The following article is excerpted from A Reenchanted World: The Quest for a New Kinship With Nature, available now from Henry Holt and Company.
The quest for connection with wild animals can lead searchers into uncharted territory. Jacques Mayol's exploration of human-dolphin relationships began in 1957, when he met a female dolphin named Clown at the Miami Seaquarium. Until that day, Mayol had moved from job to job, country to country, without any deep commitments. He grew up in France during World War II, farmed wheat in Canada after the war, and then became the editor of a French-language newspaper in Miami in the 1950s. But he had always loved the ocean, and the encounter with Clown took him back to the sea in a new way. Her glance, he said, "communicated a message,' a look that in a flash went straight to my soul and touched my deepest being with true cosmic resonance."
Mayol began to visit Clown every day. He also started to free dive in the ocean, returning to something he had done as a teenager in France when the sport was being invented. Over time, his "subconscious rapport with dolphins" grew. By the early 1980s, when Mayol began to dive to depths of 230 feet, establishing new world records in free diving, wild dolphins would accompany him down to the bottom and back up again. His book, Homo Delphinus: The Dolphin Within Man (1999), shows photos of his dolphin friends Bimini and Stripe pulling him up to the surface after long descents and swimming with him just for the fun of it; the three radiate happiness. In the hope of finding an evolutionary basis for his feeling of kinship, Mayol began searching for a common ancestor shared by dolphins and humans. He discovered a potential relative in The Aquatic Ape, a 1982 book by British science writer Elaine Morgan.
According to the radical school of evolutionary theory at the heart of Morgan's work, roughly nine million years ago Earth's tectonic plates shifted, flooding parts of Northeast Africa near the Red Sea. One of our hominid ancestors, a creature speculated to be a manlike ape called Ramapithecus, consequently lost its forest habitat and was forced to hunt for food several hours each day in the water from which it had originated. (This theory about human evolution thus parallels the more scientifically established theory on the evolutionary origins of sea mammals such as whales, dolphins, sea lions, seals, and sea otters-namely, that they all evolved from land-based ancestors forced to return to the sea by climate and environmental changes.) After Ramapithecus spent some four million years in the aquatic environment, further tectonic plate shifts made the waters recede. A different hominid species, speculated to be the more humanlike Australopithecus, evolved from Ramapithecus and moved to the savannah, its body marked by traces of its life in the sea. These traces were passed down, in turn, to Homo sapiens sapiens.
As proof, the "aquatic ape" theory points to the fact that unlike other four-limbed land-dwelling animals, humans have spines that align with their legs, whether in a horizontal or vertical position. Aquatic mammals all share this spinal alignment, which allows them to take vertical positions in the water or to swim horizontally. Unlike other primates, but like water mammals, humans also have a layer of subcutaneous fat, and, to this day, some 7 percent of the population is born with webbing between the toes. The evolutionary theorists informing Morgan's work contend that the fatty tissues that give women's breasts their shape first evolved to help them float, just as with the breasts of manatees. Cold water caused women's genitals to move inward, where the labia and thighs worked to preserve heat, while men's penises grew longer as a result. Like whales and dolphins, humans copulate face-to-face, belly to belly; no other primates have sex this way. Most of all, the fact that humans can hold their breath easily, like dolphins and whales and other marine mammals, suggests a past common life in the sea. For Mayol, the theory of a lost aquatic ape provided a conceptual bridge to connect humans and dolphins. If humans had an aquatic ape ancestor, other aquatic mammals were surely some kind of kin.
Naturalist Roger Payne came to a similar conclusion. Payne pioneered the study of whale sounds, and became the first scientist to propose that the whales were actually singing to one another as they sent their low frequency bellows thousands of miles across the ocean. His recording The Songs of Humpback Whales (1970) became a best-seller. Impressed by the similar musical structures of whale and human music, Payne wondered whether whales and people were not biologically related. He noted that upon hearing whale songs, people often began to cry, "as though something unaccountably ancient was overmastering them. This commonality of aesthetic suggests to me that the traditions of singing may date back so far they were already present in some ancestor common to whales and us." Interspecies empathy thus confirmed lost kinship. Mayol's and Payne's ready embrace of theories far from mainstream science conveys a profound longing for intimate, familiar connection.
But if the concept of human-animal families is still on the margins, it has lately received some support from surprising quarters. Contemporary evolutionary biology and related fields now stress the depth of human-animal kinship ties and encourage a revisionist view of Charles Darwin's work. Although Darwin sought to discredit theological doctrines that held that God created each species separately and to show the processes of evolution, his work was hardly an example of pure science. Instead, it was a hybrid discourse, with a strong spiritual and romantic strain. The famous last line of The Origin of Species (1859) celebrates the "grandeur in this view of life, with its several powers, having been originally breathed by the Creator into a few forms or into one; and that, whilst this planet has gone cycling on according to the fixed law of gravity, from so simple a beginning endless forms most beautiful and wonderful have been and are being evolved."
