A creaturely manifesto


Darkling beetle (photo by Whitney Cranshaw; used under Creative Commons license)

Recently we purchased two enormous book cases from a local bookstore when it (alas) went out of business.  The new real estate allowed me to open some cartons of stored books and bring them back into circulation.  I had been reading several of them (slowly) when I had to pack them away to move into our smaller habitat in 2009.  They stayed in Rubbermaid bins in the garage while I finished comprehensive exams and my dissertation and then started a new job.   It felt like Christmas last month when I opened those boxes.

One of the books was the marvelous Eating Stone: Imagination and the Loss of the Wild, by Ellen Meloy.  Last night I pulled it off the shelf to read before bed, hoping to de-electromagnetize my brain after hours on the computer.  One page into the chapter called “March,” I encountered a manifesto (p142):

Wherever you are, wherever you go, there are untamed creatures nearby that need your attention.  Unplug your modem.  Slam shut your self-help books.  Quit standing around like a wall trout.  Get to work.

Invite warblers to your neighborhood with shaggy plots of greenery.  Learn everything you can about the bandit-eyed raccoon that stares at you through your sliding glass door, demanding enchiladas.

Mark the direction of jet black darkling beetles marching up a red dune like a troop of miniature helmets.  East?  South?

Let black widows live in your soffits.

Lie on your back on a breezy sweep of beach and stare at the undersides of magnificent frigate birds.  Master a hyena’s laugh and use it when in the presence of politicians.

Admire the male midwife toad, who carries fertilized eggs on its back for a month.  Understand that certain species of mollusk can change their gender.  Know that from a ball afloat on tiny filaments inside its fanned shell, a sea scallop can tell which way is up.

Crane your neck.  Worm your way.  Wolf it down.  Monkey with things.  Outfox your foe.  Quit badgering your tax attorney.

Take notes on the deafness of coral, the pea-size heart of a bat.  Be meticulous.  We will need these things so that we may speak.

I closed the book right there, hoping the words would inspire animal dreams, and clicked off the light.  (I dreamt about fleas.  Beggars can’t be choosers, I guess.)


One comment

  1. My daughter’s friend took an intro class by Whitney Cranshaw–which led to her friend and then my daughter herself keeping a male tarantula in his last months. Cranshaw had picked him up as he was going across the roads in SW Colorado. Mr. Mustache was relatively harmless except for my daughter’s periodic leg movements in sleep caused her to kick his lodging and knock him out!

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