Smaller Wolves

It was in Maine.  In 1987.  I can’t remember how Paul and I found this place to camp.  I don’t remember making reservations, but we drove along in his 1968 VW Beetle, unpacked a tent along a  rutted logging road, and set up camp for the night.  We were there to try to find moose.  In the middle of the night we were awakened by howling in the woods.  We were many miles from any other humans and nobody knew where we were.  Were there wolves in these woods?  Paul turned to me.  “Wolves don’t attack people, do they?” he asked.  I said no.  He pulled out a very large knife.  “I was in the civil air patrol,” he explained.  “You know what to do with this, right?  If a wolf bites your arm, cut your arm off and run away.” Not the best advice.  As we drifted off to sleep we were awoken again by furious sniffing outside the tent.  The next morning we saw no moose but found tracks all around our temporary home.  We convinced ourselves they were wolf tracks.  They were actually tracks of coyotes.

Most people in America have a coyote story to tell.  I can’t recall how I learned about Dan Flores’ Coyote America: A Natural and Supernatural History.  I’ve always been drawn to nature writing, but it was probably the “supernatural” that caught my attention.  This is a fascinating book with a rollercoaster ride through emotional responses.  Flores makes the case that Coyote was the first god of America.  Indian mythology is full of this character and his antics.  But the heart of the book focuses on the many decades of efforts—still ongoing—of the government to eradicate coyotes.  Millions of them have been killed for spurious reasons, largely because the government pays attention to ranchers who pay a lot of money to be minded.  Coyotes naturally find their balance in nature, which we insist on disrupting.  One of their survival strategies has been to move east.  Even moving into cities.

I’ve heard coyotes in Wisconsin, and I saw at least one while out jogging in the early mornings there.  Since moving east I’ve not spotted any, but they are, I know, here.  I’m largely on the side of nature, but the first ever documented adult human wolf fatality took place in another place I’ve camped, Cape Breton Highlands National Park in Nova Scotia, in 2009.  Reading this made my human pride rear up—we don’t face predators well.  The book goes on to touch on how I, and many others my age, learned of coyotes—through Wile E. in animated form.  This book is difficult to read in many parts, but it is an absolutely mesmerizing journey through many lenses of what it means to be American.  Whether you’re canine, or human.


Normal Paranormal

One of my favorite televisions shows of all time is The X-Files.  I didn’t watch it when it originally aired, but eventually got a hankering to see it on DVD.  There are many reasons to like it, including its originality and the dynamics between Mulder and Scully and the sense that governments really do hide things.  As I rewatch episodes I see how much religion plays into it as well.  This post is actually not about the X-Files proper, but about a place in Bethlehem I recently discovered.  I’m not a preachy vegan, but I do like to support the establishments who make such lifestyles as mine much easier.  It was thus that I discovered Paranormal Pizza in Bethlehem.  I wondered about the name, figuring that it was paranormal that you could have non-dairy, non-meat pizza at all.

To celebrate Earth Day we decided to check it out.  The menu has a set of fixed items, each named after an X-Files character.  I was glad to see that I’m not alone in my appreciation of the show.  The pizza’s very good, and I’m sure the college-age crowd that was there would agree with me.  I did wonder how many of them knew the X-Files.  Is it still a thing?  Maybe recent government disclosures have brought it back into the public eye.  Hey, I’m a Bible editor, about as far from the public eye as you can possibly get.  Vegan pizza on Earth Day, however, just felt right.

Foodiness seems to be trending.  A great many options are available in the land of plenty.  Still, I know that vegetarians and vegans in developing countries exist, and many of them for similar reasons to me.  They know animals think and feel.  We promote the myth that they don’t so that we don’t have to feel guilty about exploiting them.  It seems to me that many of our world-wide problems would start to vanish if we realized we can evolve out of being predators.  Cashews and almonds can become cheese.  Soy beans and wheat can become meat.  And peanuts are about the best food ever, in any form.  Then there’s the natural fruits and veg.  Industrial animal farming is perhaps the largest polluter of our planet.  Yesterday was Earth Day.  I was eating a pizza made from wheat, tomatoes, and cashews.  These ingredients might seem a bit unusual.  Paranormal, even.  But that’s precisely the point.  I won’t be waiting until the next Earth Day to go back for more.


