Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Needing Rehab

It's been a while since I've done a rehab/sanctuary post so here comes one. It all started with a dream.

Walden (the cat) and I were living in an old rundown place which in retrospect reminded me of Grey Gardens. I noticed a young grey squirrel crying and wandering around the floor among some stray oak leaves. I decided to open a window to let him out, but there was a high pile of junk blocking the window. As I started moving the junk, I noticed that up in a corner by the ceiling was a nest with three faces looking at me while making quiet mewing sounds. More squirrels, I thought, but when I looked more closely realized they were tiny tamarins, but not the cotton-top variety from my docent days. Should I call the manager? No, he might kill them. I know, I'll call a wildlife rehabber. And then I woke up, suspecting Walden's usual morning noise-making as part of the inspiration.

So here are a couple rehab blogs I discovered recently, and if you know of more, please let me know. I've been searching, but usually rehabbers are much too busy to blog.

I was delighted to find The Laughing Raccoon. I mean, it's raccoons, which make up most of my very limited rehab experience. And it's from Massachusetts where I might well be living in five months. And through it, I discovered there's an association of rehabbers there. Did I mention there are lots of raccoon photos? I would say adorable raccoon photos, but that would be redundant.

From way down in Florida come Redhawk's Raptor Diaries. The January 23rd post features a peregrine falcon, the species I watch in a downtown nestbox every year. Fortunately, this bird's problem seems to have been only that she'd eaten too much to fly. And see if you spot the screech owl in another photo.

You can get cranky about wildlife rehabbers interfering with nature if you want (though usually the rehabber is needed because some other human interfered with nature) -- I just think they're some of the best humans around.

Monday, January 19, 2009

The Domestic Wrecking Crew & their Rogue Primate Masters

Sometimes I stumble on a book which makes me wonder how I'd missed it previously; in this case it was an author. Two of his books, The Fallacy of Wildlife Conservation and One Cosmic Instant: A Natural History of Human Arrogance, have been re-released as The John A. Livingston Reader. But when I read somewhere that his Rogue Primate: An Exploration of Human Domestication, published in 1994, was misanthropic, my curiosity required me to start there.

This is a complex book which explores many ideas, some of which I think are wrong such as his denial of competition in favor of compliance in nature. He contended we anthropomorphize wild species in our own image of aggression and ownership, while at the same time always finding ways to consider ourselves superior to them. Whatever science can never know of what processes are happening within an animal is labeled instinct. "Believing is seeing" was a favorite phrase. When led to believe that something is necessary and that humans are at the center of the world, we have the right to do anything and no justification is needed.

He takes on so-called development: "The 'development' ideologues do not hear the screaming of the buttressed trees or the wailing of the rivers or the weeping of the soils. They do not hear the sentient agony and the anguish of the non-human multitudes--torn, shredded, crushed, incinerated, choked, dispossessed."

An important chapter deals with definitions of self and selves: how do you identify yourself? As one distinct being? Only with the human society as children are trained to do, destroying their early fascination with nature, thereby making it easier to damage the natural world? As part of a larger natural system? Is there a group self-consciousness at work in the synchronized movements of a flock of birds or a school of fish?

Here's an excerpt from one of his other books which ends with this paragraph:
"Now, my point in reporting all of this is not to apply one more layer of mystery (mysticism) to the wildlife experience, but rather to emphasize that when I say that the fate of the sea turtle or the tiger or the gibbon is mine, I mean it. All that is in my universe is not merely mine; it is me. And I shall defend myself."

Much of Rogue Primate explores his thoughts related to human voluntary self-domestication and its consequences: removal from nature, sense of superiority and right to dominance over all which is not human (man must defeat nature), how these underlying assumptions outweigh any other differences within the society, and why he considers animal rights as ultimately self-defeating.

