Sunday, August 15, 2004

Of Wolves and Men by Barry Holstun Lopez

Of Wolves and Men by Barry Holstun Lopez
New York, Simon and Shuster, 1978; first Touchstone edition, 1995

Opening page quotations
"We need another and a wiser and perhaps a more mystical concept of animals... We patronize them for their incompleteness, for their tragic fate of having taken form so far below ourselves. And therein we err, and greatly err. In a world older and more complete than ours they move finished and complete, gifted with extensions of the senses we have lost or never attained, living by voices we shall never hear. They are not breathen, they are not underlings; they are other nations, caught with ourselves in the net of life and time, fellow prisoners of the splendour and travail of the earth."
Henry Beston, The Outermost House

“Presumption is our natural and original disease. The most calamitous and fragile of all creatures is man, and yet the most arrogant. It is through the vanity of this same imagination that he equals himself to a god, that he attributes to himself divine conditions, that he picks himself out and separates himself from the crowd of other creatures, curtails the just shares of other animals his brethren and companions, and assigns to them only such portions of faculties and forces as seems to him good. How does he know, by the effort of his intelligence, the interior and secret movements and impulses of other animals? By what comparison between them and us does he infer the stupidity which he attributes to them?”
Montaigne, The Defense of Raymond Sebond

The only real revolutionary stance is that 'nature' is the greatest convention of all. Perhaps there are no natures, no essences--only cateogires and paradigms that human beings mentally and politically impose on the flux of experience in order to produce illusions of certainty, definiteness, distinction, hierarchy. Apparently, human beings do not like a Heraclitan world; they want fixed points of reference in order not to fall into vertigo, nausea. Perhaps the idea of nature or essence is man's ultimate grasp for eternity. The full impact of the theory of evolution (the mutability of species--including man) is thus still to come.
John Rodman. The Dolphin Papers.