A Bird’s Life

Among the early signs of spring are birds.  Cold and silent, winter mornings have their own form of beauty, but hearing the birds is cause for hope.  The bird world looks cheerful and peaceable but it is a competitive and often harsh place.  My office window looks out onto a porch roof and a stand of trees across the street.  Electric wires constitute a part of the scene as well, giving birds plenty of places to alight and negotiate their bird business.  Like humans, birds are vulnerable, particularly when they’re young.  While teaching at Nashotah House, walking home from chapel one morning after a thunderstorm, I found a baby bird, not yet fully fledged, dying on the sidewalk.  I glanced up and couldn’t see any nests.  I’m not much of climber anyway.  Not knowing what to do I scooped it up and took it home where I could put it in a box.

I didn’t have an early class that day so I called a wildlife rescue center.  Being the days before the internet took over, this was a matter of looking it up in the yellow pages.  We piled the family in the car and drove it down.  They’d told me to keep it warm and try to comfort it.  My daughter held it.  Once we got there they said they weren’t sure if it would survive.  It was weak and chilled, but they would do what they could to revive it.  For several days we all worried about that hatchling.  I thought it might’ve been a finch because of the beak, but otherwise we knew little about it.  Several weeks later the rescue center called.  Our rescue was ready to be released—did we want to do it?

They handed us a brown grocery bag that weighed next to nothing.  “Open it when you’re outside near where you found it,” they said.  Back on campus we opened the bag and our foundling flew off so fast we could barely see it.  Adult birds, confident and socialized, seem more sure of themselves.  They perch out in the open even though hawks scan the area, and even the occasional eagle.  They go about their bird business with a confidence I sometimes envy.  They don’t worry about a 925.  They know what nature’s about.  They may have survived a near-fatal childhood.  They may have pushed siblings out of the nest to have thrived.  They peck and flap at each other in their efforts to mate.  And, above all, they carry spring on their wings.


Raven about this Book

Some books are meant to be looked at.  Being busy most of the time, even on weekends, I’m guilty of not enjoying art enough.  The Book of the Raven: Corvids in Art and Legend is a work of art.  In it Caroline Roberts and Angus Hyland have compiled paintings, photographs, and prints that feature ravens, crows, magpies, and jays, interspersed with facts, poems, excerpts, and bits of lore.  It’s not a comprehensive book, nor is it intended to be.  It is, however, a deeply moving book for a certain kind of person.  It was an accidental find in a visit to The Book & Puppet Company in Easton.  When we’re in town we like to support the independent bookstores.  (I was saddened to discover that Delaware River Books, one of the two used bookstores in town, had recently closed.)

Corvids are, on a scale, about as intelligent as we are.  They think, solve problems, make tools, and recognize human faces.  They remember acts of kindness and reciprocate.  They recognize their dead and they also play.  They’re very much like us.  The book includes, of course, Poe’s “The Raven,” but also other poems that draw inspiration from these smart, magnificent birds.  The artwork is arresting.  One of the great sins of modern life is its busyness that robs us of the time for appreciating art.  And reading.  Learning how to thrive in a world that has become purely about profit and ownership.  Art is intended to be shared.  An artist produces so that others might see.  A author writes so that others might read.  And corvids exist to bring wonder into our lives.

I find the strident call of jays comforting.  I often hear them even on my winter walks.  There are murders of crows in the neighborhood from time to time.  They gather on roofs and in the trees across the street.  Recently I spied a large black bird while on my daily constitutional.  It had left a tree full of crows and was flying straight down the path toward me.  As it flew overhead I had a good look at its tail in flight—one of the best ways to tell a raven from a crow.  It was indeed a raven, and even common ravens are rare in this area.  We live on the edge of their habitat.   I was honored by its momentary attention.  I wished I had more time, perhaps to follow that magnificent corvid and to learn from it.  Instead, I will ponder The Book of the Raven with wonder.


Leathers

It’s an occupational hazard for the vegan Bible editor.  Leather.  Leather Bibles, although expensive, are popular.  If you want free fetishistic deliveries of colored leather to arrive at your door, well, it’s part of a Bible editor’s life.  Morally I’m opposed to leather and I eagerly await the day when cactus leather is considered a suitable alternative.  Leather began being used in bookbinding early on, when books were treasured possessions.  It was readily available because animal slaughter was a part of everyday life.  It’s also extremely durable.  These days it’s just a status symbol.  When Bibles are produced there’s generally a market for whatever translation in leather.  In my time I’ve seen some well enough used to perhaps justify such extravagance, but not very often.  Usually it’s merely for show.

