I won’t cheat you. Just because I posted those highly fictionalized cartoony versions of a reptile and an amphibian yesterday when I was singing the praises of singing frogs, iguanas, turtles and their fellow creatures doesn’t mean I wouldn’t share the joys of the real things with you as well. So consider yourself forearmed with this brief alert: cuteness and beauty ahead! Real, live. Starring some fantastic iguanas and our own, homegrown Tiny Tim/Tina Turtle.
Thanks to my handsome and perspicacious canine pal Rumpy over at rumpydog.com I was reminded again when I last visited his site of the complicated and, when it’s well-managed, fantastic relationships between animals of the human and non-human kinds.
The notion of animal rights and their humane treatment was enough of a fledgling concept in the broad public sense when I was a mere hatchling myself that it was represented in all of its wimpy glory almost exclusively by the catchphrase Be Kind to Animals. It’s not that no one had given a single thought to the necessary deeper commitment to conservation or species protection or rehabilitation or research or any of those other lofty and positive things, but they weren’t as widely recognized and commonly discussed as they are now. Does that mean we’re good at this stuff these days? Hardly. Progress is slow. Still, any progress is better than none, and gives me hope that we can continue to learn from each step forward.
I myself make no pretense of being an animal rights lobbyist or animal care practitioner of even the most minimal sort. I haven’t been a biologist, nor have I ever farmed or been a veterinarian, or even, save in very brief intervals with housemates’ companions, shared my home with pets. My entire personal contact with animals beyond any local wild critters has been limited to meetings with so-called ‘domesticated’ animals–those whose lives and well-being are dependent upon the other humans who house and keep them in homes, on farms, and in zoos. And I must admit that I have always relished these times of interaction. Most of all I enjoy it when the animals, whatever their sort, are appropriately respected and properly cared for so that they, in turn, are healthy and content to do what comes naturally without being aggressive, destructive or self-destructive, because they don’t need to be in order to get along in life.
I wouldn’t have the remotest chance of saving a species, even a single needy animal, other than by means of supporting others in that work. I am, in fact, an omnivore, far from being a vegetarian or vegan; I don’t lobby actively for animal rights (or anything, being far from a political animal myself) and have no skills whatsoever in caring for animals. All I can say in my defense is that I think I understand pretty clearly the animal participation in this world of ours that makes the life of even a human like me with my exceedingly limited contact not only so much better but, frankly, possible. And I am beyond grateful for it.
This other bit of useful wisdom with which I credit my uninformed self could be simply translated as a recognition that the phrase Animal Rescue, commonly used to describe the magnanimous salvation of non-humans by humans, is more aptly applicable when used to describe the opposite. They save us.
The green earth that provides for our survival could never do so without the animals that keep its lovely recycling services operational. Animals, even those domestic beasts treated the most kindly, account for a large slice of the labor force that keeps our world operating on a practical basis. Animals act as medical and physical guardians and assist persons with sensory deficits or health challenges to let them live in a world that’s not otherwise adjusted to meet their needs. Animals have been and are part of police forces, search and rescue teams, security operations, transportation teams and more; they contribute to all kinds of research and behavioral studies and provide wool, fur and hair used for a wide variety of woven, filled or lined coverings, many of them over long productive lives.
Top of the list, if you ask me is companionship and comfort. These are the characteristics that we admire most in our fellow Homo sapiens. We look for warmth and unconditional acceptance from friends and loved ones and even from acquaintances and colleagues, and many kinds of animals willingly give us these in return for very little demand on their part as well. This gift alone makes me grateful for animals as much as all the other great treasures with which they grace our lives.
For all that I’ve had little animal presence in my life–or possibly, because of that limitation–I learned very early that each happy time spent in the company of contented, healthy animals makes me feel immediately new-and-improved. I don’t know if other folk would confirm that I am any better than I was before, but I feel better inside. It’s as though every five-minute increment in company with animals makes my blood pressure drop, my spine straighten up and my mind clear of unhappy junk and fill with peaceful, more meaningful, more creative things. Suddenly, thanks to having a goat come up to me in a field and beg for a good head-scratching, I’m thinking the sun got brighter and my lifespan just got extended, stretched another two days’ length or so; because a dog lay quietly by my feet while I was taking care of the day’s correspondence I gained not only the direct warmth of him against my shins but also, the warm glow of his trust and calm confidence in being around me makes me feel more trustworthy and confident myself and strengthens me to get my task wrapped up well and swiftly.
