Posts in critical thinking
Where Whales and Humans Are Friends

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.

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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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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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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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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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Having Time and Energy, without Buyer's Remorse!

I spent much less money this year than I used to spend for the holidays. I spent less time and energy shopping, too. And, if I read my social world rightly, so did a lot of Americans. I spent more time in conversation, more time reading and resting, more time taking walks. Today is New Year's Eve and I will step into 2015 with no buyer's remorse, at least none from these winter holidays, having had more time and energy than I am accustomed to having at holiday's end!

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Why the New Archaic?

I use these two words of seemingly mutual contradiction to signify a complex reality, that now we are in not just a “postmodern” era but a post-cultural era, and so the “new” that was once human culture is old and worn, and the archaic that is elemental nature is newly necessary and newly beautiful. Further, I think the challenge for this time of great change is to make a new human culture that incorporates consciously and wholeheartedly the archaic and elemental into the sanctuaries of our lives.

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The Beauty We Love

Beauty is the way that the universe makes love to us. I neither exaggerate nor blaspheme nor trivialize. An encounter with beauty simultaneously awakens and calms us, bonds us to the world, deepens our feeling of living. What else gives so much for so little effort? Or, as John O’Donohue expresses it, beauty is God’s invisible embrace.

So, was it just this morning that I woke up thinking I needed a good scare?

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My Writing Life

I read Annie Dillard's The Writing Life many years ago and was so impressed with how she nailed it, "A writer is someone who writes." So simple, so elemental. Tap the keyboard, or put pen to paper, and—voila!—you are a writer. It's truly the definitive thing. But did she mention what it takes to get to your desk? Or mention that, after you have written, and you’ve read, and you’ve written again, you have to read and write some more. It’s such a. . . process.

First, you need time and space for writing, however you make it or find it.

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Elemental Thanksgiving

Thanksgiving! Now that’s an elemental innovation. And it can be as elemental as we care to make it. I give thanks for the bacterial cellular life that makes up about 90% of the material of ‘my’ body. I give thanks for the house plants that refresh and recycle my spent breath. And, while I am thanking the green lung of the planet with my red ones, I give thanks to the fish who so long ago gave me lungs, to the Neanderthals whose genes I’ve always felt sure I carried, for the music I am sure they made (read Stephen Mithen’s Singing Neanderthals), and for my new little piano, Magic, who is well named. I give thanks for my own elemental role in the macrocosmic real.

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The New Archaic

In these pages, as I add to them, you will find evidence of things I am passionate about: scholarship and wonderings about the big ideas and unarticulated assumptions that underlie our everyday thinking and decisions; beauty, the natural world (especially animals), the spiritual realm of human life. . . .

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