There’s an entire vocabulary associated with leather bookbinding.  Tooling, or engraving the smooth leather to look like something else, embossing, or pressing a design in the leather, gilding, or the use of gold paint on leather, and dentelle, or having a border run around the outside edge.  All of these were (and still are) signs of the artistry of the binder.  The practice dates back to before the nineteenth century when books were bound by booksellers, not publishers.  Perhaps this is why we shouldn’t judge a book by its cover.  In any case, apart from tradition there’s no need to kill animals to bind books any more.  Law books and Bibles are the major purveyors of leather binding.  It continues simply because it continues.

One term used for traditions unwilling to change is “hidebound.”  While this seems originally to have referred to emaciated cattle, it has come to be associated with codified, as in leather books.  Pigskin, or other cheaper hides, are often used.  Or “bonded leather,” which is as much plastic (if not more) than actual leather.  The Bible isn’t a terribly animal-friendly book.  Dogs are unclean and cats aren’t mentioned at all (except the large, wild kinds).  Yes, there are shepherds—both good and bad—but sheep were kept to be exploited.  And perhaps turned into leather.  There’s something strangely symbolic about this.  And not in a propitious way.  Where does obeying the rules get you?  Sheep are praised for their docility, their willingness to be thoughtlessly exploited, slaughtered, skinned, and eaten.  To do the job, a Bible editor must learn about leather.  Perhaps its a profession best left to carnivores.


Lenten Friday

I thought something was on fire when I first saw it.  A plume of black smoke rising against a backdrop of lowering, sullen clouds in a late winter sky.  Then I remembered that there’s a pet crematorium in that part of town.  I was witnessing the end, the smudged spirit of someone’s departed companion.  It made me reflective.  We currently have no pets.  (We can barely afford keeping ourselves going without adding another mouth to feed.)  Having grown up with a variety of animals–dogs, cats, birds, fish, turtles, guinea pigs—and having kept fish, a bird, and a couple hermit crabs for our daughter, I know the connections we make with our animal kin.  They teach children about death.  And they have the capacity to make all of us reflect on what it means to be alive.

I’ve buried my share of pets, but I have no idea what happened to the larger ones.  The cats.  The dogs.  It was pretty obvious when a dog died.  The cats, which were outside pets, tended simply to disappear.  There were no dog grave markers and I still have no clue what the grown ups did with the carcasses.  I once visited a pet cemetery; it was an oddly moving place.  Although we’re taught theologically that animals don’t have souls, it feels like part of ours dies when they go.  That strange teaching is courtesy of the Bible and it manages to hold sway in both science and religion.  And so another puff of black smoke rises from down the block.

Religion has a tremendous influence on us, whether we’re personally religious or not.  Since humans have always eaten animals, it’s likely that the earliest religions helped to assuage the guilt of killing something that so obviously has feelings and thoughts and could, in other circumstances, have been us.  When monotheism came in there was a great reduction in souls.  Humans alone made in God’s image learned to dominate other animals.  Today we have feedlots that are animal Hells while we pat Fido on the head and mourn his passing.  I somehow doubt that we’ll ever find ourselves back in the natural world.  We’ll likely go extinct before that happens.  Until that day, however, some of our saddest memories will be from when our beloved companions pre-decease us.  You can never be certain which way your thoughts might turn when lowering, sullen clouds fill a late winter sky.


Getting Your Goat

I have to confess to having known very little about goats.  Although one book does not an expert make, I still feel that I know quite a bit more now than when I started Sue Weaver’s masterful The Goat: A Natural and Cultural History.  I can’t convey it all to you here (that’s what the book is for), but I can offer a few highlights.  I do have to say that books that measure animals by the human exploitation of them tend to bother me a bit.  There’s something about reading how they make good pets but then they taste good too.  Especially since one of the takeaways is just how intelligent goats are.  I suspect even smart animals wouldn’t hang around if they knew their owners were licking their chops behind their backs.

