Tunes for a Monday Morning
Recommended Reading

Animalness

Picture 4

“We need another and a wiser and perhaps a more mystical concept of animals. We patronize them for their incompleteness, for their tragic fate of having taken form so far beneath ourselves. For the animal shall not be measured by man. In a world older and more complex than ours, they move finished and complete, gifted with extensions of the senses we have lost or never attained, living by voices we shall never hear. They are not brethren, they are not underlings; they are other nations, caught with ourselves in the net of life and time, fellow prisoners of the splendour and travail of the earth.”  - Henry Beston (from The Outermost House)

Lamb on Dartmoor by Helen Mason

“How monotonous our speaking becomes when we speak only to ourselves! And how insulting to the other beings – to foraging black bears and twisted old cypresses – that no longer sense us talking to them, but only about them, as though they were not present in our world…Small wonder that rivers and forests no longer compel our focus or our fierce devotion. For we walk about such entities only behind their backs, as though they were not participant in our lives. Yet if we no longer call out to the moon slipping between the clouds, or whisper to the spider setting the silken struts of her web, well, then the numerous powers of this world will no longer address us – and if they still try, we will not likely hear them.”  - David Abram (from Becoming Animal)

Sheep on Dartmoor by Helen Mason

Victorian illustration for Little Bo Peer, artist unknown

“Maybe it's animalness that will make the world right again: the wisdom of elephants, the enthusiasm of canines, the grace of snakes, the mildness of anteaters. Perhaps being human needs some diluting."  - Carol Emswhwiller (from Carmen Dog

More Celtic Fairy Tales

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Art credits:  The painting at the top of this post is by Virginia Frances Sterrett (1900-1931), an American illustrator who died tragically young from tuberculosis. The piece here (titled "Blondine Threw Her Arms Around Him") was commissioned for an American edition of Comtesse de Ségur's Old French Fairy Tales, published when the artist was just 19. The two photographs of Dartmoor sheep are by my friend Helen Mason, followed by a 19th century illustration  (artist unknown). The final drawing, by the English illustrator John Dickson Batten (1860-1932), is from Joseph Jacob's More Celtic Fairy Tales.

Comments

Thank you for these quotes. It is the foolish and the lost who disconnect themselves from the animal, vegetable and physical world around them. Those encased in concrete who do not connect the bee to the food on their plate. The weaving of the world that sustains them. Not only that but the wilful pull at fraying threads that would unweave the rainbow (thank you Keats).

It is quite frightening how disconnected some of our next generation are from understanding of things our forebears took for granted. I teach sustainability as part of my year 6 curriculum and each year children are shocked about where their food comes from, how it is produced and what they will lose when our biodiversity diminishes.

I also think that the narrowing of this understanding has blunted the curiosity about the world that should be innate to our children. Where is the desire to turn over the stone and observe the life beneath; many of the children I teach are frightened of it. It is incumbent on all of us to relight the fire of understanding that nurtures our world. To stop the anthropomorphizing of the animal but the develop the animalism of the human instead.

Thank you for being one of the not lone but still small voices. We need to the the stone in the shoe that reminds those in charge to tread with care and thought, not marching ahead unheeded.
(I will come off my soap box now but your posting hit a nerve that is always raw).

I love today's post. As a farmer, I can only say: yes, yes, yes. And to Charlotte, I deeply agree with all you say, and respect you greatly for the important work you are doing with children. We need more teachers like you.

And as a musician/music-teacher rooted in nature's rhythms on the coastline of Nova Scotia - where the morning sun has not yet risen and the sound of the surf drifts into my window - I say yes, yes, yes too - to this post, and to Charlotte and Cynthia's responses.

Thank you Terri and everyone else who has commented.

I found your art last April, and lost you during tumultuous personal events and have only now found you again, my personal quest to find that person who touched me so deeply in the places others rarely go.

I am no longer young, nor yet am I old. I remember the joy of raking up seaweed to see what came with it, collecting tiny periwinkle shells, screeching when something moved under the sand 'neath my feet at the beach (before Jaws, thankfully). I remember finding discarded pieces of robin's eggs, making mud pies... how many children these days get to make mud pies with good clean dirt? You cannot truly love something that you do not understand. And you cannot understand it until you have touched it with all your available senses.

I remember when they cut the back field we children would make houses and ancient walled in villages made of all the hay and pretend we were rabbit families. Ah to be a rabbit child again.

I have begun to feel strongly that there is a conversation going on that I'm not able to join in, because somehow, somewhere back in history, my ancestors lost the ability to listen to the non-human world. And it grieves me to think that, not only have we lost this ability to engage in and be part of that conversation, but we denigrate anyone who still can as being 'primitive' or 'superstitious'. Modern life often seems to be an exercise in blocking out as much of real experience as possible and replacing it with constant virtual stimulation, to the point where our young ones are now seeming to lose the ability to be still and quiet long enough even to listen to another human, let alone the wind, or the sea, or birdsong.

They have life sussed don't they? We could learn a lesson or two from their closeness to nature. :)
Jess x

Thank you, Terri, for connecting to the heart again... http://www.gutenberg.org/files/35862/35862-h/35862-h.htmesr

Oh, do it, Janette. Be the rabbit child again, even if only inside your head while the tea in your cup cools.

You know that rabbit child is in there. I don't even know you, but I can see her.