“One pack might even respond to pressure from a neighboring pack with a lot of surviving yearlings in it and not breed…sometimes not breeding—during a time of famine, for example—increases the chances for the pack to survive…” (28)
“But the term alpha…is still misleading. Alpha animals do not always lead the hunt, break trail in snow, or eat before the others do. An alpha animal may be alpha only at certain times for a specific reason, and…is alpha at the deference of the other wolves in the pack. The wolf is a social animal; it depends for its survival on cooperation, not strife. Human beings, particularly in recent years, have grown accustomed to speaking of “dominance hierarchies” in business corporations and elsewhere, and the tendency has been to want wolf packs (or troops of chimpanzees) to conform to similar molds. The social structure of a wolf pack is dynamic—subject to change, especially during the breeding season—and may be completely reversed during periods of play. It is important during breeding, feeding, travel, and territorial maintenance, and seems to served a purpose when wolves gather to reassure each other of the positive aspects of their life-style as reflected in this social order, one that enhances survival by collective hunting and natural population control.” (33)
“Group howling has a quality of celebration and camaraderie about it”, “…mood-synchronizing activities…” (39)
“Nunamiut Eskimos believe that during winter a healhy adult wolf can rund down any caribou it chooses, but it doesn’t always do this for reasons known olnly to the wolf. And perhaps the caribou.” (59)
CONVERSATION of DEATH: “The most beguiling moment in the hunt is the first moment of the encounter. Wolves and prey may remain absolutely still while staring at each other. Immediately afterward, a moose may simply turn and walk away; or the wolves may turn an drun; or the wolves may charge and kill the animal in less than a minutes. An intense stare is frequently used by wolves to communicate with each other…I think what transpires in those moments of satring is an exchange of information between predator and prey that either triggers a chase or defuses the hunt right there. I call this exchange the conversation of death…there is good evidence that signals go back and forth...” (61-62)
“…the sense of a community of creatures in the woods which we so often lack when we examine a single species…” (63)
community in which wolves live: some others feed off carrion from wolfkill, caribou act as snowplows, foxes provided burrows (67)
the wolf “apparently takes pleasure in the company of ravens….ravens will follow the trail of a wolf pack in hopes of inding a carcass. They roost in neighboring trees or hop about eating loody snow while the wolves eat, approaching th ecarcass when the wolves have finished….But the relationship between the two is deeper than this…. (games between them described by Mech pp67-68) …’Both species are extremely social, so they must possess the psychological mechanisms necessary for forming social attachments.’” (67-68)
Anthropologist Nicholas Gubser, wrote: “'The more reflective Nunamiut do not search for a primordial cause, a complete explanation or order of the nature of ultimate destiny. For the Nunamiut there is no 'ultimate wolf reality.' The animal is observed as a part of the universe. Some things are known, other things are hidden. Some of the wolf is known, some is not. But it is not a thing to be anxious over.’” (80)
preface to comparison between Nunamiut & wolves (86-87)
“the wolf…having eaten at the kill, returns home from ten miles away with a haunch of meat in his mouth. And he is besieged with as much affection as the successful Naskapi hunter is by his family. In this…we find a basis for alpha wolves—the hunters, whose prowess is encouraged for the sake of survival. Pack survival.” (90)
“…the link between hunter and hunted lies as the very foundation of every hunting society…The Animal Master is a single animal in a great mythic herd. He is both timeless and indestructible, and archetype of a species. It is he who”gives” the hunter the animal to be killed and who has the power to keep the animals away from the hunter if he is unworthy. In the foundation myths of every hunting culture there is a story of how all this came about.” (90) (a story follows along with explanations about why “hunting is holy”) (90ff)
"Here are hunting wolves doing many inexplicable things (to the human eye). They start to chase an animal and then turn and walk away. They glance at a set of moose tracks only a minute old, sniff, and go on, ignoring them. They walk on the perimeter of caribou herds seemingly giving warning of their intent to kill. And the prey signals back. The moose trot toward them and the wolves leave. The pronghorn throws up his white rump as a sign to follow. A wounded cow stands up to be seen. And the prey behave strangely. Caribou rarely use their antlers against the wolf. An ailing moose, who, as far as we know, could send wolves on their way simply by standing his ground, does what is most likely to draw an attack, what he is least capable of carrying off: he runs. I call this exchange in which the animals appear to lock eyes and make a decision the conversation of death. It is a ceremonial exchange, the flesh of the hunted in exchange for the respect for its spirit. In this way both animals, not the predator alone, choose for the encounter to end in death. There is, at least, a sacred order in this. There is nobility. And it is something that happens only between the wolf and his major prey species. It produces, for the wolf, sacred meat." (94)
"I have been the difference between captive and wild wolves, and I think that much of the difference--a difference of bearing, a dynamic tension immediately apparent in a wild wolf and lacking almost entirely in captive animals--lies in their food. The wolf in the wild subsists on his earned meat. The captive is fed on the wastes of commercial slaughterhouses and food made in factories by machines. Wolves in zoos waste way. The Naskapi [a tribal group which lives in wolf territory and also hunts caribou] to this day, believe that the destruction of their people, the rending of their spirit, has had mainly to do with their being forced to eat the meat of domestic animals." (95)
correspondence in life-styles between Nunamiut (and other groups) and wolves (98ff “A Wolf in the Heart”)
“…the while-tailed deer in Minnesota sough security from Indian hunters by moving into the border area between warring tribes, where hunters were leas likely to show up, and the fact that deer do the same with respect to wolves—seek security along the border zones between wolf territories, where wolves spend the least time hunting.” (99) more on territory 63ff
“When Indians left their own country and entered that of another tribe…they moved like wolves: in small packs; at night and during the crepuscular hours…it served them as well as it served the wolf who, in a hard winter, trespasses into neighboring packs’ territories to look for food, to make a kill, and to go home before anyone knows he’s been there.” (99-100)

