In a world that at times makes it difficult to remember life is wonderful; that calls political madness, progress; where exploitation daily whacks off another arm and leg, I resolve to make no normal resolutions for 2005. Given 2004's body count, I'm better off resolving to become less a civilized man and more a wild animal.
We don't see animals much in the wilds anymore because we appropriate those wilds, sprawling ourselves, smothering other life. Paved paradise, said JoniM. So Nature's relegated to yearly zoo or animal park visits, occasional drives, vacations to the mountains and elsewhere. Including for me.
I can no longer go to circuses that have elephants--I'd feel like I'm acting a role in an installment of Planet of the Apes, except I'm the civilized ape watching caged humans. And I pity dolphins in "water parks". It reminds me of the disproportionate multitudes of ethnic people locked in prisons--the same systems that stock such "parks", fill those prisons. I try to stay away from both.
Elephants' gray wrinkles remind me of my grandmother, who wasn't as big, except with age, and maybe wisdom. A playful, shiny smooth dolphin reminds me of any bright, eager, young child swimming in a city pool, instead one in an "animal park". More reasons not to visit. Old people and children shouldn't be locked up.
Zoos obviously give me the chance to see the creatures, however unnatural the environment, and I do go there and take notes; it's part of my civilizing. I don't say zoos are all positive. They're just there.
Year-round, I'd go see two jaguars at the Denver Zoo, one black, the other spotted. Most people passed their cages because the cats didn't do much. No complaining, not much activity. They had plenty to complain about, too. They normally roam square miles, not square feet. They're a lot like you, unless you're in prison.
I spent some time when I visited the cats--observing, sketching them, noting their mannerisms--talked to them, being with them as I could. Until they both died. I felt better after that; their spirits returned to something undoubtedly more expansive than cage.
At the moment I believe the zoo only has two projects related to jaguars, both in field work in Mexico. That's fine by me. I won't miss them behind the bars.
I also spend time with the Artic wolves who exist in a much larger cage. They don't pace the fence of their world; they track variations of figure eights through the mid of the habitat, it's called. Maybe just because they're dogs, not cats.
I assume the wolves search for a way out, even though they've already discovered there's none. Even though they're traveled those paths thousands, thousands of times. Maybe they use figure-eight geometry to hold onto sanity. Or onto the little we accept as their intelligence. Maybe it means they've gone crazy. I might.
People tend not to stay long in front of that cage, not even half a minute; the wolves are too far away, not right up front doing animal tricks or something. I tell them where the wolves are in the habitat, their number, describe what I know of them, what they've been doing. People aren't impressed. The wolves might not be either, though they've never said. I don't know enough wolf to guess.
I also spend time with pumas, each of us doing much the same. One of my times there, one puma let loose with an incredible roar that blew me away. In that moment I knew he was puma. I thought I knew too why he'd done it, and when people came running, I gave them my explanation. They were disappointed; puma didn't say anything else in front of them--nada; he was done. No one stayed to give him the opportunity to entertain them, but puma wasn't interested in that.
I have a dream I'll run into puma outside of a cage, on a mountainside, somewhere like that. He may think me no different from a zoo squawker. I might be enemy, nourishment for him. But I know he won't try to cage me.
He'll have claws, teeth; I'll have a knife, no firearm. That's a fair a fight, I think. I like to think I'll win, but he might, instead. At least it would add 1 to the pumas' score.
I never stop for the zoo elephants. Luckily Denver has no dolphins, porpoises, but I don't think I'd visit them, either.
How much intelligence does an animal need to resent other species gaping every day at them eating dinner, taking a scat break or in conjugate relations? Hopefully, not as much as a wolf, or elephant, because that would mean we insult their intelligence. Forget what we do to their self-esteem. I'd probably pace the figure-eight of my home endlessly too, if I was watched so.
I'm an ethnic American. From birth, my chances of winding up in prison were higher than others. My mom kept me out. But I have relatives who are or were and likely will wind up there. If I'm somehow ever in jail, at length, I wouldn't want visits, like the jaguar, wolf get. It would unpleasantly remind me of my confinement, I'd envy their non-confinement.
Letters would be okay, much the same way I think wolf might love to hear another wolf call it from beyond the zoo fence. It might inspire hope that the species isn't doomed to be caged. No Planet of the Apes destiny.
I'll probably keep going to the zoo, still skipping the elephants, in 2005--despite the hospice feel I get from the place. As if wolf might hand you a photo postcard of his habitat that reads "Wish you were here, instead of me." But wolf wouldn't do that to us.
When the Indian Ocean Tsunami human body count is done it may surpass a quarter of a million, but apparently the proportional count of animal bodies will be far lower--possibly a result of their sensitivity to infrasound, which we don't hear as well. They heard catastrophe coming and--moved.
There's a lot we don't hear. Or smell, sense, taste, etc. More than just tsunamis. Elephants can hear each other over ten miles away. We sometimes don't hear someone next to us.
Some things set Man above other animals but also some set him lower. We gave up much when we left the primitive behind. Maybe we need to get back to, not a full state of grace, but at least a semblance of tranquility.
For 2005 I resolve to stay out of cages, to learn to listen better, to try to hear more, like the elephant. To attempt to keep my intelligence playful, like dolphins, no matter my surroundings. To express my outrage, myself, like growling puma. To keep to sanity like I hope the wolves do. To yearn, like jaguars, for the open range. I doubt I'll get as good as any of them, but presumably I'll have 2006 to keep at it.