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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Walking with Cephalophores

I’m inspired by the cephalophores, those saints who go along carrying their heads in their arms, cradled somewhere in the location of their hearts, necessarily. Historically, they carry their heads to indicate that they were beheaded physically. But I want to carry my head close to my heart so that I can hear the murmurings of my heart so strongly that I must resist all else and respond to the deepest desires of my heart.

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"I Loaf and Invite My Soul"

Doing nothing often leads to something.

Indeed, I am gestating something and will unveil it in due time, perhaps in August or September, if I understand the due date correctly. Meanwhile I loaf as the proper accompaniment to gestation, and I share a few notes on the process of loafing, beginning with a stage theory of loafing. The stages of doing nothing, according to Dr. Benvenuti, are:

Denial: in this stage the person can often be heard saying things like, "You can sleep when you die!" and "I want it all!"

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The Kindness of Strangers: Ramadan Mubarak

We arrived back in London last night, after a week of pilgrimage cum holiday travel in and around Assisi, Italy. By the time the jet’s wheels rolled on the tarmac, I’d been whining off and on for some hours about my hunger. I planned to buy a snack at Heathrow, since we usually have to wait right next to food shops for the taxi driver to show up. But our driver was there and waiting when we stepped out with our luggage. I began to walk along behind him to the car, dragged down more with every step by the weight of my regret about not having got some food.

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Too Big to Fail and Too Small to Matter: Don't Go Back to Sleep!

You’ve probably heard that your education will make you an efficient part of the economic system, more competitive, and of course, wealthier. If I thought that was the most important reason for getting an education, I would say to you, “Run away! Run away!” For we now have global research on happiness that tells us it is indeed important to have enough money to get food, clothing and shelter, and a little more for self-expression; but that after that, money doesn’t matter much to happiness—it can even take away from happiness when it brings with it excessive demands on time and energy and creates more stress, when it takes you away from your family and friends.

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There Goes My Hamburger!

I can see it in the eyes of some people as soon as I take to the podium, the fear that the author of Spirit Unleashed: Reimagining Human-Animal Relations is going to tell them they shouldn’t eat meat. “There goes my hamburger,” they think as they look the other way.

While it is true that I don’t eat meat, it is not true that I don’t like the taste of meat or that I think eating meat is inherently wrong. In fact, I think that if any of us is paying attention, the arguments all fall short. Yes, yes, I have noticed the predator-prey relationship in ecosystems. In fact I have seen more of it with my own eyes than most urban dwellers, and I don’t see that it has much at all to do with human factory farming.

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