“The interrelationships between one’s allegiance to self and household on the one hand and one’s duty to the larger community on the other hand cannot be overemphasized; it was a primal, efficient system of survival that held both man and wolf in a similar mesh. Consider again the Indian’s perception. Each of the animals—mosquitoes, elk, mice—belonged to a separate tribe. Each had special powers, but each was dependent on the others for certain services. When, for example, the Indian left his buffalo kill, he called out to the magpies and others to come and eat. The dead buffalo nourished the grasses; the grasses in turn fed the elk and provided the mouse with straw for a nest; the mouse, for his part, instructed the Indian in magic; and the Indian called on his magic to kill buffalo. With such a strong sense of the interdependence among all creaturs and an acute awareness of the ways in which his own life resembled the wolf’s (hunting for himself, hunting for his family, defending his tribe against enemy attack as the wolf protected the den against the grizzly) the Indian naturally turned to the wolf as a paradigm…” (104)
“If you wanted to play with wolf puppies, you were better off going to a den. The parents would usually back off and you could dig the pups out. When Cree youngsters did this, they would sometimes paint the pups red around the nose and the lower limbs before putting them back. In their childhood game the pups were wolf warriors, just like themselves.”(124)

referring to the “war against wolves in North America in the 19th&20th centuries: “Historically, the most visible motive, and the one that best explains the excess of killing, is a type of fear: theriophobia. Fear of the beast. Fear of the beast as an irrational, violent, insatiable creature. Fear of the projected beast in oneself. The fear is composed of two parts: self-hatred; and anxiety over the human loss of inhibitions that are common to other animals who do not rape, murder, pillage. At the heart of theriophobia is the fear of one’s own nature. In its headiest manifestations theriophobia is projected onto a single animal, the animal becomes a scapegoat, and it is annihilated. That is what happened to the wolf in America…. To celebrate wilderness was to celebrate the wolf; to want to end to wilderness and all it stood for was to want the wolf’s head…. As civilized man matured and came to measure his own progress by his subjugation of the wilderness—both clearing trees for farms and clearing pagan minds for Christian ideas-the act of killing wolves became a symbolic act, a way to lash out at that enormous, inchoate obstacle: wilderness. I greatly oversimplify, but there is not much distinction in motive between the Christian missionaries who set fire to England’s woods to deprive Druids of a place to worship and the residents of Arkansas who set fire to thousands of acres of the Ouachita National Forest in 1928 to deprive wolves of hiding places. In America in the eighteenth century Cotton Mather preached against wilderness as an insult to the Lord, as a challenge to man to show the proof of his religious conviction by destroying it…. In 1756 John Adams wrote that when the colonist arrived in America, ‘the whole continent was one continued dismal wilderness, the haunt of wolves and bears and more savage men. Now the forests are removed, the land covered with fields of corn, orchards bending with fruit and the magnificent habitations of rational and civilized people.” (140-2)

“We create wolves. The methodology of science creates a wolf just as surely as does the metaphysical vision of a native American, or the enmity of a cattle baron of the nineteenth century. It is only by convention that the first is considered enlightened observation, the second fanciful anthropomorphism, and the third agricultural necessity.” (203)

“The central conflict between man’s good and evil natures is revealed in his twin images of the wolf as ravening killer and as nurturing mother. The former was the werewolf; the later the mother to children who founded nations.” (226-7)

“The wolf seen eating human carrion on a medieval battlefield was reviled because he was held to be sufficiently endowed to know that what he was doing was wrong but was base enough to do it anyway. The quintessential sinner.” (232)

“A poignant aspect of the wolf’s predicament emerges here. In a hunter societiy, like tha tof the Cheyenne, traits that were universally admired—courage, hunting skill, endurance—placed the wolf in a pantheon of respected animals; but when man turned to agriculture and husbandry, to cities, the very same wolf was hated as cowardly, stupid, and rapacious. The wolf itself remains unchanged but man now speaks of his hated ‘animal’ nature. By standing around a burning stake, jeering at and cursing an accused werewolf, a person demonstrated an allegiance to his human nature and increased his own sense of well-being. The tragedy, and I think that is the proper word is that the projection of such self-hatred was never satisfied. NO amount of carnage, no pile of wolves in the village square, no number of human beings burned as werewolves, was enough to end it. It is, I suppose, not that different from the slaughter of Jews at the hands of the Nazis, except that when it happens to animals it is easier to forget.” (233)

