I’m reading a book titled Becoming Animal by a “cultural ecologist and environmental philosopher” David Abram. My amazing sister (Wendy Barker, a break-your-heart brilliant poet and writer herself) sent it to me for Christmas and it has had a profound effect on me all week long.
This is not a book for many people. As a matter of fact, when I started it I was a bit put off. The Introduction seemed a bit wordy and ponderous, and I wasn’t sure I was going to enjoy it. But by the time I became lost in the first chapter I was enrolled. Abram is asking us to get back into contact with our physicality, our relation to the earth and all that is around us. He does so slowly, gently, asking of the reader what he asks of us as inhabitants of the earth–to slow down and notice that shadows are not two-dimensional outlines on the ground, but three-dimensional structures that affect everything within them; that it is not just us that is feeling the grass under our feet, but that our footsteps include the grass sensing our feet upon it.
Reading this book feels like meditating, and as such it’s not something you can skim through. It is the absolute opposite of the kind of page turning book that I call a “popcorn book.” These are the books I like to read on planes, books that allow my mind to seal off itself from the chaos of not being anywhere, except on route from one place to another. But this is the kind of book to savor, to sink into and read slowly, tasting the words and feeling its message. After reading the first chapter I swear the woods looked different when I walked up the hill that evening. Somehow we felt more connected, the trees and I, and the black and white of winter looked less empty, no longer forlorn and colorless but waiting with slow quiet breaths, pausing patiently for the next phase of the year.
Here’s an excerpt, from the chapter about shadows:
To step into the shadow of this mountain is to step directly under the mountain’s influence, letting it untangle your senses as the rhythm of your breath adjusts to its breathing, to the style of its weather. To step into its shadow is to become apart, if only for this moment, of the mountain’s life. Just as shadows are not flat shapes projected upon the ground (but rather dense and voluminous spaces), neither are they measurable quantities, mere consequences of sunlight and its interruptions. Shadows are qualitative attributes of the bodies that secrete them. … To find oneself in the shadow of a mountain is to abruptly find oneself exposed to the private life of the mountain, to feel its huge and manifold influence on the local world that lies beneath it, to enter the gravitational power of its intelligence, a sagacity no longer dissolved in the dazzling radiance of the sun.
If you like that paragraph, you’ll like the book. Fair warning.
The book’s theme of connecting with our animal nature and physicality reminds me–how could it not?–of the way our dogs keep us connected to nature. As I said in The Other End of the Leash:
...there’s something that I get from my connection to her (Tulip) that I can’t get from my human friends. I’m not even sure what it is, but it’s deep and primal and good. It has something to do with sharing the planet with other living things. We humans are in such a strange position–we are still animals whose behavior reflects that of our ancestors, yet we are unique–unlike any other animal on earth… Perhaps dogs help us remember the depth of our roots, reminding us–the animals at the other end of the leash–that we may be special, but we are not alone. No wonder we call them our best friends.
I’d love to hear your thoughts about whether you see your dog helping to keep you connected to the rest of nature, and how that manifests.
MEANWHILE, back on the farm. Willie and I are playing with “Pony” a lot, Sushi is so sick of the cold weather that she is actually trying to get Willie to play with her (Willie, who appears to categorize Sushi the cat as some kind of miniature, deformed sheep, was shocked.), and Jim and I have loaded Mac’s new Photoshop equivalent, Aperture, onto our computers and are climbing up the learning curve. We have another training session this Sunday at the Apple Store. So far, we’re a having a great time, except, of course, when things don’t make sense and then, well, we’re not. I have a long way to go to use it well, but meanwhile, here are a couple of shots.
Usually I’d like to take close ups of birds, but I loved the way this Cardinal contrasts with the greys and browns of the landscape in winter.
Here’s one of my favorite ewes, Spot. She is at the absolute bottom of the hierarchy, and often hangs back for the food, so I always go out of my way to make sure she has a seat at the dinner table.