The intersection of impossible worlds

“We need another and a wiser and perhaps a more mystical concept of animals. Remote from universal nature, and living by complicated artifice, man in civilization surveys the creature through the glass of his knowledge and sees thereby a feather magnified and the whole image in distortion. 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. For the animal shall not be measured by man. 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 brethren, 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: A Year of Life on the Great Beach of Cape Cod

Much as I love plants and am delighted to come across a new one, or an old friend, when on a walk or in my own yard, when I unexpectedly meet an animal there is always a kind of frisson — a shiver that’s mostly but not wholly pleasurable, an electrical impulse of complex emotion: excitement mingled with awe, awareness of “other” and “familiar” simultaneously, joy and wonder alloyed with not knowing what will happen in the next moment.

Anything from bird to snake to skate to bear prompts this feeling for me. Insects, including butterflies, don’t seem to — though I often find them charming and enchanting, and I am awed by their many abilities — and I imagine that’s because I do not yet fully comprehend their complete being. Not that I claim to fully comprehend any other being’s complete being (nor my own, when it comes down to it) , but with mammals, birds, reptiles, amphibians, and fish I feel the thrill of kinship — not family kinship exactly (not that they are “brethren,” as Beston puts it), but our kinship as mortals, perhaps, as fellow travellers on this one earth — and, paradoxically, I recognise in the same moment that we are alien to each other. We can connect, perhaps, but a rabbit, warbler, fox, or frog is wild in a way that I — “living by complicated artifice” — will never fathom; and that wildness conjures a certain wariness (in varying degrees, depending on what I think I know of the animal) that, along with the awareness that we live together, briefly, in the same moment, lends a reverence and respect to our meeting, for me at least.

Below are some animals whose paths have crossed mine briefly in the last month. Of course, when I’m really stunned and the animal is as wary as I, and faster, I don’t get a photo, as with the groundhog at the Heritage Museum in Sandwich MA, the two 5-foot long black racer snakes in Wellfleet MA, and numerous birds all over.

In the garden in NH

grey squirrel (motion camera)
indigo bunting in finch feeder
visiting female mallard (motion camera)

Trail walks in NH

eastern newts:

sparrow on a beaver dam

Cape Cod

large green frog – Heritage Gardens, Sandwich MA
painted turtle – Heritage Gardens, Sandwich MA
red squirrel, eating – Heritage Gardens, Sandwich MA
song sparrow – motel, Orleans MA
rabbit scratching face – Try Island, Wellfleet MA
rabbit – Mass Audubon Center, Wellfleet MA
piping plover – Coast Guard Beach Eastham MA
marsh crab – Mass Audubon, Wellfleet MA
large black and white cat — a crow was scolding it fiercely and chasing it away – Mass Audubon, Wellfleet MA
great black-backed gull (immature) – Great Island Trail, Wellfleet MA
green frog in pond – Mass Audubon, Wellfleet MA
goldfinch – Nauset Light Beach Eastham MA
fluffy house sparrow – Coast Guard Beach Eastham MA
chipmunk partially obstructed – Pamet Trails, Truro, MA
small black racer snake – Pamet Trails, Truro, MA

Coastal Rhode Island 

Red-winged black bird (at motel in Middletown RI) with something to say:

It was almost impossible to capture any of the dozens of swallows flitting and dipping, and never landing, at Oyster Point at Trustom Pond NWR in South Kingstown, RI:

cormorant -Bristol RI
Northern rough-winged swallow – Cliff Walk, Newport RI
rabbit – Sachuest Point NWR, Middletown RI
mockingbird with morsel of some kind – Sachuest Point NWR, Middletown RI
small puffy chipping sparrow – Ninigret NWR, Charlestown RI
towhee – Ninigret NWR, Charlestown RI
scarlet tanager – Trustom Pond NWR, South Kingstown RI
herring gull – Fogland Beach, Tiverton RI
immature herring gull – The Narrows, Narragansett RI
mute swan – Trustom Pond NWR, South Kingstown RI
male turkey in grasses – Trustom Pond NWR, South Kingstown RI
rabbit in bramble – Trustom Pond NWR, South Kingstown RI
another rabbit – Sachuest Point NWR, Middletown RI
house finches, male feeding female – Cliff Walk, Newport RI
cormorant with nesting materials (I could see the nests out on rocks) – Cliff Walk RI
yearling deer hiding (one of three together) – Trustom Pond NWR, South Kingstown RI
rabbit, neck outstretched – Trustom Pond NWR, South Kingstown RI
yellow warbler – Trustom Pond NWR, South Kingstown RI

“When birds look into houses, what impossible worlds they see.” — Don DeLillo, from The Body Artist


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