The waters of San Ignacio lagoon were calm and we were calm when we returned to them after our lunch on a sunny deserted island to head back to camp. But our well-fed somnambulance was soon disturbed. “A whale! 3 o’clock, 3 o’clock,” someone cried, as for the first time a gigantic adult swam up alongside us about ten feet from the boat, her blow holes and mottled skin visible. It had taken me a while to learn the visuals of gray whale anatomy, partly because they do not have fins on their backs, but a series of knuckles, visible vertebrae which, in addition to blow holes, tell you which side is up. Their nostrils sit undaintily on the tops of their heads, ridged exposures that allow you to navigate visually forward and down to the huge jaws that open into baleen lined mouths, the baleen shorter and more bristly than I expected, looking and feeling like a cross between teeth and several layers of old tattered shower curtain.Read More
Jason is the name I gave to a young raven whom I presumed to be male, based upon the crowd of bachelor buddies he hung out with, and Jason was the king of the water bowl under the pine tree in my front garden.
I had often watched Jason take flight from a branch in his pine tree, moving his wings to gain elevation until he became that wide V shape that is the hieroglyph for a soaring bird, way up in the distant thin sky. Like all ravens, he was able to powerfully perform the mechanical kind of flight that uses the pumping of his own muscles and blood; but, like eagles and hawks, he was also able to catch drafts and to soar. I’d seen him catch a draft and ride it, sometimes tumbling upside down mid-flight, or drop spiraling down and then pulling up in an impossible lift.Read More
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.Read More
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!Read More
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.Read More
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.Read More
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?Read More
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.Read More
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.Read More
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.Read More
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. . .
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.Read More
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.Read More
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.Read More
“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.Read More
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.Read More
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.Read More
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.Read More
I grew up with pets. In a house with three boys, an aging mother, and no husband, my mother seemed to know instinctively that animals were a way to engage children. She herself had grown up with animals, although not really from a farming family. Living with animals leads to conclusions scientists fear to make. That’s one reason I find Anne Benvenuti’s Spirit Unleashed: Reimagining Human-Animal Relations so important. Not only do animals remind us of who we are, they are who we are.Read More
The approach that I took to writing about human-animal relations is as important to me as the topic itself. I wanted to write a beautiful book, and a book that was what I call “integral.” That means approaching the topic from several academic disciplines, but also with emotion integrated into the thinking process, rather than continuing with the false assumption that feeling clouds rationality. Thinking and feeling are both necessary to correct understanding of the world and ourselves in the world, and so are necessary to living well. I wanted to think clearly and I wanted to feel clearly, and to have these two work together to produce something beautiful.Read More