Posts in human-animal relations
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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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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Steve Wiggins, Religions Editor for Oxford University Press, on Spirit Unleashed

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.

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It's Natural to Love Nature

I was recently asked to speak at the Religions for the Earth Conference on the topic “Outdoor Epiphanies,” an expression that might well summarize the meaning of my life. As John Muir famously said, “I only went out for a walk and finally concluded to stay out till sundown, for going out, I found, was really going in.”

To begin with, I want to state a scientific fact: all behavior is motivated by emotions. Or, in ordinary folk language, we are moved to action by the feeling of our hearts, not the thoughts in our minds.

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An Interview with Anne Benvenuti about Spirit Unleashed

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.

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Dawn Chorus (Other Nations)

This morning I saw that the Acorn Woodpeckers are well into harvest season, with or without cooler temperatures. One crew was drilling out their barns and tossing out last year’s detritus while another crew was hauling in large acorns to stuff into those clean barns: knock, knock, knock, knock, knock, knock, knock. I send them a Woody Woodpecker good morning. They glance briefly in my direction, like people everywhere who are focused on a task. “Mmmhmm,” they say, “I’m busy right now.”

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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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Courting a Gray Whale: Matters of Essence, Matters of Scale

I have no idea how long ago I saw film footage of Jacques Cousteau in full diving suit, floating around in front of the eye of a whale, and then the interview in which he spoke of looking into the eye of the whale, seeing and being seen, how it changed him forever. Ever since then, I have wanted to look into the eye of a whale. I had heard that in the Baja lagoons, I would certainly see whales, and perhaps even touch one. But my secret highest hope as I packed for my Baja expedition in February was that I might look into the eye of a whale, that I might experience that seeing and being seen.

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A Valentine for my Wild Lovers

I used to say that the way to save a wild animal is to sleep with him. I enjoyed the double entendre, especially because we project all our own feelings of beastly sexuality onto our furry friends. But there's some simple and literal truth in my self-entertaining expression; I learned by sleeping with wild animals that they want the same things we do, that they communicate their desires with surprising clarity, if we pay attention.

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Thanksgiving for a Wild Harvest

Tryptophan stupor has got me not thinking. It’s a good thing, a quietly glorious thing, the big and permissive time out that follows the feast.

But leading up to the feast, I was trying to recall the illustrations of cornucopias in my childhood geography books, woven horns of plenty, stuffed with the stuff of fall harvest. Recently I have been trying to remember what was in those baskets because I am thinking the contents would not really have been all cultivated crops. Surely there were some nuts and seeds, some grass heads and fruits that just happened to grow, along with the cultivated pumpkins, ears of corn, stalks of grain.

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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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