We continue with our posts on our year-long topic, “Humans and Other Wild Animals,” with a piece from Brian Doyle’s presciently titled  new book, Children and Other Wild Animals. Brian will read Tuesday, October 21, 7:30 pm in the OSU Valley Library Rotunda. Should be a wild time.

A Newt Note

Brian Doyle

One time, years ago, I was shuffling with my children through the vast wet moist dripping enormous thicketed webbed muddy epic forest on the Oregon coast, which is a forest from a million years ago, the forest that hatched the biggest creatures that ever lived on this bruised blessed earth, all due respect to California and its redwood trees but our cedars and firs made them redwoods look like toothpicks, and my kids and I were in a biggest-creature mood, because we had found slugs waaay longer than bananas, and footprints of elk that must have been gobbling steroids, and a friend had just told us of finding a bear print the size of a dinner plate, and all of us had seen whales in the sea that very morning, and all of us had seen pelicans too which look like flying pup tents, and how do they know to all hit cruise control at the same time, does the leader give a hand signal? as my son said, and one of us had seen the two ginormous young eagles who lived somewhere in this forest, so when we found the biggest stump in the history of the world, as my daughter called it, we were not exactly surprised, it was basically totally understandable that suddenly there would be a stump so enormous that it was like someone had dropped a dance floor into the forest, that’s the sort of thing that happens in this forest, and my kids of course immediately leapt up on it and started shaking their groove thangs, and dancing themselves silly, and I was snorting with laughter until one kid, the goofiest, why we did not name this kid Goofy when we had the chance in those first few dewy minutes of life I will never know, well, this kid of course shimmed over to the edge and fell off head over teakettle, vanishing into a mat of fern nearly as tall as me, but the reason I tell you this story is that while we were all down in the moist velvet dark of the roots of the ferns, trying to be solicitious about Goofy and see if he was busted anywhere serious but also trying not to laugh and whisper the word doofus, one of us found a newt! O my god! dad! check it out!

Of course the newt, rattled at the attention, peed on the kid who held it, and of course that led to screeching and hilarity, and of course on the way home we saw damselflies mating, which also led to screeching and hilarity, but the point of this story isn’t pee or lust, however excellent a story about pee or lust would be. It’s that one day when my kids and I were shuffling through the vast wet moist forest we saw so many wonders and miracles that not one of us ever forgot any of the wonders and miracles we saw, and we saw tiny shreds and shards of the ones that are there, and what kind of greedy criminal thug thieves would we be as a people and a species if we didn’t spend every iota of our cash and creativity to protect and preserve a world in which kids wander around gaping in wonder and hoping nothing else rubbery and astonishing will pee on them? You know what I mean?



Humans are wild animals, too, though we forget or deny it most of the time. Lepidopterist, essayist, and poet Robert Michael Pyle knows a human-animal when he sees one, and celebrates her.


The Girl with the Cockleburs in Her Hair

by Robert Michael Pyle

We were talking about how children don’t
get out any more. She showed me
her daughter on her cell phone:
big pout, and four big burs
caught up in her hair.
That girl, I said, is
going to be

–from Evolution of the Genus Iris (Lost Horse Press, 2014)

Robert Michael Pyle and Alison Hawthorne Deming will be reading from their new books Thursday, October 16, 7:30 pm at the Corvallis Arts Center, 700 SW Madison, Corvallis.

Spring Creek Calendar


    by Alison Hawthorne Deming

      Animals surrounded our ancestors. Animals were their food, clothes, adversaries, companions, jokes, and their gods. In the Paleolithic period of the Great Hunt, Joseph Campbell writes, “man’s ubiquitous nearest neighbors were the beasts in their various species; it was those animals who were his teachers, illustrating in their manners of life the powers and patternings of nature.” In this age of mass extinction and the industrialization of life, it is hard to touch the skin of this long and deep companionship. Now we surround the animals and crowd them from their homes. They are the core of what we are as creatures, sharing a biological world and inhabiting our inner lives, though most days they feel peripheral—a wag from the dog, an ankle embrace from the cat, the pleasure of sighting a house finch feeding outside the window, the thrill of spotting a hedgehog waddling along a park path in Prague or a fox trotting across the urban campus in Denver. Animality and humanity are one, expressions of the planet’s brilliant inventiveness, and yet the animals are leaving the world and not returning.

