earthweal weekly challenge: WHEN ANIMALS SPEAK

 

by Sherry Marr

I recently read a fascinating book titled Animalkind – Remarkable Discoveries About Animals and Revolutionary New Ways to Show Them Compassion, written by Ingrid Newkirk and Gene Stone.

It tells wonderful stories about all manner of creatures:  an albatross, the first living being to circumnavigate the globe; chimpanzees who defeat college students in computer games; a horse trained to choose among various symbols to indicate whether he would like his blanket off or on, or would like a snack. Trainers described the horse as being excited by now having the ability to communicate and express preferences.

The authors describe an Australian sheepdog trained to retrieve – by name – 200 objects. When told to retrieve an unknown object, he correctly deduced that the unknown toy he had not seen before must correspond to the unfamiliar name. Deductive reasoning. So smart. I was smitten, hearing about the tiny desert mouse, who places a stone outside her burrow in order to drink the early morning dew.

Animals are delightfully amazing. And they seem to have a sense of humour as well. I have seen this in dogs and horses I have known. They also exhibit pure compassion and devotion, beyond what humankind seems capable of. This is why it breaks my heart that so many millions of living sentient beings are treated so brutally by humans, who often tend to view them as resources, property, put there for our use, creatures without feelings, rather than part of an ecosystem in which each one has its place and purpose and right to exist.

People who work in abattoirs or vast factory “farms” must tell themselves they are “dumb beasts” who don’t feel pain. But all we have to do is look into their eyes to know they feel every emotion we feel: pain, grief, fear, sorrow, terror, as well as joy, happiness, contentment and love (those who are more gently treated.)

“An animal’s eyes have the power to speak a great language,” said Martin Buber, the German philosopher.  The authors of Animalkind pose the question: can animals love? We all know the answer to that.

I have seen a dog lie on an owner’s grave and sob with grief; a horse lay his head on his person’s casket, and weep.

 

Source: Thula Thula

 

While I was writing this, I read a wonderful book, The Elephant Whisperer, by Lawrence Anthony,  the story of how he accepted a herd of wild elephants at his vast wildlife reserve, Thula Thula, in Zululand, to save them from being killed. They arrived traumatized at being removed from their familiar territory, and, only 48 hours before, having seen their matriarch and her baby being shot. Mr. Anthony was determined to save them, hoping patience and stability would settle them down. They broke out right away, causing local rangers to allow him only a short time to turn things around, or they would be killed.

He set up camp beside the fence of their compound and stayed day and night, trying to gain their trust. At 4:45 every morning, the elephants would tense, facing the direction of their homeland, preparing to break out. Each time he pled with their new matriarch, Nana: “Don’t do it, girl. They will kill you if you get loose. This is your place now. It is a good place. Please stay.” This was repeated every morning, for some time. Each time, Nana seemed to reflect on his words, understand, and decide not to break out.

Then, one morning, she came right up to the fence. Intuitively, Mr. Anthony went to her, overcoming his nervousness. She looked at him with her wise, old eyes, and reached out her trunk to whuffle at him. Trust had forged its bond. He then decided he could let them out of the boma, (their early compound), into the wider expanse of the sanctuary, which has now grown to 4500 hectares. “Something happened between Nana and me,” he writes, “a moment of connection. It gave me a sliver of hope.”

Trust grew among the herd, which settled in and did not try to escape again.

We know elephants, like whales, can communicate across vast distances, sometimes at ultrasonic frequencies humans can’t hear. Their rumblings can be felt traveling underground by other herds for as much as six kilometres.  Mr. Anthony noted that they somehow intuited across vast distances when certain important events occurred, such as the birth of his sons, or his return from a trip abroad. They came to meet his babies, as they had come to present their calves to him. They always came to welcome him home.

Mr. Anthony writes, “In our noisy cities, we tend to forget the things that our ancestors knew at a gut level: that the wilderness is alive, that its whispers are there for us all to hear – and to respond to.” At the end of his book, he summarizes, “The most important lesson I learned is that there are no walls between humans and elephants except those we put up ourselves. Until we allow not only elephants, but all living creatures their place in the sun, we can never be whole ourselves.” I agree.

