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
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
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
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.Read More
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.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 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
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.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
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.Read More
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.Read More
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.Read More
How synchronistic is it that, after posting the very post in which I complained about the limitations imposed upon my mind by watching my feet for three solid weeks while I walked the John Muir Trail last summer, I should fail to watch them one recent winter day and have fallen over backwards, breaking ribs in the process? So I have been derailed by broken ribs, and thus sunk deeply into the quiet season of reflection and rest. My body has been somewhat limited and my mind has been free to roam.
I reflected on the year behind me and the year before me, thinking that my intentions have something to do with what happens in a year of life.Read More
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. . . .Read More