      What do animals mean to the contemporary imagination? We do not know. Or we have forgotten. Or we are too busy to notice. Or we experience psychic numbing to cope with the scale of extinctions and we feel nothing. Or we begin through our grief to realize how much we love our fellow creatures and we tend to them. Or we write about them, trying to figure what the experience of animals is and how they came to be so ingrained in human mind and emotion, to remember what it feels like to be embedded in the family of animals, to see the ways animals inhabit and limn our lives, entering our days and nights, unannounced and essential.

–from ZOOLOGIES, Milkweed Editions, 2014

Alison Hawthorne Deming and Robert Michael Pyle will read together, Thursday, October 16, 7:30 pm at the Corvallis Arts Center, 700 SW Madison, Corvallis. The reading is free and open to all. 

Alison Hawthorne Deming (Zoologies: On Animals and the Human Spirit) and Robert Michael Pyle (Evolution of the Genus Iris) debut their new books. Alison Deming is the author of Science and Other Poems, Temporary Homelands, The Edges of the Civilized World, finalist for the PEN Center West Award, and Writing the Sacred Into the Real. She edited Poetry of the American West: A Columbia Anthology and coedited with Lauret E. Savoy The Colors of Nature: Essays on Culture, Identity, and the Natural World. Bob Pyle is the author of Wintergreen, The Thunder Tree, Where Bigfoot Walks, Chasing Monarchs, Walking the High Ridge, Sky Time in Gray’s River, and Mariposa Road: The First Butterfly Big Year; as well as The Audubon Society Field Guide to North American Butterflies, The Butterflies of Cascadia. Free and open to all.



editor’s note: at the Blue River Gathering of Pacific Northwest nature writers last weekend, held at the H.J. Andrews Experimental Forest, we invited the writers to share thoughts on what humans might learn from other-than-human animals. Here’s our first post in the series:

Ten Lessons for Climate Activists from the American Robin  by Pepper Trail

1. It’s good to be common

The American Robin is one of the most common and widely distributed native birds in North America. This large population gives robins great resilience in the face of ecological and climatic challenges.

        Build the movement!

2. Adapt to where you are

Robins are found from steamy southern swamps to the Alaskan tundra. Their remarkable ability to adapt to local conditions and resources is the secret of their success.

        Tailor your message and manner to local conditions

3. And also have one special skill

For all their adaptability, robins also have a specialized skill: their earthworm-hunting behavior, which opens up a rich resource few other birds exploit.

        Know your special talent and make the most of it

4. Figure out how to take advantage of the dominant paradigm

Robins thrive in part because of their ability to make the most of human environments, nesting in our backyards and foraging on our lawns.

        Don’t be afraid to make alliances and to engage with mass media

5. Be alert for phonies

Robins are among the few birds able to detect and toss out the eggs of the parasitical Brown-headed Cowbird, thus protecting their nests from invaders.

        Welcome only those who truly share your values

6. Know when to move on

Throughout their wide range, robins exhibit facultative migration – that is, they adjust their winter residency to conditions. In a cold winter, they head south; if the next year is mild, they may remain resident all year.

        Know when to stage a tactical retreat, in order to win another time

7. Produce lots of young

Robins often produce two broods of offspring per year. That gives them a huge advantage compared to less fecund species.

        There’s no substitute for the energy and idealism of the young when building a movement.

8. Be confident

Robins are often described as “bold,” “confident,” and “confiding,” in contrast to related birds like the shy Varied Thrush. There is no doubt that the outgoing behavior of robins has contributed greatly to their success.

        Believe in your cause whole-heartedly, and others will too.

9. Be friendly

In addition to their boldness, robins appeal to us because they’re friendly – even if they’re keeping us company in the garden in order to snatch up earthworms!

        A friendly, positive approach will gain many more listeners than one wrapped in doom and gloom.

10. Sing!

The song of robins is beautiful. And isn’t a beautiful message what we all want to hear?