When he died suddenly of a heart attack in 2012 at the age of 61, twenty elephants walked for twelve hours to his house, where they stood for two days and two nights to pay their deep respects in his honour.

To make this even more uncanny, Mr. Anthony died away from home, in another country. Yet the elephants, many miles away across the reserve, somehow knew he was gone.  His wife, Francoise Malby-Anthony, in her book An Elephant in My Kitchen, wrote about this: “We hadn’t seen them in months. Why now? Why this exact weekend?….To me, it makes perfect sense. When my husband’s heart stopped, something stirred in theirs, and they crossed the miles of wilderness to mourn with us, to pay their respects, just as they do when one of their own has died.”

Even more astonishing, on the same day each subsequent year, they marched to the house again in his honour. This Knocks. Me. Out. Elephants never forget a kindness, and we know that elephants grieve. (To find out more about Thula Thula, click on this link: https://thulathula.com/history/)

There is a larger landscape
than the one we see.

—Sarah Ban Breathnach

We’ve all read stories of dogs traveling great distances to return home, or re-unite with a beloved companion. Howie was a Persian cat who traveled 1,000 miles across the Australian Outback to return home. Truly remarkable.

Dolphin skin is so sensitive, it can feel sound waves in the water; their echolocation and communication system is highly evolved, much of it, as with elephants, beyond the human auditory range. The noise of boat motors and propellers must be excruciating for them.

I found fascinating the authors of Animalkind’s explanation that the mystery of flight begins, not in wings or feathers, but in birds’ light, hollow bones that make it easier to lift. The bones are full of tiny air sacs that take in oxygen independent of the lungs, which allows the birds to sustain the energy needed to fly. I didn’t know that. Bird songs serve a practical purpose; they call mates, find their flock, scare intruders, warn about predators. They use distinct notes in correct order.

The authors explain that fish feel pain and are aware of themselves as individuals. I have a friend who tapes pictures to her fishbowl, and says her fish spends time looking at them; it shows interest when the pictures are changed for new ones. Wow.

My grandson, at the age of nine, turned vegan, saying, “I don’t want to eat anything that has a face.” He is a man now, still not eating anything that has a face.

We are sharing the world with feeling creatures. This is why it hurts my heart when I read about the excruciating lives so many animals live under human domination.

The words of Jenny Leading Cloud of the White River Sioux speak to me:

“The buffalo and the coyote are our brothers; the birds, our cousins. Even the tiniest ant, even a louse, even the smallest flower you can find – they are all relatives. We end our prayers with the words Mitakuye Oyasin – All Our Relations – and that includes everything that grows, crawls, creeps, hops and flies on this continent.”

I long for the day when enough of the population awakens to the plight of animals to demand legislation to protect these gentle beings. The beyond-human realm is vast and largely unregulated. We scroll past the horrors; we can’t bear to look. But once we know, we can’t not know that a world of sentient beings who cannot speak are telling us in every way they can that they need our help and protection.

For this week’s challenge, speak for animals, or let the animals speak. You can write about wildlife refuges, the need for them and the challenges. Or choose an animal and write a poem in its voice as a non-human being. What is its song, what does it love or fear or need? How does the climate crisis impact it? I am waiting with both fear and anticipation to find out!

— Sherry

earthweal weekly challenge: WHAT HAPPENS TO ONE, HAPPENS TO US ALL

 

by Sherry Marr

I was fascinated when I first learned about the re-introduction of wolves into Yellowstone National Park, after an absence of seventy years, and how this impacted, in what is called a trophic cascade, everything in the ecosystem, ultimately actually changing the course of the river.

Nature is amazing!

A trophic cascade is a series of consequences, starting at the top of the food chain, that affects all the species lower down.

Yellowstone Park was created in 1872. Poachers, hunters, tourists and park rangers were free to kill wolves, who were considered a nuisance and given no protection at all. By 1926, wolves had vanished from Yellowstone.

