The Elephant Listener

Sounds like throbbing.

Strange years: two zoos, one circus, five nations,

and these notebooks wrapped in towels when I left.

Back home, their presence recollected: through the 

rafters, the doorways, in bed. There are no indifferent

observers here, for water tastes always of the pipes.

Only a fool attempts to read their minds, and there

is no one here who has not tried.


With phrases from the preface of Katy Payne’s Silent Thunder.

In Loving Attention

It’s in the details.

I have heard of counting worlds in grains of sand, and the angels on the head of a pin, but Look. Notice this toucan smaller than a pencil tip, mouth open, the articulated wings, spreading. Attention to such detail, in this moment, is as an act of radical love.  It began with a sense of awe, the artist explains, at the body of an insect. It was the magnificent fragility that moved her. There is no way to do this, she says, except by accepting the storm of tremors in the heart and hand, the sandstorm of breath against dust. Everything cracks on this scale, she says, and flies when you cut, and all you are doing is making and remaking, twig by twig.


Inspired by (and using found phrases from) Sara Barnes’ MyModernMet article “Artist Carves Impossibly Small Bird Sculptures You Need a Microscope To Fully Appreciate” about the work of Marie Cohydon.

In Bird News

This morning, I am heartened by the parrots.

“We proclaim human intelligence to be morally valuable per se because we are human. If we were birds, we would proclaim the ability to fly as morally valuable per se. If we were fish, we would proclaim the ability to live underwater as morally valuable per se. But apart from our obviously self-interested proclamations, there is nothing morally valuable per se about human intelligence.”  – Gary L. Francione

This morning, I am heartened by the parrots. First, it’s Bruce, a New Zealand kea with a severe disability, who has fashioned his own prosthetic. Bruce is missing most of his upper beak, which is essential for preening, which removes parasites and dirt from feathers. Researchers watching Bruce observed that he was not simply enamored with pebbles in a random manner. He only picked them up to preen. Unlike other birds interacting with stones for other reasons, Bruce only picked up pebbles of a specific size. He’d fit these between his tongue and lower beak when he preened. No other kea did this. It was his own idea, they concluded. Upon publication of these findings, some asked the scientists why they had not given Bruce a proper prosthetic. He doesn’t need one, they answered.

Also, in an experiment involving trading tokens for treats, African grey parrots have been demonstrating a remarkable tendency to help one another, even when there is no obvious benefit to the helper. When one parrot had the tokens, but no access to the treats, he would pass the tokens to the bird beside him, even if the other was a stranger. The other bird could trade the tokens for treats. Repeating the experiment with other species, researchers found the Blue-headed macaws to be more selfish, perhaps because they live in smaller, unchanging groups. One of the researchers offered an alternative reading of this disparity in sharing, suggesting that perhaps the selfish species are just not as good at understanding the needs of their mates

I have no small amount of fascination with birds, and reminders back to this often call to mind a passage from Terry Tempest Williams: “Once upon a time, when women were birds, there was the simple understanding that to sing at dawn and to sing at dusk was to heal the world through joy. The birds still remember what we have forgotten, that the world is meant to be celebrated” (from When Women Were Birds: Fifty-four Variations on Voice)Amen.


I discovered a report about the study published in The Journal of Scientific Reports, “Self-care tooling innovation in a disabled kea” through a link in this New York Times article by Nicholas Bakalar, which in turn led me to this one on African grey parrots by Elizabeth Preston.

Gary L. Francione has raised interesting questions about the way that current practices in what passes for animal rights legislation tend only to reinforce systemic hierarchies that treat animals as property. Distinguishing between rights and welfare of animals, Francione has argued that the single most important right of animals that should be understood, is the right not to be treated as property.

More bird-themed posts:

For the Birds


Flight Paths

Pigeon Spectrum

Mirror, Mirror

Cat People

Ancient paintings, liquid bodies, and universal mysteries.

Some consider the ancient Egyptians to be the earliest-known cat people, although recent pictograph discoveries suggest more ancient traditions of feline reverence.  

I saw a painted image in a tomb in western Thebes. It depicts a scene from the Book of the Dead.

Is that the one with the cat slaying a serpent with a sword?

I heard they worshipped them. Didn’t they get mummified with the Pharoahs?

Not worship. But they did make little cat mummies. Cats were seen as sacred to other deities.

Hmmm. I watch mine sometimes, and you do have to wonder. I mean, look.

Yeah, think about it. A body sleeping that much must be involved in astral projection at least some of the time. 

She’ll do this thing where she sits facing the wall sometimes, her face inches from it.