Goats were very early among the domesticated species.  People do keep some breeds as pets, kind of like herbivorous dogs.  Goats require stimulation and tend to be playful and curious.  And they put up with humans quite well.  They climb.  You can find goats in trees in some locations since they do like to ascend whatever they can.  I remember seeing goats on the roof of a restaurant in Wisconsin (I can’t remember the name of the place, but I do recall the goats were supposed to be there).  Having not grown up on a farm I’ve never been too close to goats, but this book does make me interested in knowing more.

The book is heavily illustrated and it describes several varieties of goats as well as general goat physiology and behavior.  In fact, it answers that age-old question of how to tell the sheep from the goats.  Behaviorally they’re quite different, with goats being more individually minded and not always acting as a herd.  More individualistic, they nevertheless crave company.  And it is this difference between the sheep and the goats that starts to give the latter a bad name, perhaps because of their willfulness and individuality.  Goats are good followers, but on their own terms.  Sheep apparently don’t think much about it.  They follow any leader.  Historically, and unfortunately still, in some locations, goats have been preferred sacrificial animals.  Indeed, some gods, such as Pan, are portrayed with caprid qualities.  It is the intelligent, it seems, that are often targeted by the gods.  In any case, goats have long had associations with the divine in human minds.  And Weaver’s book parses goats in great detail.


A Little Fuzzy

Animals don’t obey the law.  As I observed just a few days ago on this blog, they don’t recognize indoors or outdoors.  And they certainly don’t respect private property.  Conflicts are sure to arise.  Mary Roach turns her impressive writing skills to address this, and related issues in Fuzz: When Nature Breaks the Law.  I’ve read an academic book on this subject as well, and I have to say that one wasn’t as much fun.  Roach has a way of bringing the humor out of even potentially trying subjects such as how do we scare carrion birds away from human corpses?  How do we eliminate pests that we’ve accidentally introduced?  (Think of rabbits in Oceania.)  How do we stop birds from getting sucked into jet engines?

Although the book handles these with a light touch, as with most of Roach’s work, it also raises some serious issues.  Solutions to introduced species can involve poisoning that also kills native species it’s designed to protect.  Genetic engineering may have (likely will have) unforeseen effects.  What is a dominating species to do?  We have laws about ownership, after all, and we expect them to be obeyed.  Squirrels, for example, won’t care that you just had to have a sink replaced at great expense.  They’ll gnaw their way in anyway, creating a new crisis right on top of the old one.  Deer cross highways, their brains not yet evolved enough to interpret what a car is—they’ve only been around for just over a century.  (The cars, not the deer.)  They sometimes cross runways too.  (The deer.)  We like animals well enough in the wild— in fact we long to see them.  When they get into our space, however, our rules don’t apply.

As long ago as the Bible, and perhaps before, the question arose of punishing animals.  If your ox gores someone what should you do with it?  I’m not sure Homo sapiens are the best species to be making such decisions.  We’ve shown colossal poor judgment (think of Trump and try to disagree).  We’re actively destroying our own environment, the terrestrial equivalent of defecating in our own fishbowl.  What gives us the right to punish other creatures who are more in tune with what nature tells them to do?  Perhaps the biggest takeaway from all of this is that we may try to make the rules, but the rest of the planet responds to what we might call a higher power.  I’m glad that writers like Mary Roach can show the fun side of it all.


Thinking about Thinking

I’ve been thinking about thinking quite a bit.  My lifelong fascination with religion is part of this, of course.  So when someone pointed out Bridget Alex’s article “The Human Brain Evolved to Believe in Gods” in Discover, I had to ponder it.  The idea, here supported by science, is that people evolved survival traits that lent themselves to religious belief.  That religious thinking was a byproduct that eventually took on a life of its own.  Evolution works by giving a reproductive advantage to one trait over another—which is how we get so many types of dogs (and maybe gods)—and those that disposed people to be religious did just that.  Elaborate religions evolved from these basic traits.  Alex suggest there are three: seeing patterns, inferring intention, and learning by imitation.

While there’s a lot of sense here, the reductionism doesn’t ring true.  The need to explain away religion also seems uniquely human.  Ironically, the idea that we are somehow special compared to other animals derives from a biblical worldview from which science has difficulty divorcing itself.  One of the greatest ironies of the science versus religion debate is that scientific thinking (in the west) developed within a worldview formed by Christianity.  Many of the implications of that development linger, such as the supposition that animals can’t have consciousness, or “souls.”  We watch a chimpanzee in an experiment and deduct points when they don’t do things the way a human would.  We thus confirm the biblical view in the name of science and go home happy.