The park began to suffer from the absence of wolves. There was an increase in grazing populations, and human efforts to cull the herds weren’t successful. Areas along riverbanks were denuded, soil erosion occurred, and small species withdrew.

Scientists argued for the re-introduction of wolves into the park, but park rangers were opposed. In 1967, wolves were classified as endangered. But it wasn’t until 1973 that U.S. Fish and Wildlife were required to do something about it. Years of studies were begun, working towards a restoration program.

Paul Nicklen, National Geographic photo

  

Finally, in 1995, fourteen wolves were captured in Alberta, Canada, and introduced into Yellowstone.  The results were astonishing. Grazing herds moved away from the riverbank to less open locations. With less grazing, forest regeneration stabilized the slopes; there was less soil erosion. Pools started forming; rivers became narrower. The wolves had impacted the physical geography of the entire park.

This all blows my mind. They say the increase in songbirds, beaver, and small animals like gophers and ground squirrels, which fed eagles and hawks, was amazing. Landscape that had been grazed bare became lush and green once more. Willows grew and spread. The area healed and grew into a paradise.

Best news of all, to me, is that wolves were removed from the endangered species list in 2009, as their numbers had become sustainable.

This is all marvelous to contemplate, and makes me ponder how every species has its important role to play in the working of whole ecosystems. The participation of each impacts the health of the whole. Or, as my Nuu chah nulth neighbours teach: Everything Is One. What happens to one, happens to us all.

Here is a little-known fact: salmon change forests too! One doesn’t think of salmon as having a connection to the forest. But eagle, bears and wolves all eat salmon. Fish carcasses and the droppings of the animals that eat salmon are compost, adding necessary nitrogen to the trees and the forest floor. They keep forests thriving. Here on the West Coast, our salmon stocks are dying out, because of climate change, warming seas, over-fishing, and, especially, pollution and disease from the open-pen fish farms in the area.  First Nations have been advising of this danger for decades, yet governments are slow to act in legislating fish farms into contained land-based locations. I fear our salmon will go the way of the cod stocks of the eastern seaboard before long.

The Nuu chah nulth people have lived off salmon for ten thousand years. It only took greedy settlers a couple of hundred years to plunder everything into near-extinction. I can’t imagine, as outraged as I am by environmental degradation, what it must be like for the original people of this land  – its caretakers and guardians – to watch everything being destroyed: salmon dying out, forests being clearcut, everything being paved over in an accelerating rush to grab it all before it all is gone. I am astounded by how patient the First People are, and how willing, still, to talk to us and try to help us learn.

It saddens me to reflect on the outrageously heavy and disproportionate impact our human species has, the harsh toll it is taking on the non-human realm – who have as important and necessary a role to play as we do in an interdependent ecosystem, and as much right to life.

“Mother Nature provides for our need,” a local Chief often repeats, “but not our greed.”

Let’s think about this for our challenge: Share any example you wish of a human or non-human being, and the impact it has on its surrounding ecosystem. Share your wonder, your despair, your hope, your respect: whatever this challenge brings up for you. I look forward to being amazed.

weekly challenge: MESSAGES FROM THE WILD

Port Alberni owl

 

guest post by Sherry Marr

The heart that breaks open
can contain the whole universe.

—Joanna Macy

Mother Earth is sending us urgent messages in wildfire, floods, tornadoes, the CO2 index, and record-breaking temperatures. The wild ones, too, are speaking. I think of Tahlequah, the mother orca who carried her dead calf on her nose, in grief, for seventeen days and could not let her go. The Tla-o-quiaht people, here in Clayoquot Sound, teach that every creature is a being, as worthy of life and respect as we are. They tell of an orca who accompanied the boat carrying a dead chief all the way to his island home. They believed the orca was the chief’s brother, come to accompany him on his final passage.

One of our online poets had a three-day visitation from an owl, recently, who chose her yard in which to do her dying. I believed at the time the owl carried a message for her. The poet, sadly, was diagnosed with cancer soon after. It sounds like it has been caught in time, perhaps thanks to the owl, who gazed at her intently, soul to soul, for the days she visited.