What I take away from this contemplation is twofold: I sincerely believe that I must do any and every small thing I can to improve the lives of animals by avoiding thoughtless approaches to them and simply by treating them appropriately whenever the opportunity arises. And I need to learn from them as well. I know I can benefit from being more, if you will, ‘beastly’ in this way–by approaching life a little less cynically, not thinking of the rewards I expect or desire in return for my actions but rather of the pleasures that being kind, just, helpful, hopeful or appropriate can give me in and of themselves. If the very act of making others happier can make me happier, how could I not love that? Seems to me like we can all benefit from ‘behaving like animals’ in this sense.
A wonderful daily photography blog, PhotoBotos, just published the spectacular photo that won the prestigious National Geographic contest in 2012, and besides being a truly distinctive and powerful photograph of a gorgeous tiger, the image marks a significant story (included in the post and comments) regarding people’s contentious attitudes toward others of the human animal when it comes to how we treat non-human ones. I find it sad, surprising, maddening and poignant that sometimes those who are sincerely motivated by a desire to protect and conserve wildlife are so unwilling or unable to see a need to extend the same courtesies to their fellow human creatures and the animals whose lives intertwine in less wild circumstances with theirs. It’s just possible that we ought to be learning better–as creatures with the ability to consider the needs of others in a supposedly rational way–to rescue ourselves and our fellow humans before we can more truly accomplish the care of and respect for other animals. They enrich our existence without any particular expectation in return. Imagine the possibilities when we do the same.
I’m fond of the idea of animal companions and the way that various spiritual and philosophical schools of thought have incorporated the concept of human-animal affinities as talismans, symbols, totems and the like–never mind the opportunities presented for animal appreciation in contacts with pets, farm animals, zoo denizens and the serendipity of wild meetings. I simply find animals intriguing and appealing, and the chance to be in friendly contact with any of them pleasing and attractive. When they become boisterous, and especially when they are threatened or threatening, not so much of course, but even in those states they are compelling subjects of interest.
Animals are beautiful, mysterious, sometimes cuddly and affectionate, sometimes regal and dramatic, and always rather miraculous in my view. As I’ve lived much of my life in proximity, one way or another, to interesting animals but never had pets or been a caretaker of animals directly, there’s a tinge of the exotic even in the most common and frequently seen birds, bugs and beasts, fish or fowl, tame or terrifying, that perhaps people having more direct relationships with the creatures would not see. Somehow, despite the frequency with which I may see them sitting on the road-lining fenceposts, dead trees and light standards, hawks become not only the focus of my attention but messengers and comforters and guides that reassure me and inspire me simply by appearing where they do and catching my eye. When the call of a full moon brings out more of the neighborhood creatures to enjoy its bright benefits, I am moved to feel that the presence of more animals (the wild ones from our wooded ravine and even the neighbors’ straying house pets) has some meaning and purpose and must be meant to please me as well.
It’s not surprising, then, that animals appear in so many of my artworks, both in their expected forms as portraits of a kind or characters in my visual stories, and often in more abstract influences on the pieces. As a carnivore myself, I am not averse to eating animals as well, but my appreciation in this regard is enhanced the more when I can make complete use of the animal’s sacrifice, say, in using not only all of the meat but also cooking down the bones for delicious and healthful broths and then still having the beauty of the bones that have not been utterly disintegrated in that process as potential art materials too.
