to see if I could pick up the puppy, a request that seemed a bit odd at the time.

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Imaginal Discs and Memories

From morning to late afternoon I watched a caterpillar climb a tall pine tree, climb without ever stopping to rest. That was September, two years ago, in the beautiful northern woods of Door County, Wisconsin. This tiny creature spent the entire day climbing, up and up the tall rugged trunk, over hill and dale, then out along a high branch, never resting. He seemed to be feeling some urgency, I thought; who knows? I've not been a caterpillar. He was certainly determined. When he stopped, I thought he must be exhausted, and then he began to spin. Surely, he felt he was about to fall apart; how could he not?

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Fear. It’s there, just waiting to get you!

At Halloween in the US, everything we fear gets lumped together with our dead ancestors. A night that once reminded us to recognize that those who have passed before us might still be with us has now become a generalized expression of fear. In our ripe imaginations, peeled grapes become the texture of eyeballs without a head, cold spaghetti might be someone’s dead brain or guts, the sound of rusty hinges makes our skin crawl as we anticipate something dangerous coming for us, and banging doors make us jump out of our skin.

It's amazingly easy to frighten us humans. . . . But the experience of basic fear, the anxious and deeply uncomfortable arousal in our bodies, the intense desire to escape, is something we share with all mammals.

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A Thin October in the Milky Way

Last night, to my surprise, I stepped off the front porch into the middle of the Milky Way. It’s where we live, in the Middle of the Milky Way, and last night I was able to perceive that bright band of densely packed stars encircling me. There was the black upon black of the sky, the bright blue white of individual stars, the gathered glowing band of multitudinous stars thickly bound to each other, and little me stepping off the porch into the arms of the galaxy that is home.

I have the privilege of living where there is very little light pollution, where you can step out your door into the reality that, while you are necessarily the center of your world, the world is unimaginably bigger than you, even with the baggage of all your cares weighed in.

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Grief

Grief. This fundamental affect is not easy to name, but you know it when you're in it. Bereft might be the best word to describe it, the sudden panic that drops into a well of sadness, even despair, and it's caused by the loss of an important attachment. The reason why being shunned (as in solitary confinement or the "scarlet letter") is considered the most severe punishment is that this kind of separation pain is a pain like no other. It's the emotional pain that really can kill you.

So let me insert the good news here.

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Mammals Suck, and That Makes Oxytocin!

This mamma-baby connection is where oxytocin—the trust hormone—flows at peak levels, creating in both animals (the mom and the baby) the feeling of intense warm attachment. It is the way that the desire for warm attachment becomes part of an individual, staying with her for life and creating the desire and willingness that trust between animals might work. It feels really good to be connected in trust, and that's nature's way of making sure it happens. Yes, this is yet another way in which all mammals, ourselves included, are alike.

Unless we're very, very unlucky, we get lots of oxytocin from day one onward.

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Of Lust and Lions

This lion looks to me like he is going somewhere with quite a purposeful stride, like a parent moving to discipline a child, or a manager heading in to sort out trouble at the office. . . or (yes!) a male lion following a female who has flirtatiously summoned him for a bit of private dancing.

I was actually surprised when the ranger, seeing the female first, said, "Oh look. She's flirting! Look for the male." Sure enough, there he was, rising from his drowsy midday nap in the shade of a tree. . .

 

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Rage! When Someone Gets Angry, the Play is Over

Last week, I wrote about the fact that all young mammals play, and that a typical play session ends after about twenty minutes, when someone gets mad or someone gets hurt. That's what happened when I played with this Siberian silver fox—yes, this one, photographed by my nephew Thom. After a careful approach that the fox received happily, and some moments of very gentle communion between me and her, I'd advanced to teasing and flicking my fingers in the "now you see it, now you don't" way. The mood shifted suddenly, and before I could say sorry, my middle finger knuckle had been sliced to the bone by some very sharp little teeth. This is how it goes.

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Playtime! It's Seriously Important

My dog Lexi is a ten year old Jack Russell terrier who had a rough childhood. Lost in an Indiana blizzard at six months of age, she was brought into rescue with double pneumonia. She spent two months in the hospital before going to a "forever home" that had some human problems with alcohol and violence. Back to rescue. She was a nervous little gal when we brought her home, quick to find a hiding place but also gregarious, liking to mix it up or to cuddle, especially with other dogs. But there was one sure way I could engage her, and that was by playing the imaginary game of hunting my fingers as they acted like mice across the bedspread.

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We're All Seekers!

More than 58 million people have watched the video of a turtle chasing a purple ball around a hardwood floor (recently posted to the Animal Family group on Facebook). It fascinates us to see a turtle fascinated by a purple ball. But why not a turtle fascinated by a purple ball? All animals enjoy novel stimulation, all of us like to be engaged by the world. In fact, that connection between being alive at all and being interested in things in the world is so very close that we can't distinguish between them.

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Which Foot is the Best One for Walking?

When we adopted Jiminy Cricket from the Jack Russell terrier rescue, she was ten months old. She was blind from juvenile cataracts. She suffered extreme allergies, with painful skin lesions that made her life miserable. But she was extraordinarily trusting and she loved to go to the vet, where she knew that the people in uniform helped her feel better. And she was also vibrant and lively. 

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On Saving a Moth

One morning recently, I noticed a small dark shape fluttering in the pool. I went over to investigate and saw that it was a large gray moth, desperately and barely clinging to life as water saturated her wings. Her energy was exhausted. I lifted her out and she clung the fabric of my dress. I bent my head and very gently blew down the length of her body, drying her with my breath for perhaps fifteen minutes. And then I raised her up in my hands and blew on the underside of her wings, learning in the process that what looked like two was actually four. 

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Feeding Fido and Fluffy

Yesterday I created a new Facebook group, called Animal Family. Within an hour, the page had 100+ members. Dozens of portraits of fur-family, mostly dogs and cats, were posted within a few hours. Most of these were rescued, picked up off the street in various dire conditions or brought home from shelters. These family members were not purchased with pedigrees from puppy mills but rescued, sometimes with great expense and effort from their humans.

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The Animal Soul of Life (Beneath the Human Clutter)

“I would say, if you’ve never seen a horse or touched a horse, just touch it. Because if you touch it, then you’ll feel the soul” (Farrah Akbar, age 8). The quotation is from a New York Times article that I read this morning about human-animal relations, Why Close Encounters With Animals Soothe Us, about urban kids in Los Angeles getting horse-fixed.

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Back to Eden

Last summer, I spent some days in Kirkby Stephen in northern England, a town whose unlikely mascot is the South American macaw, a type of parrot whose facial feather pattern is unique and identifiable on sight by other macaws. Perhaps macaw faces are easily seen by the humans who love them too, like John Strutt who once owned the nearby Eden Farm, and who endowed his farm as a nature sanctuary and permanent home for feral macaws. Today's macaws roam by day and return freely to their open aviaries at night.

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Animals Again: New/Old Work

I continue to think and to write about my favorite topic, human-animal relations. I published four articles over the past year; and I am working on a new book,  more news on this soon. I’m excited about it!

Meanwhile, here is the full text and links to my most recent journal article, a commentary on a philosophical article about animal personhood, in the journal Animal Sentience, published by the Humane Society. It’s a great new journal and I hope you’ll have a look at it.

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