Photo credit: Afrika Expeditionary Force, via Wikimedia Commons

I have no doubt that people evolved to be religious.  There are certainly survival benefits to it, not least group building and shared purpose.  I do wonder that science doesn’t address the elephant in the room—that we have limited receptors for perceiving specific stimuli, such as light and sound, but that there are other phenomena we don’t perceive.  We build instruments to measure things like x-rays and neutrinos and magnetism, but we don’t sense them directly.  How can we possibly know what we might be missing?  I suspect the real problem is we don’t want to admit willfulness into any other part of the universe.  Humans alone possess it.  Some scientists even argue that our own sense of will is an illusion.  It’s not difficult to believe that we evolved to be religious.  It’s also not difficult to believe that we pick up hints of forces that have yet to be named.  An open mind, it seems, might lead to great rewards.


Squirrel Wisdom

In a dangerous world prey animals have evolved to over-multiply.  That’s clear from watching the gray squirrels from my office window.  There’s a stand of maybe a dozen pine trees across the street, and some days it’s like the bark itself is crawling, there are so many squirrels chasing each other.  Especially when mating season begins.  Of course, squirrels get into everything.  We have a problem with them in our improperly sealed garage.  They have a biological need to gnaw and really animals don’t share the human concept of indoors versus outdoors.  They don’t understand that we want them outside, not in.  This leads to my love-hate relationship with squirrels.  I’m usually on the side of the prey, but they can be a real nuisance.  Still, they’re cute and furry and they take their chances going, well, outside.

So the other day there was a kind of love fest, a Woodstock of squirrels, if you will, in those pine trees.  The sun was out and the hormones must’ve been raging like a high school Friday.  A few minutes later I glanced outside and couldn’t see a single one.  A blur of wings caught my eye as a red-tailed hawk landed on a branch.  All the squirrel play had ceased.  Where there had been dozens just moments ago, not a single individual could now be seen.  The hawk seemed in no hurry, lazily flapping from branch to branch, swiveling its head around, watching.  It might not’ve been in a squirrel mood that day, or the prey might’ve been too well hidden.  Or maybe they knew if you play the game right, predators will just go away.

The squirrels’ conflicting urges both had to do with survival.  In a way from which we could learn, they seem aware that the group outweighs the individual.  Something about their level of consciousness gives them a deep wisdom.  We tend to call flighty individuals among our own species squirrelly, or we can say that we’re feeling squirrelly about something.  Rodents, however, are smart.  In fact, they understand some things better than humans do.  After all, there are so many of them because our species has killed off most of their predators, just as we’ve done for deer.  There’s a reason there’s so much road kill.  Watching the abundance of squirrels it becomes clear that they’re in tune with the ways of nature.  They have to chew or their teeth will grow too long.  And they definitively don’t know the differences between outdoors and in.  Still, they deserve our respect, even if they’re occasional nuisances.


Relinquishing Control

Controlling the weather is a dream as old as humanity itself.  Once when I was fervently praying for a rain-free day as a child, my mother pointed out that other people could be praying for rain.  I realized then that weather was a personalized preference and that, on some level, prayers cancel each other out.  Well, it’s Groundhog Day and we’re all wondering whether those who love winter and want more or those who are ready for spring will prevail.  For this we’ll rely on a woodchuck.  The observation of animals for signs of spring seems to have been a germanic practice, and it could also involve badgers (which I’ve never, ever seen in the wild) or bears as well as groundhogs.  The idea is that the majority are looking forward to spring when they can plant and grow food, hopefully enough to last through the next winter.  And so the cycle goes.

We hear a lot about January as a month of transitions.  It is, but so are they all.  February, both the dead of winter and start of spring, provides variety as we continue the cycle.  I’ve already seen my first robin of the year and I’ve been hearing sporadic bird song.  The mating season, after all, comes around the middle of the month.  According to some renditions of the Celtic calendar, Imbolc, which was yesterday, is the start of spring.  Celebrated with fires to encourage the light and warmth, we know that cold and snow and wind chill still lie ahead.  We are reminded, however, that this wheel is still turning.  Slowly, slowly, but ever turning.

