Posts Tagged ‘Natchez Trace Parkway’

“I could turn and live with animals…”

March 21, 2011

Chapters 5 & 6 in Native Science are about animals and place, respectively, so that calls for a reiteration of the link to Michael Pollan’s “An Animal’s Place,” mentioned the other day. (Summary)

Pollan’s influential essay was all about how humans can best express and sustain a healthy respect for animals, especially those destined to end up on our plates. He thinks people like Joel Salatin, at Polyface Farm in Virginia, are onto something important. Could be.

Native peoples, we read, have traditionally perceived animals as co-creators of life, in many ways our betters and (as Eagle Man already taught us) our teachers. But of course, indigenous peoples have always eaten animals. Respectfully, gratefully… humanely and ethically too? Or is eating animals wrong, period?

Well, what would Walt Whitman say?

I think I could turn and live with animals, they’re so placid and self contain’d, I stand and look at them long and long.They do not sweat and whine about their condition, They do not lie awake in the dark and weep for their sins, They do not make me sick discussing their duty to God, Not one is dissatisfied, not one is demented with the mania of owning things, Not one kneels to another, nor to his kind that lived thousands of years ago, Not one is respectable or unhappy over the earth.

There are non-consumptive, non-exploitative forms of participation in animals’ lives. Telling stories featuring animal heroes is an example, especially those calling us back to the more elemental and instinctual parts of ourselves.  But we’re more comfortable with the Disney version, projecting anthropomorphic stories onto Simba and Mickey and Baloo et al. Great entertainment, but do we ever outgrow the patronizing, sentimentalizing propaganda?

What we’ve really got a case of, apparently, even if biophilia reigns at the deepest instinctual levels, is bio-phobia. We resist the “natural orientation”that would draw all life into our circle of empathy. The Shaman, again, runs interference in “establishing and maintaining a direct relationship between human beings and the animals and plants.” (Remember Ed with his hand in the ground?)

Another of my favorite topics is raised here, the question of how “meaning passes from generation to generation,” crucially distinguished among indigenous peoples by their inherited oral and hunting traditions. Do those of us whose stories are more encrypted, and who do not trap, wrestle, or otherwise subdue our own sustenance directly, have a harder time “coming into being” (i.e., becoming educated about our natural relations)?

Coyote stealing fire from the shamans” will remind many of us of Prometheus, and the Great Turtle myth of the Iroquois of Gaia. Stay tuned, Stewart Brand and James Lovelock are on deck and in the hole. (Lovelock may actually be in his bunker humming Carole King.)

I’ve mentioned Aldo Leopold‘s “Land Ethic” before, but Cajete reminds us again. It carries a strong indigenous current I hadn’t thought about much: “We can be ethical only in relation to something we can see, feel, understand, love, or otherwise have faith in.” Is that true?

“Multiverse” is a term William James liked, and lately Brian Greene and other astrophysicists, but for neither of them does the term quite mean “multiple realities of which the reality experienced by our five senses is only one of many possibilities,” and in which direct communion with animals and plants might result in knowledge discoverable in no other way. James would have been sympathetic, though, especially if the nitrous was strong.

Do animals have “rights,” beyond interests, even if they cannot defend them discursively or juridically? Peter Singer

The Navajo concept of ho’zho was engagingly discussed by Chris Phillips

Ancient indigenous paths and roads are everywhere, even where their traces are hard to spot. But I’ve been motoring up and down one of them for many years to visit my in-laws who live down “the Trace.” Sometimes I park, get out, lace up my Nikes, and participate in a locomotive ritual that owes more than most realize to native design genius in the matter of moccassins.

Finally, and not just because we’re just back from gorgeous Fall Creek Falls: springs and waterfalls are wonderful symbols of healing and purification. They’re powerful, beautiful, inspiring, “memorable.” I don’t think “western science” would or could ever remove its spiritual impact on any honest observer.

drive time

September 4, 2010

It’s actually almost cold out here in the dawn, this a.m. The steam drifts across my keyboard, from the coffee mug and from my own exhalations. The season is about to transition, and I’m ready.

Mother-in-Law and I were discussing the seasons yesterday, and many other things, on the long ride back up the Trace to Nashville from her home down in Lewis County. I’d been dispatched to fetch her for a weekend visit, and I confess I hadn’t been thrilled at the prospect of three hours behind the wheel on my first free school-year Friday in over two years.

Most of my driving is utilitarian and end-driven, the end being to haul myself from home to ESU (Enormous State University) every school day (with stops en route to drop and retrieve Daughters). I do 80+ daily miles round-trip, just shy of two hours. I’m not one of those who finds driving intrinsically pleasurable. I barely tolerate it, I’d far rather be walking or biking.

And for the umpteenth time:  I want my super-train! They’ve got ’em in Japan and western Europe, why not here? A fast Nashville-to-Atlanta express, with stops in Murfreesboro and Chattanooga, would be heavily subscribed were it not for the appalling influence of auto-makers and oil companies on our body politic. Let’s change that, young people.

I do thank the gods for arranging my life and my commute to set me on the roads less traveled each morning and evening. I usually sail along while the poor trapped souls on the other side of the median creep at snails’ pace.  I’ve been very lucky these years, to have been stuck behind a wreck only a few times. First day of classes this year was one.  The car felt like a cell.

Yesterday, though, turned out to be a pure pleasure. M-i-L & I had a very nice conversation that ate up the miles, the day was gorgeous and mild, the Natchez Trace Parkway was practically all ours, and for awhile it really did become that nectar-filled journey whose point was not to get somewhere but just to be going. We agreed with George Santayana, where we find ourselves it is indeed far better to enjoy each season in turn than to be hopelessly in love with Spring.  It was good to hear her getting positively enthused about life’s little joys again, recent events having reinforced her worst glass-half-empty tendencies.

I had a couple of other taxi calls last night, including one to retrieve Older Daughter whose bus came in, after her week tramping with classmates in the high forests of western Carolina. She was positively enthused too, and uncomplainedly briar-scarred by her wilderness adventure.

Now I’ve got to be going again, my dispatcher is sending me with her own commuter vehicle to the Bad News Garage for a service visit this morning. Fortunately it’s not far.