Yes, thank you Terri for the beautiful Sterrett illustration. I looked up her many imaginative fairy
tale pictures, which take me back to being very young and devoted to magic. It never stopped. I love the white cat and the white deer, who deserve their own stories, along with the princess. i always talk to animals. I've noticed they like it. Birds, fish, trees, too.

Wonderful comments from everyone! Terri, I love your thought provoking posts. Janette, I want to be a rabbit child, too! ^______^

Thanks for this blog post and lovely quotes. I think it is disastrous how we have become disconnected from nature and don´t even realize it because it´s how we are raised. There is less and less room for the kind of "softness" and pure life force that other beings remind us of and which humans used to have, too. I think our continued spiritual/emotional suffering and searching (despite all our education and wealth - technically we ought to be happier than ever) is a sign that this vital place inside us is being starved and trampled, just like we do with the outer nature. The state they are both in are a reflection of each other IMO.

Beautiful . . . all of this! Thank you.

That Beston quote is one of my favorites--except for that I disagree with him that animals are not our brethren. The Native American way of addressing wild animals one encounters as "cousin" resonates with me, for we are most definitely related through mind, heart, body and senses, and are far more alike than dissimilar.

The light of animals is so strong, they almost glow with life force, joy and grace. For that I love and admire them without limits, and speak to them always of their almost heartbreaking beauty, connecting as I can. We all feel it, so much grief over what David Abrams calls the cascading losses of species and wild places. They are absolutely necessary to the well-being of humans whether or not we realize it, and without them we feel displaced and adrift.

My husband and I have recently rescued a female Great Dane from some neglectful and abusive neighbors, and our lives and love have been all the richer since her escape into our home. Today's post on your blog seems like a confirmation from heaven that we've done the right thing by taking this strangely gentle creature and drawing her back into health. There is divinity in your keys today!

I so connected with Terri's Bunny Girls that years ago I wrote this for her:


Oh my Bunny Girls,
when I wake up in the evening,
you have already put on your masks
and started dancing around the room.
You practice your knee bends
and your hare pirouettes.
Then out you go, out of the burrow
in your borrowed clothes
to dance along the furrows.
Left foot, right foot,
doing the Bunny Hop.

But beware the fox,
tail like a battle flag
flung against the wind.
He will come creeping behind you,
the tall grass waving as he passes
Sniff the air.
Take care, take care,
Zig a little, zag a lot.
Find a friend’s burrow to borrow.

And remember to beware
the great horned owl,
all beak, talons and howl,
who hunts on silent wings
dropping from above.
Sniff the air.
Take care, take care!
Zig a little, zag a lot.
Find a friend’s burrow to borrow.

The night has its dangers
so post your guards.
Be bold and brave
but not too bold.
Sometimes hearts pitter-pattering,
teeth all chattering,
you run and hide
till danger goes by:
the fox with her tote bag
home to her kits,
the owl with his night goggles
sailing over
to a further field,

Then come back to your dancing,
left foot, right foot,
doing the Bunny Hop.
Above you the stars,
like minstrels before a velvet curtain,
strum their music.
Mars goes into an ecstasy of song,
a full splash of shine behind him,
and all the heavens sing.
The night is shorter
for your bunny hops,
and longer, too.
Left foot, right foot,
my Bunny Girls,
as you bring up the harvest moon.

©2012 Jane Yolen All rights reserved


What a lesser life I would have without the animals and nature around me. Love the beauty and illumination which comes with looking beyond the sights we first see. Taking a moment longer to look is so easy and so inspiring and rewarding. Thank you for this post. :)

Please *do* stand on this particular soapbox, as it's a message that needs to be heard.

I agree with Cynthia (in the comment below) that the work you are doing with children is incredibly important. I grieve for all the kids who know animals only as cartoon figures or food on the plate (without an understanding of where that food comes from). I grieve that we ever developed immoral and soul-destroying systems of factory farming. I grieve that we've lost so many old sacred teaching stories about the other Nations who shared this earth with us. I just...grieve. And then try to do my part to keep such tales alive for the next generation, as you do yours. Please keep up the good work, dear Charlotte.

Thank you for your lovely comment, Donna. Welcome back!

Oh, me too!

Perhaps "misplaced" rather than "lost." And it's our job to find it and pass it on.

She only worked until her mid-twenties, when her illness finally stopped her. What might she have become if she had lived longer? Perhaps one of America's great illustrators.

I agree completely.

I have that reaction to the Beston quote too, because I *do* think of animals as brethren, since we too are animals. But I think that may simply be a semantic issue -- that for Beston, "brethren" is a patronizing, rather than connecting, designation. He's arguing for the dignity of animals as beings complete in themselves, as opposed to our usual way of looking at animals always in relationship to us human beings. And that's an interesting point.

What a wonderful thing to do! I can't bear to think of dogs neglected or abused, and I'm so glad that this gentle lady has been rescued and brought into a loving home. Blessings on you all.

This poem is prominently posted in my studio, of course!!!! xoxoxox

Thank you everyone for this rich thread of comments.

I totally agree with that point, and that animals have just as much right to live on this planet as we do, that each has intrinsic value and meaning, and that it is morally wrong to destroy their habitat and the creatures that inhabit it in the process.

And that the land has rights as well! I am excited about the Rights of Nature movement, which recognizes that "ecosystems and natural communities have the inalienable and fundamental right to exist, flourish, and evolve." YES.

The true Bunny Hop. I love this.

That is so sad. But a life well lived, to give us such beauty.

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