Dawn Chorus (Other Nations)

“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 splendor and travail of the earth.”   –Henry Beston, The Outermost House (1928)

Enjoying the dawn chorus, I sat in the wooden tub just off my bedroom deck this morning, noticing change in the air. Not enough change though and not fast enough! With increasing intensity, I feel the way it’s still so hot—it’s been over 100 degrees for several days running—while the days are shorter, and the nights longer. I was out at 6:30 rather than 5:00, my tub time in June. There’s a discrepancy between the way the light falls slant now and the intense heat, they don’t go together. It works to intensify a longing for the change of season, the real change of season to falling leaves, cooler temperatures, and abundance in the garden on its way out.

This morning I saw that the Acorn Woodpeckers are well into harvest season, with or without cooler temperatures. One crew was drilling out their barns and tossing out last year’s detritus while another crew was hauling in large acorns to stuff into those clean barns: knock, knock, knock, knock, knock, knock, knock. I send them a Woody Woodpecker good morning. They glance briefly in my direction, like people everywhere who are focused on a task. “Mmmhmm,” they say, “I’m busy right now.” What do the woodpeckers feel? What do they know and how do they know it? Surely we all share understanding of longer nights, shorter days. They are up later, too.

And what about the rest of the gang? The blue jays are fluttering in the treetops, squawking a kind of slow dance. In June, they were the first ones up, raising a racket at four thirty in the morning. Back then they danced a veritable tarantella several yards from their nest in order to distract any predators from the real location of their babies. They’ve ceased with this obnoxious necessity, and they seem to be enjoying life more. Are they talking about the weather and the seasons, like we do?

A lone gray titmouse cocks her pointed little head as she hops on the rock wall. She’s a newcomer, I think, a bird I have not seen in recent months. It may be though, that she’s been there and just out-flashed by the hummingbirds and goldfinches. I think it more likely that she is seasonal and just arriving.

The ravens zoom over, calling out their typical three-note greeting, Caw, caw, caw. I return the greeting in my best Corvid accent and they turn to fly over again, this time inspecting me as they go. The ravens talk about me amongst themselves. I know they do, and one day I will say how I know this. Not today though, today belongs to all of them, and especially to the hard working Acorn Woodpeckers.


About Anne Benvenuti

My second book, "Kindred Spirits" is in gestation, soon to be delivered! My first book is called "Spirit Unleashed: Reimagining Human-Animal Relations," June 2014, Wipf and Stock. From the book jacket: "In Spirit Unleashed, Anne Benvenuti uses analysis of real encounters with animals, wild and domestic, to take us on an intellectual tour of our thinking about animals by way of biological sciences, scientific psychology, philosophy, and theology to show that we have been wrong in our understanding of ourselves amongst other animals. The good news is that we can correct course and make ourselves happier in the process. Drawing us into encounters with a desert rattlesnake, an offended bonobo, an injured fawn, a curious whale, a determined woodpecker, and others, she gives us a glimpse of their souls. Anne Benvenuti strongly makes the case that to change the way that we think about animals—and our way of relating to them—holds the possibility of changing all life on Earth for the better."I am an integrative scholar and author, a licensed clinical psychologist, a priest of the Episcopal Church, a Trustee of the Parliament of the World's Religions (and representative to the United Nations), a published poet, and photographer. The New Archaic: A Neurophenomenological Approach to Religious Ways of Knowing," in A Field Guide to a New Meta-Field: Bridging the Humanities/Neurosciences Divide, ed. Barbara Maria Stafford, University of Chicago Press, 2011. My recent presentations include "Promise and Peril: Can Religious and Political Selves Be Reconciled?" at the International Academy of Law and Mental Health, Berlin, 2011; "The New Archaic: Neuroscience, Spiritual Practice, and Healing" at the Parliament for the World's Religions, Melbourne, 2009; and "Gratefully at Home in the Body: Neuroscience and Spiritual Practice," at Spiritual Directors International, San Francisco, 2010.
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