The book's subtitle tells you who the master is; who's the crew? Cattle, sheep, goats, swine, horses, donkeys, cats, dogs. Livingston sees domesticated animals, dependent and unnatural with no place in the natural world, as inferior to wild animals as well as destructive of those wild animals' habitat. This is through no fault of their own of course and he has great sympathy for them and believes there is no excuse for how they are treated. They have been mutilated for generations and turned into a product long before being sold as one. I think he overstates the case in how much farm animals are oblivious to the world around them, but it's certainly true compared to their wild ancestors. For all of the concern one has for their plight as individuals, ultimately they shouldn't exist as species.

Livingston explores several of what are considered animal rights issues such as fur and rodeo and always shares the opinion of AR activists, adding a long list of other issues which would make the same point about human dominance. Regarding frequent requests for funds for research to eliminate fatal diseases, he writes, "Life, after all, is fatal. I have often wondered what the medical industry would prefer I die of." And goes on to add a condemnation of medical experimentation on animals.

Ah, I suspected, here comes the "misanthropy" because at this point I was 3/4 through the book and had found none unless daring to question human supremacy qualified.

The AIDS epidemic is a natural response to human overpopulation and hyperdensity. Other species of animals, when faced with a population crisis, must either reduce or suspend breeding (which we will not or, as domesticates, perhaps cannot do), emigrate (there is nowhere left for human surpluses to go), starve (we have begun to do so), or fall victim to communicable disease. Clearly a disease which is sexually transmitted is the most efficient, . . . from the point of view of human population ecology venereal disease has no peer as an agent of control.

Sentiments such as these are offensive to many people. They "objectify" the human phenomenon, holding it up without its gauze wrappings of myth and rationalization. Such objectification reduces us to the level of animals, and that is not acceptable to zero-level humanism. The human enterprise is different. . . .

When the experimenters brutalize, torture, and kill animals in their laboratories they use the word "sacrifice." Since self-immolation is not likely to occur to any mouse, tabby, or beagle, there are only two possible explanations for its use. Either the experimenter believes in the appeasement of the gods through the ritual killing of animals, or someone's moral self-worth is being sacrificed to the higher endeavour. In the case of AIDS, chimpanzees are being used as "models". (A model is an abstraction or representation, a design or pattern; a living being is none of these.) Chimps were chosen because their chromosomal structure is close to ours. They are intelligent, sociable, trusting, defenceless. They are objectified . . . , infected with AIDS, then monitored.
So there you have it, what passes for misanthropy to many people. Mind you, there's no celebration of people dying, no claim that they're getting what they deserve. There's only a statement of facts and a questioning of the morality of deliberately infecting an animal with a disease. Daring to challenge the human right to do anything we choose with facts is enough to earn widespread condemnation. A good friend of mine from college died from cancer in her twenties (likely caused by human pollution) but I never thought that gave us the right to deliberately kill other beings.

On all these issues, Livingston not only agrees with AR advocates, he sees them as dedicated and courageous, fueled by a mixture of compassion and anger (which he and I clearly share, though I'd add some nuances such as a sense of shame and a need for justice). He writes of the "siege mentality" felt by the mainstream when faced by AR advocates, "There is no other way to explain the harsh intensity of the diatribes mounted against them, by 'resource' managers and extractors and their political servants and by pillars of the 'cultural' establishment and their sycophants."

And yet for all this agreement and sympathy, Livingston shares my doubts about the concept of animal rights and its usefulness. I've been wondering lately about the similarities and differences among advocates for wilderness, endangered species, and animal rights, both mainstream and so-called ecoterrorists (though when sending faxes of a black sheet of paper becomes an act of terror, it's hard to distinguish them from the mainstream).

These are broad and fairly obvious generalities along a spectrum, not a black or white choice, but it seems to me that all involved are seeking their own form of a closer connection to the non-human world, and meaning and action in a society they see as wrong or meaningless on basic levels. Within that similarity, I think the split comes with a focus on either urban or rural life, whether one is involved in activities in the natural world, and whether one is primarily concerned with wild or domesticated animals.