Two weeks after my mother died, I was driving towards her farm when, (it felt like in slow motion), an owl flew across my windshield, so close I could see every feather. Her head was turned towards me and our eyes met as she made her passage into the forest, still looking back at me. It felt like time had slowed. Somehow the car was still moving and on the road, yet I can still feel the slow suspension of those moments, our eyes locked. I knew an oracle had been, with a message for me from my mother.

I have a poet friend who is visited often by wild creatures. She has dreams filled with the cries of the wild ones, who bring her messages because she is a seer, a woman of the drum, who can carry their voices to the rest of us.

I worked for many years at a First Nations healing centre where families came to heal from addiction issues. We had a ceremony called the Healing of Memories, where we gathered in circle around an outdoors fire, and people wept as they threw their written messages of pain into the fire, to lessen their burdens. Eagles never failed to show up and circle slowly overhead  till we were finished.

I lived with my own wild one for fourteen years. Pup was a wolf-dog, found at the healing centre, close to death, as a tiny puppy. I took him home and fed him and he grew. He was a wild one, and he led me a merry chase! He did not want to leave me when he died. The next morning, right around the time his body was going into the flames, I woke up feeling his snout on the edge of my mattress, and heard his gentle whuff, the way he had woken me for all those years. He had come one last time to say goodbye. This still makes me cry.

These days I am hearing of rivers being given the status of personhood, to protect their rights. Our opportunity now is to recognize what indigenous people have always known, that everything has consciousness: the sea, rivers, trees, animals. We need to save the wild, not just for ourselves, but for all the wild ones of every kind: animals, birds, sea creatures. All our relations.

We have seen the photos of starving polar bears in the melting north, sometimes only skin and bone by the time they expire. We heard the cries of the burning koalas and kangaroos of Australia. But then another crisis came, and another.  The pangolin and the barbecued monkeys and dogs from the wet markets of Wuhan have brought us a profoundly life-altering message in the corona virus. We did not heed earlier warnings, so the lessons are being repeated more strongly.

For today’s challenge, let’s contemplate messages from the wild.

Have you had an encounter with or a visitation from a wild creature? Do you have a totem animal with whom you identify? Or do you share life with a less-wild creature, and have a story to tell about communicating with another species? For we do communicate with them, and they with us, as any dog or cat or horse-lover understands very well.

Write whatever comes up for you. There is sadness in how the wild ones are suffering. But there is also such wonder and privilege in sharing this world with them; such gifts given us by the animals who honour us with their trust. Since their messages are non-verbal, we have the opportunity to speak for them. You might wish to relate an encounter. Or you might speak as a particular wild creature, as we do in the Council for All Beings, giving voice to what the animals wish and need us to understand.

The animals hold my heart, always, so, whatever you write, I will read your poems with such delight.

weekly challenge: CONNECTING HUMANS, WILDLIFE AND THE CORONA VIRUS

Typical Wet Market in China (Getty Images)

 

By Sherry Marr

As you know, my heart is always with the animals, wild and domestic. Anderson Cooper of CNN recently interviewed Dr. Jane Goodall, who said she hoped the corona virus pandemic would soon be over. Then she added, “I hope and pray that the nightmare will soon be over for the wild animals who are captured and kept in horrible conditions for food. Our too-close relationship with wild animals in the markets, or when we use them for entertainment, has unleashed the terror and misery of new viruses, viruses that live in them without harming them, but mutate into other forms to infect us.

“We have amazing brains,” she continued. “We are capable of love and compassion for each other. Let us also show love and compassion for the animals who are with us on this planet.”

Music to my ears. But will humankind listen? Have we learned anything from this? Stay tuned. I have a discouraging answer to that question farther down in this feature.

This virus has made clear as never before how interconnected we all are with the natural world and the other species we share the planet with. We know now, there is a direct connection between the wild animals in the wet markets of Wuhan and the corona virus. The pangolin (scaly anteater) and the civet are said to have played a part in transmitting it. Researchers say it likely originated in the Chinese horseshoe bat.

