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.