“When, from the prisons of our cities, we look out to wilderness, when we reach intellectually for such abstractions as the privilege of leading a life free from nonsensical conventions, or one without guilt or subterfuge—in short, a life of integrity—I think we can turn to wolves. We do sense in them courage, stamina, and a straightforwardness of living; we do sense that they are somehow correct in the universe and we are somehow still at odds with it.” (249)

“French intellectuals were debating the idea set forth by Descartes that animals were beastly machines without souls while men were a separate, mysterious creation.” (254-5)
natural history, scientific method. Hobbes: man a cog to be politically manipulated, Descartes animals are “beast machines,” predictable and lifeless universe. “The ideas of Cartesian dualism was one of th emost pervasive themse of the seventheenth century…if an animal has no soul…then our approach to forms of life other than ourselves can be irresponsible and mechanistic. It was precisely this view that came to dominate the biological sciences and to give men who were otherwise much admired, like Audubon, the ethical space to shoot fifty or a hundred birds just to make a single, accurate drawing. The mechanistic approach to wildlife, further, led biologists to a tragic and myopic conclusion: that animals can be ‘contained,’ that they can be disassembled, described, reassembnled, and put back on the shelf. This is an idea that is only now beginning to disappear in zoology.”
La Fontaine and Montaigne “In Defense of Raymond Sebond” disagreed with this (258)

The Dog and the Wolf from Aesop (254) from an 1818 edition by Thomas Bewic:
Discouraged after an unsuccessful day of hunting, a hungry Wolf came on a well-fed Mastiff. He could see that the Dog was having a better time of it than he was and he inquired what the dog had to do to stay so well fed. “Very little,” said the dog. “Just drive away beggars, guard the house, show fondness to the master, be submissive to the rest of the family and you are well fed and warmly lodged.” The wolf thought this over carefully. He risked his own life almost daily, had to stay out in the worst of weather, and was never assured of his meals. He thought he would try another way of living. As they were going along together the Wolf saw a place around the Dog’s neck where the hair had worn thin. He asked what this was and the Dog said it was nothing, “ just the place where my collar and chain rub.” The Wolf stopped short. “Chain? He asked. “You mean that you are not free to go where you choose?” “No,” said the Dog, “but what does that mean?” “Much,” answered the Wolf as he trotted off. “Much.”

“If there were not something in us that likes the big bad wolf [in the Little Red Riding Hood story], he would have no power over us. Therefore, it is important to understand his nature, but even more important to learn what makes him attractive to us.” (266)

“Were we to perceive such a synthesis [of the benevolent and malcontented wolves of various fables], it would signal a radical change in man. For it would mean that he had finally quit his preoccupation with himself and begun to contemplate a universe in which he was not central. The terror inherent in such a prospect is, of course, greater than that in any wolf he has ever written about. But equally vast is the possibility for heroism, humility, tragedy, and the other virtues of literature.” (270)

“We have begun to see again, as our primitive ancestors did, that animals are neither imperfect imitations of men nor machines that can be described entirely in terms of endocrine secretions and neural impulses. Like us, they are genetically variable, and both the species and the individual are capable of unprecedented behavior…. Nor do I think it possible that science can by itself produce the animal entire. The range of the human mind, the scale and depth of the metaphors the mind is capable of manufacturing as it grapples with the universe, stand in stunning contrast to the belief that there is only one reality, which is man’s, or worse, that only one culture among the many on earth possess the truth. To allow mystery, which is to say to yourself, ‘there could be more, there could be things we don’t understand,’ is not to damn knowledge. It is to take a wider view. It is to permit yourself an extraordinary freedom: someone else does not have to be wrong in order that you may be right…. this tolerance of mystery invigorates the imagination;’ and it is the imagination that gives shape to the universe…. The appreciation of the separate realities enjoyed by other organism is not only no threat to our own reality, but th root of a fundamental joy. I learned from River [a wolf he adopted] that I was a human being and that he was a wolf and that we were different. I valued him as a creature, but he did not have to be what I imagined he was. It is with this freedom from dogma, I think, that the meaning of the words ‘the celebration of life’ becomes clear.” (284-5)


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