Dear Zenyatta

8 Nov

I am curious to know how you are feeling today.  I started thinking about you when I read an article about the big Breeders’ Cup Classic race at Churchill Downs that you lost by literally only inches.  It said, “One can only imagine how confused she must have been when they led her off to the barns, not the victory circle.”  Were you confused?  Disappointed?  Devastated?  Did you know that you lost the chance for a perfect 20 out of 20 races?  Perhaps you were sad because you sensed the loss through the tears of your loving jockey and owners.

I have never had a close relationship with a horse, but I remember when I was sad and crying,  my dog came by my side and quietly laid her head on my lap in sympathy.  My dog could sense my moods, and I could sense hers.  We were loving companions.  I know from cowboy movies and from a horse stable right  in my retirement community that horses and humans also develop very close relationships.

My connection with wild animals has mostly been through my weekly volunteering at the Pacific Marine Mammal Center in Laguna Beach.  The sick and injured seals and sea lions brought there for treatment are intelligent, sentient beings that I have been able to observe over the years.  I am not one of them, but I am somehow related.  Although we humans have an annoying tendency to attribute human behavior to animals, I have sensed a level of communication between humans and pinnipeds that is as exciting as it is mystifying.  For one magical afternoon in Scammons Lagoon in Baja California, I interacted with wild gray whales that came up to play with us from our small boat.  There was no doubt it was an intentional encounter on both parts – human and wild sea creature.

Cultural ecologist and environmental philosopher David Abram in his book, “Becoming Animal,” laments how distant many humans feel from nature, including  wild creatures.  Instead of rejoicing in our connections with nature, we deny them or simply don’t see them.  Language has been one of the many ways we have closed our human selves off from the rest of nature.  Neuropsychologist Karen Shanor tries to illuminate for humans the sensitivities of animals in her book, “Bats Sing, Mice Giggle” to appreciate what mostly has remained unknown and unacknowledged.

So, dear Zenyatta, can you find joy and contentment in being  a “once in a lifetime athlete?”  You will undoubtedly continue to be loved and very well cared for.  You have achieved fame and glory in the eyes of humans.  Yes, you are a winner as  well as a loser.  I can only imagine what you feel, but I have no doubt that you do feel deeply.

Sincerely yours,

Another Sentient Being

It was natural for me to talk to the hills beside my Santa Barbara home.  They were being threatened by a greedy developer who wanted to gouge and re-configure the hills to accommodate new housing mansions.  I would walk those hills regularly, communing with them and promising them I would fight for their survival as only a human could do — with the city Planning Commission.  A friend found it remarkable that I could talk to the hills.  I found it strange that not everyone could.

On my first visit to Bali, I felt very close to the Balinese concept of animism.  Everything, be it rock, wood, water, has a spirit that needs to be respected.   Balinese had a kinship with nature that I intuitively connected to because I had related to the world as an animist all my life.  Perhaps it began in grade school when we moved to a low cost housing development next to an Air Force base.  There was a buffer zone between us and the Air Force base that was wild, untouched nature.  We children dug a hole under the fence that allowed us into that wild wonderland.  Much of my after school time was spent wandering through that wilderness that seemed so friendly, peaceful,  and endless to my child’s eyes and legs.

This summer was the first time I actively did something to “help” nature in the mountains of Wyoming near the Grand Tetons.  I picked beautiful, but invasive weeds, saw how conservationists catch and band wild song birds, and took down barbed wire fences that wildlife got caught in and died every year.  I was with people who had far greater knowledge of nature than I, but what thrilled me the most was seeing that they also had the sensitivity it requires to truly commune with nature.  Two way communication with nature requires feeling a part of nature instead of apart from it.

So, it is with joy that I’m reading a new book called, “Becoming Animal:  An Earthly Cosmology” by David Abram.  With an exquisite sense of observation, he expresses in elegant poetic words the kinship humans have with the earth and all its inhabitants.  And there is a distinct warning that denying that inter-connection by our reliance on technology  in fact  distances us more and more disastrously from our roots.

He minutely examines such things as the heaviness of shadows and the simple act of breathing.  “As breathing involves a continual oscillation between exhaling and inhaling, offering ourselves to the world at one moment and drawing the world into ourselves at the next, so sensory perception entails a like reciprocity, exploring the moss with our fingers while feeling the moss touching us back, at one moment gazing the mountains and at the next feeling ourselves seen, or sensed from that distance…”

He has absolutely no doubt that we are not the masters of nature, but participants and kin.  “We can sense the world around us only because we are entirely a part of this world, because — by virtue of our own carnal density and dynamism — we are wholly embedded in the depths of the earthly sensuous.  We can feel the tangible textures, sounds, and shapes of the biosphere because we are tangible, resonant, audible shapes in our own right.  We are born of these very waters, this very air, this loamy soil, this sunlight.  Nourished and sustained by the substance of the breathing earth, we are flesh of its flesh.  We are neither pure spirits nor pure minds, but are sensitive and sentient bodies able to be seen, heard, tasted, and touched by the beings around us.”

John Muir and David Abram would have been great friends.  As John Muir put it,

“I only went out for a walk, and finally concluded to stay out till sundown, for going out, I found, was really going in.”

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