I’m writing this post before Punxsutawney Phil even awakes.  The sky is dark and it’s cold outside.  Like Phil Connors I’m thinking about how we want things to stay the same, but when they do they quickly haunt us.  Time forever moves and all seasons are mere transitions to the next.  In this endless cycle we have to come to appreciate where we are at the moment.  There’s a stark beauty to winter.  A snowy landscape can become a transport of rapture.  We have to heat our houses, however, and pay the bills to do so.  We keep our house cool enough that some days I just don’t have the heart to venture outside at all.  Still, I wouldn’t change it.  These cycles are old friends now.  I’ll glance to the west and wonder what Phil might see, but I’ll be praying that we will never control the weather.


Rats

Small town living had its benefits but one of them wasn’t seeing movies.  In the seventies, before the local mall came in, there were scattered movie theaters about.  You could sometimes see reruns on television, if you were free and awake when they were aired.  VCRs weren’t widespread and DVDs and streaming were decades away.  One horror film I very much wanted to see was Willard.  Released in 1971, it did quite well at the box office.  I was only 9 at the time so I never saw it and by the time I became aware of it theaters had long lost interest.  Kids were still talking about it years later, probably from television showings.  When my second resurgence of interest in horror came around, it was still difficult to find.  The DVD wasn’t available and it took some time for it to appear on a streaming service to which I subscribe.

I have to wonder how we got through the seventies, but I finally had a chance to stream it.  The story, since there was a new millennium remake, is probably familiar.  A young man (the eponymous Willard) who doesn’t fit in eventually befriends some rats in the run-down property of his once opulent home.  He teaches them to understand him and eventually has a virtual army of rodents.  He’s a good lad, however, and only uses the rats to redress social inequities.  His boss, a real old school bad guy, stole the steel mill from his father and is trying to drive Willard out.  You can see the boss’s fate coming from afar.  It’s not much of a horror film by present-day standards, but it does have its moments.  It would likely have more impact had I seen it fifty years ago.

The theme song from the sequel, “Ben” (also the title of the next movie), performed by Michael Jackson, rose to number 1 on the charts.  Those of us in the seventies knew it was a song about a rat.  Well, at least some of us knew.  Horror, despite its detractors, often influences mainstream culture.  Indeed, Willard seems to have had some lasting knock-on effects, including the remake just into the new millennium.  Movies from the seventies, although some are excellent, often bear the brunt of the malaise of that period.  Did we ever think big, boxy cars were attractive?  Were men really such chauvinistic pigs?  Still, the story is a good one.  I wasn’t really interested in the 2007 reboot, but having seen the original I’m now curious.  It is, at least, fairly easy to find.


Thinking Big

Depending on who you are the Bigelow Institute for Consciousness Studies (BICS) may set your eyeballs to rolling.  You might know that extremely wealthy Robert T. Bigelow made his fortune as a hotelier and then began investing his money in aerospace technology.  He publicly admits to believing that aliens are already among us, and has contributed to advances in space travel components.  (It seems that many of the uber-wealthy are looking for a way off this planet at the moment.)  Not an academic, Bigelow is keen to admit his interest in what is often laughingly labeled the “paranormal.”  If you’ve got money you really don’t need to worry about what other people say.  I recently ran across an announcement regarding the winners of a BICS essay contest regarding the survival of consciousness after death.

As I’ve noted before on this blog, the paranormal and religion are close kin.  Nevertheless it does me good to see that so many people with doctorates (both medical and of philosophy) entered the contest.  I’m glad to see not everyone is buying the materialist narrative.  We’ve been so misguided by Occam’s razor that we can’t see reality is more complex than they teach us in school.  Churches may not be doing it for us any more, but it does seem that “there’s something out there.”  With a top prize of a half-a-million dollars, there was certainly a lot of interest in this enterprise.  If you go to the website you can download the winning papers.

Consciousness remains one of the great unexplaineds of science.  Answers such as “it’s a by-product of electro-chemical activity in the brain” don’t mesh with our actual experience of it.  Indeed, we deny consciousness to animals because our scientific establishment grew out of a biblically based worldview.  Even a century-and-a-half of knowing that we evolved hasn’t displaced the Bible’s idea that we are somehow special.  Looking out my window at birds it’s pretty clear that they’re thinking, solving problems.  Dogs clearly know when they’re pretending, as in a tug-of-war with its weak owner.  We don’t like to share, however.  Being in the midst of my own book project I really haven’t had time to read the essays yet.  I do hope they come out in book form, even though they’re now available for free.  I still seem to be able to carve out time for a book, which is something I consciously do.  I’m not convinced by the materialist creed, although I’ve been tempted by it now and again.  I like to think that if I had money I’d spend it trying to sort out the bigger issues of life, no matter what people call them.