Hah! I love that one, like the kid in a dunce cap in a nineteenth-century schoolhouse. 

Quite a meta form of satire, really. Given that she’s obviously –– well, you know.

Engrossed in any number of universal mysteries?

Exactly. See? Look, she’s at it again.

Do you think somebody would think we were worshipping her, sitting like this?

No, just watching. Paying attention.

Is there a difference?

Salt, Light, and the Living

To honor the dead and the living, against despair.

Considering the permafrost, one doctor observes: we have melted back to the stone age, we are speeding back in time. He is speaking about the iceman that revealed himself recently in the melt: body the color of tea, his was probably a case of bleeding to death from a shoulder wound.

Another speaks of other findings: sights of the ancient massacres of whole villages; instruments of killing among the oldest known artifacts. There’s a puppy carcass too, believed to represent a link between dog and wolf, friend and killer. The Lena horse, the cave lion. Like a library on fire, says the doctor, regarding the impermanence of the freeze, how fast it melts. The point, he says, is to save what you can.

One gets so exhausted: the constant fire, the latest extinctions. There’s a question in this moment: how to resist despair without giving in to vapid, empty optimism? The doctor is silent, considering. Another speaks, slowly and deliberately–– of the stoics, how necessary their discipline is now: to meditate deeply on negative possibilities, to sit with the anxiety, the grief, the sense of relative powerlessness, and after sitting, resolve to act anyway on behalf of the living. It’s the only way, the doctor insists, to cope with the trial of the moment.

I am sitting with this today, and meanwhile, I am also aware that it is All Souls Day, and after dinner an old friend reminds me how the grandmothers would light a candle so that those who have died can return for a brief visit. They knew that in order for the dead to return with their animating force, they needed the strength of love and intention as a guide. One would also set out two small vessels: one of salt, one of water, to represent life and the meal we would make for them if they could join us at the table. On this day, they would come, leaving their love and blessings, and taking many of our troubles with them. They are also able to have some communion with us, when the veil between the worlds is thin. 

While nothing like the stoicism that the doctor shared, this reminder rings harmonious to my weary ears, relieved to be called back to the quiet, steadfast patience of these grandmothers. The responsibility to the living requires us to keep going, and our responsibility to the dead demands that we tend a tiny flame and these small vessels, because what is nourished will grow, and this, even now, is still a meaningful choice.  



I was reading about the permafrost melt this morning (In The New York TimesAs Earth Warms, Old Mayhem and Secrets Emerge from The Ice, and As Earth Warms, the Diseases that May Lie Within Permafrost Become a Bigger Worry. Later, I came across this article (from Columbia Climate School) about the need for Climate Stoicism, and hours after that a friend returned me to certain Irish traditions for celebrating All Souls Day.


Considering some mythical beasts over time.

In honor of the occasion, tonight’s post is inspired by, (and using phrases borrowed from) Charles Gould’s 1886 Text, Mythical Monsters, available on The Public Domain Review, which is a treasure trove of brilliant curation thatI have been visiting with interest in recent months. 

Consider the mythical animals, refracted through the mists of time. Follow for a certain distance, the homes and origins of their stories, the unwritten Natural History of terrible creatures once co-existing with humans. Let’s examine.

The dragon came from wonder at lightning, flashing through the caverns. It devastated, on occasion, herds and shepherds. Consider the unicorn, the sea serpent. Suppose the palsy of time warps the tales, now unrecognizable: the Nemean lion, Lernaean hydra, the minotaur.

The first reports of the bird-eating spider were maligned as heresy, only to be confirmed, centuries later. Consider Pliny’s messenger pigeon’s Swift’s Lilliputians, the paleontologist’s pterodactyl, archaeopteryx. Consider, of the beasts that seem fanciful, whether their traits are so different from known types. 

For the dragon, while sacred, has within himself something of the divine nature of which it is better to remain in ignorance. It would show itself sometime, only partially from the mouth of a cave, its gleaming eyes precisely the size of an enemy’s shield. 

Indri Song

Anthems in an ancient garden

Like a balloon, they say, when they hear us, as if to be deliberate in dismissal

of the possibility that what is being loosed here is an admonition. They consider

it a mandate to avoid any reference to a common soul, especially the possibility

of some familiar lamentation, they can’t say we are naming ourselves,

renaming ourselves in our own image. They can’t speak

of our ambitions, our undisclosed wishes, our furtive wonder or clandestine

grief. They can no sooner detect these than they can remember

what it was like in the age of the flowering plants when forests

stretched pole to pole and everywhere the shallow seas when we

splashed together, laughing, before the lines of our bodies separated at

the forked branch in the palm of our last common mother, as if to

prophesy some glorious calamity that would make one of us forget

our common womb. What did you think, we call, 

when you noticed we would not live for you in captivity?

