Waiting tables, dyeing textiles, separating goats in heat
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“One Nation, Indivisible” features excerpts from The Sun’s archives that speak to the current political moment.
Sometimes now I help with the campaign to return wolves to the Adirondacks. They were wiped out here in the last years of the nineteenth century by people who thought of them in the same way realtors now think of blackflies — as an annoyance standing in the way of progress. I try not to pretend to myself, any more than I have to, that my main interest is with the wolves themselves or even with the health of the forest, which badly needs a top predator. I know that what I want is to hear a wolf howling in the woods because it will make this place, and my life here, feel yet more romantic. I will consume that wolf howl, just as my predecessors consumed the quiet of their suddenly wolfless nights. But once the wolf is there, its howl will also carry certain other, less obvious messages; and there will be the remote chance of an encounter with this grand representative of creation. . . .
Living in a place dominated by high mountains, wild winters, summer storms, trackless forest, and hungry insects has in fact warped me in certain ways. I am not the same person who came here. I am still a consumer; the consumer world was the world I emerged into, whose air I breathed for a very long time, and its assumptions still dominate my psyche — but maybe a little less so each year. And perhaps they dominate my daughter just a little less than that. There are times when I can feel the spell breaking — the spell of the advertiser on the tube, even the spell of the mythmaker in my mind. There are times when I can almost feel myself simply being.
“Consuming Nature,” Bill McKibben, July 2000
My awe at the beauty of life here [in Montana] is not often shared by visitors from the city. They’ll sit at my kitchen table, sipping their morning coffee and blithely anticipating a day outdoors under the big sky, and I’ll hear myself say, “Have a great walk, but, uh, if you see a bear, don’t move. If it starts coming at you, get small, cover your vital organs, and make sure you have sunglasses on. But if it’s just minding its own business, then stand your ground. You don’t want to offer yourself to it by curling up in a little ball like so much steak tartare.” . . .
“This is not relaxing,” [my friend from New York City] said.
“Why do people accept danger in the city, but not in nature?” I asked him. “People are an OK threat, but animals are supposed to be furry little balls of Walt Disney fuzz? Tell me this: Why is it that you’ll hop on the subway without even blinking, accepting that you are sharing an underground tin can with potential muggers, murderers, and rapists, but you’ll blow off your Montana morning walk due to a possible encounter with a bear?” I didn’t even mention the mountain lions, moose, and wolverines. “Has the natural world become so far removed from our lives that we don’t even see it as our intrinsic milieu?”
His answer was stunningly and depressingly human: “Laura, I’m on vacation.”
“The Morel of the Story,” Laura A. Munson, February 2004
An encounter with a real animal keeps the animal-in-the-mind real, too. A face-to-face meeting with a wild lion or bear or snake prevents an anthropocentric worldview because it puts us in contact with an other that is beyond human control.
The animal-in-the-mind is a mediator with the unknown, the unknowable. It symbolizes forces beyond human experience, ways of knowing and being that are foreign to us. If that symbol loses its grounding in the real animal, if no one anywhere is encountering a real lion, we will eventually forget what that lion is like. And the lion-in-our-minds will become slowly contained, humanized, stereotyped, its depth and power and mystery weakened. The mountain-lion-in-my-mind was powerfully satisfying until I saw the real animal.
“Lion,” Barbara Dean, January 1997
My personal hunting ethic demands that I not kill anything I don’t want to eat. That most certainly includes wolves. But from a game-management point of view, wolf populations sometimes need to be controlled in specific places and situations, so the closely regulated hunting of wolves is perhaps essential. Without it, no long-term reintroduction of wolves to the wild will get the political blessing of hunters. Sure, we could let the federal wildlife professionals trap, poison, or shoot problem wolves. That would sit better with the animal-rights activists, who detest the idea of humans finding pleasure in killing. But it would anger and alienate many hunters — and which group has more political pull in such cases? I view the hunting of wolves for sport as an unpleasant matter of practicality, even though I personally would rather hear a live wolf howl than have its hide as a rug.