In wet markets, people buy and eat such things as barbecued bats, monkeys, cats and dogs, all kept in terrible conditions. They look out through the wire in terror, knowing they are about to die a horrible death. They are killed in ways too brutal for me to relate.  We don’t want to know this. It makes us uncomfortable. We prefer to look away.  We can easily imagine the distress of a single human in this world that we have made so difficult to live in. Each individual animal feels the exact same fear, pain and terror that we do. They haunt me.

Some of our North American practices in our factory “farms” are as brutal as anything we cluck about across the sea.

Because I know that animals feel everything we feel, because I have seen their tears and I hear their cries for help all over the world, I can’t turn away. I bear witness. I sing the song of their desperate lives, hoping enough of us will hear and come to their rescue.

We are now paying the price of wildlife trafficking. The bill has come due. The demand for apes, for bush meat and body parts, for elephants, rhinos, big cats, giraffes has brought us to this moment.  The pangolin is one of the most trafficked animals on earth. Who would have thought our fates would intertwine?  These are creatures that belong in the wild, whom we have interfered with terribly. Now seven tigers in captivity at the Bronx Zoo in the U.S.  have the virus, infected by their human handler.

As early as 2007, studies warned “wet markets are a time bomb for a virus outbreak”. And this week both the White House coronavirus expert Anthony Fauci and U.N. Biodiversity Chief Elizabeth Mrema called for a global shutdown of all wild animal markets, “to prevent the next pandemic.”  Oh my goodness.

Here is where my heart sinks. China did order the wet markets closed when the virus broke out. But they re-opened as soon as lockdown regulations were relaxed.

Let that sink in. How discouraging, that we learn nothing from what we live through. How frustrating that profit continues to be the driving force, above survival of the planet, its people, and the other beings whose survival is totally at our mercy. Mea culpa.

As citizens of our global village, the protection of our environment equals the protection of our future, and our grandchildren’s. The laws we create to protect wildlife will also protect human communities. A shift to restoring the earth to balance will create employment, through alternative sustainable livelihoods that do no harm. This will create more successful human communities.

Compliance will be a problem; the wild animal trade is peoples’ livelihoods. We need to develop artisan markets, tourism, wildlife protection and land stewarding jobs instead. The UN chief noted that the risk is of driving the trade underground, making it even more dangerous and less regulated.

In the short window of time remaining before we pass the tipping point (which feels ever nearer, to me), we need to make every effort, personally, nationally and globally, to heal the harm we have done to Mother Earth. We have seen how quickly the natural world responded, when we humans took our feet off the gas pedal and stayed indoors: she began to heal, skies cleared, waters grew cleaner. Mother Earth has been sending us messages in every voice she has, telling us she was in trouble. With this virus, perhaps she has finally gotten our attention. I hope so.

We have seen how governments at every level, faced with the global threat of the virus, have come together. Everything else was set aside to address the problem which threatens our lives. I hope they will do the same for the climate crisis, when the virus subsides, for it threatens us every bit as much. I think of wildfire season, not that far off, with foreboding. Governments and everyday people have shown we can step up with courage, determination, and with full and loving hearts, when the cause is urgent. I have to hope that on the other side of the crisis, we will address climate change, of which this virus, our global appetites, and the voracious maw of capitalism have all played their part.

For your challenge: as always, I keep it wide open. Write about whatever this sparks in you: our connection with the natural world and with the wild, your fear, anger, hope, love of animals, domestic and wild, or your frustration at humanity’s slowness to grasp our shared predicament. Never did we think we would be living through times like this. How is the virus affecting you?

Bring us your words, experiences and feelings about these difficult times we live in. Be assured, we will read them with deep respect.