One, listening, observes: We are here. Here,



Inspired by a recent New York Times article about singing lemurs in Madagascar.


Imagine we gather, here.

It has been a long time since we have gone home.

Let’s gather.

We will meet in the nest.

I have hidden the meal, over that hill. See, in the distance.

In the forked branch of the second tree?

We will feast on what we find. Bring what you find.

Or bring nothing. We will share. 

There is a round table in the nest, and six chairs.

Around the table, we will feast inside our nest.



Inspired by the art of Charlie Baker, as described in this article

and by birds everywhere.

In Insect News

Reports from the bug world.

Non-holiday Mondays tend to call to mind various matters that I’d prefer to avoid, so perhaps this is why this morning’s thoughts turn to bugs. Realizing that not since the stories about murder hornets and the coming of the cicadas, have I paid any attention to much in the way of insect news (except for the stories on Monarch butterflies and  other lepidoptera, which hardly qualify, given that both are widely revered for their beauty), here comes a brief attempt to catch up.

In my case, news about insects encompasses many of the stories of the last ten years. Aside from these, I was aware of few beyond mass extinction, a fact perhaps indicative of certain tendencies to accelerate it, if only by ignorance––which is a great way, when you think of it, to accelerate many ills.

I am heartened to learn that those killer bees that recently terrorized Puerto Rico and the United States have relaxed their aggression. Apparently, a decade or so of evolution renders them similar to honeybees, at least on a scale of aggression towards humans. 

Wasps, on the other hand, long considered “degenerate bees”(Plutarch), are in the midst of a makeover intended to highlight their capacities as essential workers, vital for pollination, pest control, and various promising cancer treatments.

In other news, a record-breaking stick bug measures two feet long, and the Dobson fly of China, large enough to cover the face of the average adult, is now considered to be the world’s largest aquatic insect. 

Meanwhile, public officials have issued stomp-to-kill orders on the lantern fly, widely considered a menace to vineyards, fruit trees, and hardwoods across the northeastern and middle states. They feed on sap, and their current tally of destruction across several states is measured in the billions of dollars. 

According to witnesses, an Australian beetle has been walking upside down in a pool of water, on the underside of the surface. “This is new,” one researcher announced with authority, regarding the method of travel.

Arts and culture: in May of this year, Jonathan Balcombe released Superfly: The Unexpected Lives of the World’s Most Successful Insects, in which he reveals the idiosyncrasies, social lives and sensitivities of some common pests, which as Burdensome reads them, have within their short lives more parallels to our own behavior than most of us would care to acknowledge. 

In case you are wondering, as I was, eradication of murder hornet nests is ongoing, and no research has yet delivered emerged with any book of deep sympathy to the particular sensitivities of this species. The stinger is apparently long enough to puncture a beekeeper’s suit–– to agonizing effect, it is reported. I had not realized, until now, that the primary threat of this species has much less to do with the ick and danger of such stings, and more to do with their capacity to wipe out honeybee nests. I can’t help but think that my ignorance here is at least somewhat indicative of yet another problem with the machine that makes Mondays so difficult. Once you are in it, almost every viable perspective is viable precisely because it misses most of what is actually going on. 


Inspired by:


Desert Walk

A desert walk, and considerations of the pilgrim in borrowed space.

Forever with your help, reads the desert park slogan. Regarding longevity, consider Pliocene beds of oyster shells and the ancient remains of a coral reef.

Remember the saber-toothed cats, camels, giant turtles, and the condor-sized vultures. Remember the vertical faults, pushing up ridges with each quake. Remember when the river shifted course, filling the basin with two-thousand square miles of now-ancient lake, fringed with tule, arrow weed, willow, mesquite, palm.

Keep walking, keep looking, the names alone like an invocation of what was once understood: creosote, burrow weed, agave, mesquite, cat’s claw, jumping cholla, indigo bush, smoke tree, desert willow, ironwood. 

Watch for scorpions, watch for snakes, watch for ghost lights and the ghost rider, lantern in his chest; watch for bones, holding the wind.

Watch for it: every creature out here arranging itself in creative response to thirst. Watch for hidden water but beware the interior gorge. The ancients knew this as the home of the dead. Of course, it is also the most likely to be wet so there are those that take their chances, hiking down and further until every sound revolves into an echo of its origin, and the only place left to move is back up, or farther along the path you’ve been warned to avoid.