Some marvelous turkey bones, for example, not only supported the original bird that became the crowning glory of a roast-turkey feast (or, more accurately, two or three feasts at the least), but then became soup and sauce base in a long slow cooking and then, as the bones came out of the broth, beautiful and earthy and sculptural objects that in turn made me think not only of the turkey itself but also of all sorts of other creatures whose bones and skeletons and exoskeletons make them so remarkably lovely and strange. That is how a turkey breastbone became, in my mind, first a nose and then a beak, and finally, when the ‘beak’ was matched up with other bones having the right shamanic shapes, combined and decorated and gilt and otherwise conglomerated, the bones became the structure of a different bird altogether. In a turkey I found an owl–a Great Horned Owl, or to be even more precise, the Spirit of a great horned owl–and perhaps that reflects best of all how I see animals.
For I would include the human animal, naturally, in the list of perplexing and amazing and funny and marvelous creatures that capture my imagination and that, in its own way, is a species full of exotic mystery and charm. That makes my own life, presence and bones a collation of possibly only practical and ephemeral and biologically ordinary, yet even in those regards, mythic, parts that fit in their infinitesimal way quite neatly enough into the grand scheme of existence. I suppose it’s a reflection of that, after all, that I see and seek in admiring animals as I do. Perhaps it’s legitimate that I should make shamanic masks and look for meaningful appearances from the many winged and hoofed and spirited beings surrounding me daily and nightly, throughout my life.
While I’m channeling the warmth and fuzziness of friendly fauna from last week’s travels, I will clarify for you that I’m attracted to all sorts of critters, not just household dogs and cats. Like you’re surprised by that. Anyway, seems like a good time to share some of the other photos I took on the trip so you can all enjoy them too. Because I know, of course, that if you’re spending time hanging around here it just proves you also have excellent taste, so you’re bound to like my little borrowed menagerie of friends too. Just remember not to feed the wildlife.
Ha! Just when the 100°F+ (38°C) weather has dragged on long enough for me to start whining about the lack of lively things happening in my garden and haul out the photo albums of earlier spring and summer shots to moon and maunder over, This. We came driving down to the end of our driveway last night after a concert and I saw something shining in the farthest reaches of our headlights. Then a twitch of movement. Saw a flash of pinkish color in the dim illumination.
After three years of living in Texas and only one sighting of an armadillo other than the variety occasionally spotted in a sort of worn-area-rug likeness on desolate stretches of highway, there in my own backyard were a pair of waddling ‘dillos searching the perimeter of the house for tasty bugs and grubs. I’ve known, of course, that living on a property that shares its back border with a little greenbelt ravine, we have all sorts of creatures–possums, raccoons, birds, insects, squirrels, wild rabbits, and the assortment of neighborhood cats and dogs that keep an eye on them all–there were likely armadillos too. I’ve heard from various locals of such residents as wild turkeys and coyotes, as well, and heard from a bobcat itself that it at least formerly inhabited our little slice of the semi-wildness. But other than the one unfortunate flat armadillo that I once found run over on a neighboring street, I’d not seen any hard evidence of their inhabiting this spot.
So it was a delight to see these funny, eccentric looking and shy nocturnal visitors not only in the neighborhood but in our own yard. They were remarkably unmoved by us, even when my chauffeuring spouse stopped the car, rolled up the automatic garage door and let me clamber out with my little camera to try to catch a glimpse of them to keep. They were already rounding the corner of the house almost immediately after we spotted them, so I crept indoors and out the front door. Our porch lights are meant only to light the porch, so there was no real way to see the critters in that dark, but as soon as I stepped out into the black I could hear bits of rustling off to my right. Yes, they’d come out to investigate the front flowerbeds and rummage in the buffet at the foot of the oak trees.
Lacking any fabulous infrared spy camera or night vision goggles for the occasion, I simply took my little point-and-shoot in hand and, well, pointed and shot. Aimed for the scuffling and shuffling sounds as best I could. Caught a couple of quick little glimpses as the flash went off in its nearly random way. And rejoiced that these delightfully surreal animals had decided for once to pay me a visit when I could actually be on hand to appreciate it. Life does go on, no matter the weather, the season or the condition of my plants. After all, if the plants had continued to be too vigorous, the insects wouldn’t find such rich dining on them and there would be little fascinating forage for my miniature garden-zeppelin friends. And I do thank them for helping with the insect-control efforts here. And probably, for some free fertilizer in the bargain, especially if I startled anyone with my camera flash.