Global Swarming

It’s a veritable horror trope.  The swarm, that is.  We fear being overwhelmed by vast numbers of apparently innocuous insects or arachnids, although they are much smaller than us.  It’s their logistical superiority, and perhaps their utter disregard of personal space.  Summer at Nashotah House was the time of the earwigs.  They came out in such numbers that no room in the house was safe from them.  There was a horror element to pulling your toothbrush out of the holder only to find one hanging onto the place you were about to put your fingers.  Or opening the refrigerator to find that one had crawled into the butter.  Any time you picked something up you might find an earwig under it.  They would crawl up the walls and across the ceiling.  Other places on campus would be overrun with ladybugs or black flies.  It was in the woods, after all.

Most places we’ve lived since then have had their native bug that gets in, often in numbers.  Our current nemesis is the box elder bug.  Although harmless, it is a true bug in every sense of the word.  I’m Buddhist in my desire not to kill and there are too many to catch and take them back outside.  Fortunately they’re pretty localized—they like my study, probably because its southern exposure means it gets sunshine even into December.  We’ve had some cold days but November has been experiencing global warming and the box elder bugs, clueless, wander all over the place.  Most of them are near the end of their life and die after poking around for a few days.  Others are quite frisky.  Some remind me of horror movies from the fifties.

I have one of those desk set Stonehenge models.  I don’t have the space to set it up fully, and the die for the model was obviously done with poorly sculpted clay, so it takes some imagination to think the trilithons resemble those of the actual site.  When I noticed a box elder bug crawling over one, however, it took me back to Tarantula and other such films where the menace wasn’t just a little old bug, but a huge one.  Our monsters these days have shrunk, however, and fear comes in small packages.  Box elder bugs are harmless but annoying.  Of course, they’re still out this year because we’ve warmed the place up for them and even in November they, well, swarm.


Religious Dinosaurs

Dippy is, apparently, a common name for pet diplodocuses.  The statue of a diplodocus outside the Carnegie Museum in Pittsburgh is fondly known as “Dippy,” as is the fossilized remains of one such dinosaur from London’s Natural History Museum.  The London Dippy is on tour, or at least has been.  I learned about the fact that Dippy was in Norwich Cathedral just a day or so after the exhibit closed (I wouldn’t have been able to make it in any case; I mean I haven’t been able to get to the Pittsburgh Dippy and I live in the same state).  There are still plenty of photos on the cathedral’s website.  It’s a striking juxtaposition.  A massive stone building constructed to a medieval conception of God and one of the best examples of evolution, far older than the church on several orders of magnitude, peacefully coexisting.

John Bell Hatcher, public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

American evangelicalism has a much harder time accepting science.  I’ve been writing about change recently.  One of the changes in western thinking has been to move from the “I told you so” of clerics to the “I can show you evidence” of scientists.  Those who like others to tell them what to think have a difficult time letting go of medieval notions of the world—that it’s flat, and young, and about to end, as if God has a very limited imagination.  We now know that the world has been here far longer than one interpretation of the Bible posits, but that doesn’t make it any easier to have a conversation about it.  Many religions want to claim knowledge that can’t be questioned.  And yet, dinosaurs and cathedrals seem to mix well.

The assumption that those who think differently are evil, or are inspired by evil, is one of the most insidious children of monotheism.  With one God comes the idea of only one way to understand that deity and all other interpretations come from that divinity’s arch-enemy.  It’s a view of the world that struggles with change.  Historians, even those of us who focus on the history of religions, tend to take a long view. It’s possible to trace the development of ideas that have lead to the strange juxtapositions of our modern world.  Apologists so convinced of their interpretation of Genesis that they think the Bible wouldn’t have found dinosaurs worth remarking about, for example, and then cramming them on the ark.  Others, it seems, welcome dinosaurs into cathedrals.  Which is a better way to be humble before God?