Metamorphic: for all the Wild Ones

For we cannot think like Indians; at most, we can think with them.  – Eduardo Viveiros de Castro, Cannibal Metaphysics

As far back as I am able to think, to remember, which is a kind of thinking, there are memories of places, of plants and animals, of a kind of light and air, the smell of water on leaves, root and dirt, the strange sight of lava flows reaching the sea, the band of white coral touching blue ocean, of roads leading through orchards, of flowers against the sky, of moss-covered rocks and river pebbles.

I have these myths.  These are my myths.  Continue reading “Metamorphic: for all the Wild Ones”

If you cannot catch them, stampede em over the cliff

Thanks Chris for pulling on this thread so to speak

Perhaps these photos are just of excesses of the past, of things we label charismatic megafauna, then promptly tend to forget, whereas the bugs and bees fallen to pesticides, and the fish eaten for survival do not seem to evoke the same feelings of loss.

See also today’s news about a recent paper describing the human impacts on the larger mammals: https://www.npr.org/sections/thetwo-way/2018/04/19/604031141/new-study-says-ancient-humans-hunted-big-mammals-to-extinction

Wonder how many babies this female had every year…

When you tug a thread

I tore this picture from the newspaper last month and put it on the shelf behind some books, but the image didn’t let go. The sorrow it engendered seemed disproportionate. I follow the news and know that human lives and hopes and dreams are being extinguished all over. Children’s lives and hopes and dreams. Why bother about a hundred-year-old photo of some extinct animals?

They are Tasmanian tigers, or thylacines, in a zoo in about 1910. They were hunted to extinction in the wild around that time, and the last of their kind – though there are occasional unverified sightings to this day – died in captivity in 1936.

The thylacine was a marsupial. It raised its young in pouches like a kangaroo, and evidently evolved to fill a dog-shaped hole in its environment. “Convergent evolution”, zoologists call it. I guess because of some conditioned affinity for dogs, I’m more moved by those faces than I could be by any image of a dodo. See those curious, questing, intelligent eyes. And the physiognomy, so familiar and yet so strange. What a dreadful loss.

I’m not sure if we ever carried out a proper accounting for this loss, and I believe we need to – for our own well-being if nothing else. Our ancestors wouldn’t have allowed such a thing to pass without appropriate acknowledgement. Without mourning.

I’m talking here about our deep ancestors, way back when our kind still lived and died amid wonder and mystery, both as a part of Nature and apart from it. Way back before wild grasses were tamed on the silty flood plain. Before wild creatures were hobbled and roped into our enclosures. Before settlements, property, hierarchies, laws, slaves, money, taxes, royalty, God, soldiers, politicians, bureaucrats and the execution block. Before we had to indulge wealthy simpletons boasting about their plans for colonies on Mars and everyone living to 100! Before all the generations of stunted minds and lives. Back to when our distant but actually not so distant kin were strong and alert, and well aware of how deadly our gifts of fire and tools and storytelling could be for the magical web of life on which it all depended.

We could consider the thylacine just another twig snapped off the Darwinian tree, one of many. After all, those who study these things tell us that 99-point-something per cent of all species ever have gone extinct, that’s how evolution works. So… chill. But no. Tug a thread, and then another, and pretty soon the whole fabric comes loose. That must have been clear as daylight to our ancient kin, for whom every waking morning was a reminder of how blessed they were and how dependent on Nature’s grace. It was clear to Shakespeare (“For nothing so vile that on the earth doth live / But to the earth some special good doth give”) and it’s clear to a lot of us today. It’s an important truth yet one that’s glossed over in the narratives that drive our global, urban-agro-industrial culture. So the threads go on being tugged out, one after another.

Scholars of the Sixth Mass Extinction report that species are now blinking out at between 100 and 10,000 times the background rate of extinction. No time to mourn them all, of course. In fact, no time to mourn any of them. Our culture of extraction and consumption has to keep pressing forward, eliminating obstacles along the way.

Stop now and it all collapses.

Carry on and it all collapses.

But at least let’s account for what we’ve done and where we’re at. Even though it hurts. Our deep ancestors, if they came among us now, would surely look at us – their own distant progeny – with eyes of affection, and admiration, and sadness. They’d know full well the price that is paid for injuring Nature, and they’d understand the thylacine can’t be brought back. The thread can’t be pushed back into the fabric, no matter how hard we might wish that.