And perhaps most crucially, at least for Livingston and me, one's hopes and expectations for the future. Livingston discusses the various meanings of rights at length, an abstraction I've never enjoyed and won't get into. I do not believe in rights as anything other than a temporary effect of the time and place in which one happens to live, and he essentially finds them irrelevant in the natural world. For Livingston, if domestic animals are to have "rights" then wild animals must surely have them as well. The only way this is possible is through a (continued and expanded) complete domination of the wild planet by humans, and an acceptance of the human authority to grant rights to others, a goal he opposes.

There was a time when I believed one world government was a noble goal; though I'd still support ecofascism under current circumstances, I believe that what is ultimately needed (and coming) is a complete breakdown of global industrialism and a resurgence of small and local group life. I see animal rights advocates working within the current system and any future for their ideas as completely dependent on this system continuing--I think the best potential outcome of their work is improved animal welfare conditions which many of them often deride, but their more radical position is what has the positive effect of making welfare concerns seem more reasonable to those who had previously given no thought to the subject at all. Wilderness and endangered species advocates, on the other hand, are trying to save whatever they can for the time which comes after this system collapses, which I consider a more important and more likely scenario.

I find that Livingston's book has helped clarify my thinking on the internal split I've always felt between these two movements. Though I better understand my priorities, by no means does it eliminate my concern over what I've always preferred to call animal ethics issues. I was delighted to recently read an Edward Abbey essay (Days and Nights in Old Pariah--you can search and read it in Google) in which he writes of spending hours with two friends getting a heifer out of hardened quicksand, despite his contempt for what ranchers and cattle had done to the West.

I'll continue to believe there's value on both sides, and I'll continue to offend folks on both sides. After signing up with the nature blog group, I've been amused to learn via tracking that several people have come here, read several posts, presumably enjoying them, then left after reading Locavores and Vegetarians (which only was written because I went to a locavore meeting where the speaker attacked vegetarians, and because so-called environmentalists continue to ignore their hypocrisy in eating meat--though I see Audubon magazine has a good column on the subject and it will be interesting to see what reaction it gets) because I think not eating animals is better ethical behavior than eating them.

I don't mind if they don't want to read my opinions. I've had a similar experience of finding several blogs which seemed promising until a post revealed the writer as a trapper or hunter. And that's why you're warned right up top that you may be appalled. As I believe Abbey used to say, if there's anyone I haven't offended, I apologize. Or Thoreau, "The greater part of what my neighbors call good I believe in my soul to be bad, and if I repent of anything, it is very likely to be my good behavior. What demon possessed me that I behaved so well?"

Livingston's books appear on Dave Foreman's long list of important conservation/nature books, as do many of the other books I hope to write about here. The list is a great resource--check it out.

Friday, January 16, 2009

Having a Heat Wave

The temperature's gone above 0 F for the first time since Monday. Here's a nice little chart of the past few days in the region--looks like -47 was the low. As compensation for having to put up with the soaring temperature, we're supposedly going to get a couple inches of snow tonight.

Wednesday morning it was in the negative mid-teens with a wind chill double that. I decided to walk the mile or so to the university where I'm taking some adult ed classes--that day's were on state wildlife and nature writing and I'll write more about them some time in the next couple months. As far as I can remember, it was the most brutal walk I've ever taken--my breath and the scarf around my face combined to cover my glasses with ice so I couldn't see where I was stepping on the icy streets. But I still enjoyed myself and I'm glad I'm getting a good winter for what might well be my last in the area.

I'm reading the last chapter of a very interesting book which, among other topics, in some ways parallels my recent thinking on differences and similarities among radical environmentalists and animal rights activists. You can expect a long post on the subject in the next few days.

