Martin LeFevre: Animal Encounters
The wind has burnished the air, and every cliff, hillside, slope, and rock stand out in sharp relief, accented by fine streams of white clouds that fill half the sky. The beauty is so overwhelming I can hardly string two thoughts together.
To my right, the sheer cliffs more than a quarter mile away seem to press down, and a few feet away, the gorge plunges to an audibly rushing stream. A panorama of hills and rocks stretches for miles before me, and the world seems very far away.
A strange animal passes by across the gorge, about fifty meters from where I sit. It is gray, with a long, fluffy tail, a small head, and pointy ears. I’ve never seen a creature like it before. It glides more than walks along a line below the lip of the gorge. When it is directly across from me, I yell ‘hey!’
It stops and stares at me. After about ten seconds, I ask, ‘What are you?’ and laugh. By then I know what it is--a fox! (Looking it up when I get back to the house, I discover that it was a Kit Fox, which is normally a nocturnal animal.)
Usually it takes a while (without having a goal or employing time) for passive observation to completely quiet the mind and allow meditation to ignite. But today, from the moment I sit down, there are big spaces between thoughts. ‘I’ am obliterated by the beauty, and at times am unable to move. The Greeks had a name for such a state. They called it ‘aesthetic stasis’--being frozen by the splendor of the earth.
The sun is in the western sky behind me, and by then one of the cumulus clouds, which make up a good portion of the eastern sky, obscures its warm rays. I watch transfixed as the shadow that has fallen over the stream and vertical rock-face on the other side of the gorge lifts as if a curtain was being slowly raised.
After not having seen another soul for an hour, I look over to see a couple standing nearly two hundred meters away. They are staring at me for some reason, and as I turn, the fellow waves a friendly, full wave with his left arm. The woman, who stands to his right, doesn’t see him wave, so when I wave back she waves in response to mine. It strikes me as funny, and them too, I think. They stand for a few more minutes looking down at the gorge, and walk away.
At the beginning of a short hike, as I near the first of a trio of streamlets that pass through some heavy underbrush (including big bushes of poison oak!), a wild turkey precedes me on the path. It has three chicks in tow, which fly off into the brush as I enter the thicket.
The mother seems unperturbed however, and when I emerge onto the rocks again, she’s very close. She stays a short distance ahead of me as I climb the rise, which affords an unobstructed view back down the canyon. As I stand there, the wild turkey (a surprisingly large bird) makes a complete circle around me, at times passing only five meters away, before ambling down over a rock.
A concept called Eco-philosophy was created in 1974 by Dr. Henryk Skolimowski, then Professor of Humanities at the University of Michigan (now, Professor Emeritus). As the Eco-Philosophy Center that he started in Michigan states, “Eco-philosophy maintains that the world is a sanctuary, while we are its reverential guardians, responsible for its well-being.” With the exception of the word ‘world’ rather than ‘earth,’ and the possible implication of anthropocentrism, I concur.
One of the most important distinctions we can teach children is the distinction between nature and the world. The world is the man-made reality, a product of the human mind, whereas humans did not make the earth. Though this is a simple, crucial distinction, the relationship between the earth and the world is an exceedingly difficult thing to understand.
Many scientists say that within our children’s’ lifetimes, humans could drive half of the animals on earth into extinction. The very fact that one species has the power to do that is mind-boggling.
When I hear someone say, “Life is hell,” I ask, do you really mean that, or do you mean that living in this world is hell? That I can understand, for it’s a feeling I often share. But if we say ‘Life is hell,’ we are utterly lost.
One definition of sentience is being conscious of consciousness. In that sense, Homo sapiens is the only sentient species on this planet. And sentience does indeed confer great responsibility upon us to use the earth’s resources wisely.
Wisdom flows not from knowledge however, but from being silent, and feeling reverence for the beauty of the earth.
- Martin LeFevre is a contemplative, and non-academic religious and political philosopher. He has been publishing in North America, Latin America, Africa, and Europe (and now New Zealand) for 20 years. Email: email@example.com. The author welcomes comments.