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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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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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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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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A Star, a Star, with a Tail!

Tonight, time writ both large and small is upon us, time as the stars tell it. Tomorrow, we finally realize the oft-repeated fact of the end of the Mayan calendar, and another oft-repeated event, the annual winter solstice in the northern hemisphere. As Christmas is next in the line up of Big Days, I think also of the wise men who followed a star to that near naked baby in his straw bed, Baby Jesus, sweet little animal, born as all mammals are from his mother, ready to root and suckle and belong to the human family.

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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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Elemental Fall Equinox

The New Archaic. Elemental Innovations. What’s that got to do with the fall equinox?

It matters to me that today I change the table runner to the one with autumn colors and patterns, I get down the acorn and oak leaf candle holders. I change the bedding to the fall leaves pattern, and to slightly warmer covers. I put away the blues and greens of my summer season for next year, with the quiet questions about next year just out of mind’s reach.

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Discovery of the Higgs Boson Element in Writing

I have found it! The search was difficult, not because the Higgs Boson of writing wasn't right under my nose, but layers of operant conditioning prevented my perception of it. Finally one day I felt its force, indubitably. The Higgs field potentiates an act of will in the writer by which she says no to everything else, allowing for the presence of the Higgs Boson field to be perceived even as the element rapidly decays into other elements, some of them sentences, which may congregate in fields of attraction into whole paragraphs.

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