As time allows (at the moment there's a pile of eight books next to the computer and a boxful of journals in the closet competing with this plan), I've decided to reread the books I've considered most important in my favorite subjects--deep ecology, the history of the relationship between human and nature, how we should live, nature writing, etc.--and post about them. So if circumstances allow, you'll see a series of those in the next few years.

One final book note: I've just learned my favorite natural history writer has a new book coming in August. If you haven't enjoyed the books of David M. Carroll, you've made a mistake which it's time to rectify.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Get Wild!

I haven't been in a writing mood lately (or now) but I'll interrupt that to salute the Senate for passing a package today which would designate over 2 million additional acres as Wilderness, primarily in the West but also within Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore in Michigan's Upper Peninsula. There's a wide variety of other items including new additions to National Trails and National Wild and Scenic Rivers. If you'd like to look through the list, you can go here and search for S 22.

As with anything a government of compromise does, it's not all good news such as Section 6401 onward which authorizes a road through Izembek National Wildlife Refuge in Alaska. And of course the House usually tends to be less enlightened, so Senate passage may ultimately be meaningless. But for the moment, something to celebrate.

Sunday, January 4, 2009

Walking in the Winter, Wondering

A couple weeks ago I was delighted to find this quote from Thoreau's journal:
Take long walks in stormy weather or through deep snows in the fields and woods, if you would keep your spirits up. Deal with brute nature. Be cold and hungry and weary.
That is exactly how I feel about it and never realized that Henry had stated it so explicitly. Cold invigorates me, snow still brings a child's joy, and I prefer the struggle against the physical hardship of nature to the psychological hardship of society.

Friday I enjoyed local naturalist Larry Weber's weekly radio celebration of the natural world and his kindred delight in winter--December the 5th snowiest, and much colder than usual, too! Animal tracks in the snow! Later that morning I saw the steaming Lake, with its half-hidden ships and its own cloud against the blue sky.

Exaggerated forecasts of a snowstorm got me out for a long walk along the Lake yesterday. I enjoyed a berry-eating robin, swells-riding ducks, a bald eagle circling over the harbor (not as visually striking against the overcast as on a sunny day but still with that magnificent wingspan), the thick undulating ice water as waves approached the shore, the rising ridge of ice just offshore now several feet higher than the land, the solid sheet of ice from spray complete with diagonal icicles on a railing far above the Lake. The still loose ice which for now travels with the wind between states and countries was steadily moving through the canal into the harbor, grinding slowly against itself, then piling up in heaps by shore. A jogger new to town got more than he bargained for when he asked if he could get all the way to the distant lighthouse at the end of my favorite hike in town. My only disappointment was that my hope for a snowy hike was foiled by the fact that it didn't snow until three hours later when I was two blocks from home.

Increasingly, when I view the Lake in its many varied aspects, I wish I could show you what I'm seeing. So a promise: if some miracle of lottery winning proportion occurs and I remain in Duluth, I'll get a camera and show you. It's easy to make promises such as that; it's far more likely that in six months this blog will be focused on vegetable gardening or hoboing in the New Great Depression or not exist at all.

But for now, there's an increased emphasis on nature-related themes, which shouldn't be taken at all as a renunciation of my interest in animal issues. You'll find a lot of new links on the right but I want to point out some of them as examples of something new to me: blog carnivals. These gather posts by many bloggers on a subject and the links are then posted on a different blog each time; thus, a traveling carnival. The carnivals I've linked to are Berry Go Round about plants, Carnival of the Blue about oceans and ocean life (and I have doubts about including this one because some posts are about eating that life, but I do love oceans), Festival of the Trees, I and the Bird, and Oekologie. Following the links here will take you to a page which will direct you to the latest incarnation.

I leave the blinds up in one room overnight so the cat can have some nocturnal entertainment, and last night I enjoyed the benefits myself. On three different occasions as I walked through the room, I spotted a rabbit neighbor. Once racing down the hill from home and then along the alley, once nibbling some tree bark, and finally along the alley and back home.