“The Good Hunter,” David Petersen, interview by Jeremy Lloyd, December 2009
“Enjoy the fake nature!” a Birkenstocked, backpacking woman once shouted at me as I was entering [Central Park] and she was exiting. Had she been expecting the Grand Tetons or something? I wanted to shout back, The rocks aren’t fake. Have you sat on one? They’re real glacial outcroppings, some of them. Sure, they were brought here, but they’re still ancient, as ancient as they’d be anywhere else. The raccoons are real too, and the opossums and cottontails and squirrels. And if that coyote strolls through again, don’t pet him, OK? What did she expect? Olmsted and Vaux did the best they could to create a wild place in the center of civilization — or a civilization in the midst of all the wildness, which is how Central Park has always felt to me.
“Adopt a Bench,” Rebecca McClanahan, March 2013
It once occurred to me to write a children’s story that would show how the birds must feel, how we would feel if our world were taken over and made uninhabitable. What if the birds were large and powerful, and we were small and weak? What if the birds came into a lot of money all of a sudden, and they bought up huge tracts of property in Silicon Valley, all the land between the bay and the hills, and started converting it to their purposes? They would tear down most of the houses, office parks, and shopping centers and replace them with orchards, forests, large fields of weeds and grass, ponds, and a lot of red, trumpet-shaped flowers. Of course, people would be displaced. All the people who had lived in Valley Green Estates and Orchard Park and Apricot Gardens would have to move somewhere else. Businesses would fold; computers and swivel chairs and file cabinets would be out on the street. The birds would realize that this was rather unfortunate for people, that it was causing them certain hardships, but because bird interests had to come first, development would continue. The freeways would be dismantled; plate glass would be outlawed.
“The Birds of Silicon Valley,” Jeanne Duprau, November 1993
Years ago I heard a story of a Native American spiritual leader who was in a circle with several environmentalists who were drumming and singing. One of the environmentalists prayed, “Please save the spotted owl, the river otter, the peregrine falcon.” The Native American got up and whispered, “What are you doing, friend?”
“I’m praying for the animals,” the environmentalist replied.
“Don’t pray for the animals. Pray to the animals.” The Native American paused, then continued, “You’re so arrogant. You think you’re bigger than they are, right? Don’t pray for the redwood. Pray that you can become as courageous as a redwood. Ask the redwood what it wants.”
As it says in the Bible, “Ask, and ye shall receive.”
Ask the pandas what they want. They will tell you. The question is: Are you willing to do it?
“Thought to Exist in the Wild,” Derrick Jensen, November 2007
I step quietly out into the night air and look up at the Milky Way. I need to breathe deep and fill my lungs with stars. Whenever I walk into the forest, I feel as if I have just woken up. Life indoors, enclosed within the clutter of the modern world, is the dream.
Tonight, as on most nights, I begin a one-sided dialogue with my daughter:
Everything seems fragile tonight, Rose. Here’s the situation: We have only thin layers of nylon and goose down to insulate us from the frigid Montana night, four worn tires, four old pistons, three twenty-dollar bills — no credit cards — and more grizzly bears nearby than pay phones. We almost got trampled today by a stampeding moose, and no one knows exactly where we are at this moment. This is the mess your father has gotten you into. Just look at us: Bones and blood and skin pulled taut. Flecks of calcium. Breath.
Yet each night spent sleeping on the ground is a victory; each hawk circling, each goose honking, each stone overturned a welcome retreat from clamor. We get only a handful of such chances to rub up against sandstone, to crawl under red willow on our hands and knees, to bury our toes in warm mud.
Stay curious, Rose, despite the odds. Keep your eyes wide open at all times. The only risk is to not come here at all; to never know what it means to be fully alive.
“Living for Swans,” Stephen J. Lyons, February 1996