I believe they’d also consider it the responsibility of our kind, once Nature’s favourite child, to face up to what’s done, to take on that burden – not bury it – then live with it as best we can.

Nickering

I’ve heard that the Bedouin celebrate the birth of a foal as an event second in importance only to  of emergence of a poet, which seems an admirable way of looking at things to me.  After weeks of anticipation and nervousness, I am celebrating the birth of a tall, black filly with one white foot and a star on her forehead. Continue reading “Nickering”

Pastoralist Propaganda

Of late, I’ve been under the spell of the Mongolian film-maker Byambasuren Davaa.  She has made three movies: The Story of the Weeping Camel, The Cave of the Yellow Dog, and The Two Horses of Genghis Khan (Das Lied von den Zwei Pferden).  I’ve only seen the first two of Byambasuren’s movies, the last was not released in the US.  Her movies are a fascinating blend of fiction and documentary; the actors, humans and non-human, are themselves, they don’t even play themselves, they live their own lives but there is a movie camera and a story that they act in.  Sometimes they think of the camera for a split second, as real people would do Continue reading “Pastoralist Propaganda”

Fish in a tank

A few evenings ago he was sitting up on his bed looking troubled. His cheeks seemed blotched and his eyes were flicking and blinking, almost as if he was going to cry. But he’s nine, and I think it’s a point of honour with him never to cry. He said quietly, as I bustled around getting ready for lights-out, “Daddy, there’s something that bothered me today…”. I paused for a proper look at him and asked what’s up? “On the way back we stopped in the Chinese supermarket. There were all these fish in the tank. There were so many they could hardly move…”, and that’s where he tailed off. His expression told the story. Continue reading “Fish in a tank”

Science and Art attempt to capture Nature, Nature responds…

The owls adopted me soon after i came to the outback down toward Ka Lae. It started while building a coffee shack to work out of while putting up the components of a small farm. No humans had lived on this parcel since WWI and very few, perhaps 30, had come to the larger area of about 60 square miles over all that time. So although there were plenty of signs of the previous inhabitants, walls, corrals, heiaus, and foundations, the area was still fairly wild and overgrown, kept in check only by the cattle, the ranchers, and let’s not forget the mongooses and the occasional fires.

During my years at sea my eyes had learned to pick up on tiny signs, diving birds, swirls, riffles, different colored patches in the water, cloud patterns for weather forecasting, etc, but that knowledge did not transfer to the creatures of the pastures and nearby woods. Continue reading “Science and Art attempt to capture Nature, Nature responds…”

Once in a while you win

It was a clear warm early fall day in Vermont almost 50 years ago. Was walking with my wife to be through the mixed fields and scrub trees struggling to reclaim the once tended pastures, following or climbing over the old stone walls that marked forgotten boundaries, a few miles from the nearest farms, drawn on to finding “the right place” as in “you will know it when you see it”, in no hurry. The nights had been cold enough to color the trees, brief flame before browning and dropping for the fast approaching freeze. After an hour or two we stopped to soak up the early afternoon sun, warm our bones, and bask in the stillness, so different than our life in Boston a hundred miles away. Here we were silent too, a prayer to the beauty, a revery to a different distant time. We were blissed and blessed.

After a spell a loud clumsy crashing noise, the breaking of small downed branches, interrupted our meditations. It was quite dry, even the grasses crackled. First thoughts a drunken bear or moose, drunk or shot. The noise went on for some minutes, seemed longer, and finally a figure emerged from the scrub to the east, a 30 something guy all decked out in the latest brand new dark green forest camo carrying a shiny compound bow and broadheads, a pack, and bedroll, standing out in the dry yellow grasses. We had not moved or spoken. He stood stock still when he finally saw us sitting there about 50 feet away.

I decided to break into the silence that descended when he stopped. “What are you doing?” “Oh, huntin’ deer, seen any?” He was a coupla days unshaven, so trying to size him up a little more I asked how long he had been at it. “This is the third day” he said as he came closer. So not letting my eyes leave his, not wanting anyone unknown near us with a silent quite deadly weapon, i replied that we had seen a couple yesterday down in the shallow draw about a mile to the west. He thanked me and continued on toward the west, finally crashing and crackling his way out of earshot. There wasn’t a breath of wind. Amazing how far sound travels in silence.

Turning to my gal i said “must be lost and blind too, out of his element”, and nodded in the direction of the two young does with their spotted fawns that were bedded down for the afternoon about 20 feet away to the north, heads up watching us for a few seconds before curling back up and closing their eyes again.