 

Sources:

https://www.facebook.com/AndersonCooperFullCircle/posts/1366604073527280

https://slate.com/technology/2020/04/jane-goodall-coronavirus-species.html?fbclid=IwAR0mUUBrGRcO0BhxjLqJF4rI_QBGmjeLhgHGQjWEOxsUbhwttnqzCjsHnYU

https://www.ccn.com/shockingly-chinas-wet-markets-are-reopening-will-we-ever-learn/

https://www.bbc.com/news/world-us-canada-52177586

https://www.newindianexpress.com/world/2020/apr/08/wet-markets-important-risk-factor-for-coronavirus-spread-un-biodiversity-chief-2127349.html

weekly challenge: THE ANIMALS OF CLIMATE CHANGE

By Sherry Marr

It has been a hard month, with kangaroos and koalas burning, suffering and dying in the Australian wildfires. Due to drought (and unregulated corporations buying up fresh water sources), rivers are drying up. Thousands of platypus have perished, among the billion beings lost.  I nearly lost it when someone proposed shooting 10,000 camels “because they drink too much water.” Typical human thinking: as if we are the only species that matters.

The exhaustion and gratitude in this orphaned baby joey’s face pierces my soul. The wild creatures lived in harmony with the natural laws of Mother Earth until the last couple of hundred years, when the dominant species began extracting more than our share of resources. Humankind is too slow to recognize that we are all interconnected. What the wild things are experiencing now, we will experience too, likely sooner than we expected. In fact, many of us are already climate refugees, as the cascade effect accelerates.

Governments are too slow to act. “Economic interests” still come first, as global systems falter and wreak havoc.

The animals are suffering all over the world: remember Tahlequah in 2018, carrying her dead calf on her nose for seventeen days of grief we shared. Near me, on the West Coast of Canada, wild salmon stocks, infected by fish farm pollution, are dying; the result is starving whales and bears, and collapsing ecosystems. Grey whales are washing up with stomachs full of plastic; dolphins are trapped in driftnets. A million seabirds were killed in the hot waters of the Pacific Blob.

The numbers of creatures suffering and dying is too vast for comprehension.

Up north, polar bears are dying excruciatingly slowly of starvation; photos show only their empty skin left behind in the spots where they finally mercifully perished. Habitat and food sources are running out for the wild ones. Last fall, a mother bear and her three cubs searching for food  in a city suburb near me were shot as they tried to flee back into the forest. Bees, that pollinate our crops, are disappearing.

Did you see the recent photo of the orangutan trying to physically fight the bulldozer that was destroying his habitat to grow palm oil? He reminded me of the lone young man facing the tank in Tiananmen Square in 1989. Courage born of desperation.

We now know that the lives of animals in factory farms are horrendous. We need a movement just to liberate them, and return to small sustainable farming. Without pesticides. Animal agriculture is one of the biggest sources of CO2.

This listing could push us right into despair, and heaven knows my heart breaks every day for the animals. But we need to feel there is hope, and my heart lifts at the people rising up to care for the injured animals in Australia, and the many raising funds to help them heal. The best in human nature is always evident during times of crisis, clear evidence that we humans can – and must – find a better way to co-exist with the other beings on this planet.

There is much we can do, individually and collectively, to help the animals of climate change. We can donate, we can care, we can push for legislation to protect the wild ones. We can choose a more plant-based diet. We can write poems.

Today let’s speak for the animals. We can look at the big picture, which is devastating, and requires human action, human change. Or we can take whatever creature speaks to us, whatever struggle has captured our hearts in these past weeks, and write about that. The animals are crying out to us for help.  Big blessings to those humans on the ground who are helping the helpless, terrified creatures of climate change.

(In future prompts, I will look for good things happening to reverse climate change, as well. Stay tuned. I won’t always be depressing. But the animals are always first in my heart in perilous times, because they have no voice, and they are suffering because of us.)

In hope, and love for the animals,

Sherry

Sherry Marr posts from Tofino on Vancover Island, off British Columbia and the west coast of Canada. She is the first to submit a guest weekly challenge and will be back. The earthweal weekly challenge runs from Monday through Friday afternoon; then at 4 PM EST an open link weekend kicks off.  Feel free to contribute multiple times if helps scale the theme.Include your posting location on Earth, include a link back to this challenge somewhere in your post and be sure to read and comment on your fellows’ posts. We carry this work together.