Darwin always stressed the kinship and similarity between animals and people, even in terms of emotions and some kinds of thinking. In The Descent of Man (1871), he wrote: "The difference in mind between man and the higher animals, great as it is, certainly is one of degree and not of kind. We have seen that the senses and intuitions, the various emotions and faculties, such as love, memory, attention, curiosity, imitation, reason, of which man boasts, may be found in an incipient, or even sometimes in a well-developed condition, in the lower animals." Darwin further developed this argument in The Expression of the Emotions in Man and Animals (1872) as a way to show the continuity among species and reject the religious argument that humans represented a separate creation.
Although twentieth-century biologists accepted Darwin's work on evolution, his arguments about animal feelings and thought processes were mostly rejected as "the sin of anthropomorphism." In reducing Darwin's work to a model of positivistic science and behaviorism, biologists severely distorted his approach. Darwin's emotional bonds with animals informed his scientific enterprise, and he considered his study of expressions and feelings in animals crucial to understanding that other animal species: humans.
These days, Darwin's love for creation and his sense of human-animal kinship have been taken up again by many scientists. While not all his arguments about specific animal species and their emotions are accepted, those who study animal cognition, emotion, and personality no longer treat other species as dumb beasts. Dolphins have now passed the mirror-test of self-recognition, the first mammal beyond primates to do so. The famous chimpanzee researcher Jane Goodall says she observed a young male chimpanzee lose interest in life and slowly die of grief weeks after his mother passed away. Elephants are reported to shout in joy when a lost troop member returns, and mourn for days after the death of a comrade. Video cameras in forests capture deer "kissing." Some whale species swim in embrace after sex. Desert tortoises show vast differences in how far they range and in their willingness to defend territories; females show considerable selectivity over mates. And one philosopher-musician seeking to understand why birds sing plays his clarinet for songbirds, and studies how they change their melodies in relation to his. Having rejected the modern view of animals as things, science and scholarship now spread the culture of enchantment, strengthening human feelings for other creatures and their habitats.
Beginning in the early 1980s, the concept of a human-animal family found additional allies among molecular biologists and geneticists. Scientists studying the mapping of human, plant, and animal DNA codes found more commonality among species than even Charles Darwin could have imagined. Chimpanzees' genes, for instance, are 99 percent identical to those of humans. Moreover, as the evolutionary biologist Edward O. Wilson summarized the findings, the greater genetic differences from humans to other primates, "and beyond them to other kinds of animals, are only a matter of degree." As Wilson told his friend and colleague Canadian geneticist David Suzuki: "We have to discover our kin. We have to discover our relatives, the other plants and animals who are related to us through our DNA. Because to know our kin is to come to love and cherish them." Even genetics has now become a double discourse, at once a science and a spiritual quest for totemic kinship.
In this context, the imminent extinction of an entire species or subpopulation carries a special charge. By World War II, the gray wolf — a creature some seven hundred thousand years old — was extinct in the United States except for Alaska and northern Minnesota. Then, in 1979, a lone female (who had been tagged with a radio transmitting collar) traveled 150 miles from Banff National Park in Canada to Glacier National Park in northern Montana. In 1982, the footprints of a large male appeared beside hers; by 1985, an estimated fifteen to twenty wolves lived in Glacier and across the border in Canada.
Researchers came to study the wolves, but the more time they spent in the field, the more uncanny the experience became. In Glacier, the first returning wolves and their offspring were named the Magic Pack, because they appeared and disappeared from the park and adjacent Canadian territory in mysterious ways. Diane Boyd, one of the scientists studying the Magic Pack, says that she would often spend entire days searching for the wolves only to come home and find a pile of scat right outside her door. Boyd tried to trap the wolves to place radio transmitters on them. In her dreams, she would see captured wolves, and the next day, they would be in the traps. The wolves changed Boyd. She had begun her study as a traditional scientist, someone who never let her feelings inform her work. That changed, she says: Boyd became comfortable considering wolves subjectively, as intelligent creatures with their own emotions. She describes the wolf scat outside her door as a wolf way of laughing at her. On other occasions, she interpreted a wolf's barking and howling outside her cabin as an effort to "talk" or communicate. "Now I don't worry about that stigma [of subjectivity] anymore. Now I know it [the mysterious nature of wolves] with my heart and my brain."
Renée Askins, another researcher, tells of flying over Minnesota in a small plane and spotting thirteen wolves on an ice-covered peninsula far out into a lake. The plane turned around for what should have been a second look. Askins says, "We came around to see them again and — bump — they were gone. The closest forest was a mile away — they couldn't have gotten there. They just disappeared." Askins calls the wolves creatures of "dawn and dusk," animals that "offer a vehicle for us to talk metaphorically about the things in our lives that are not here or we wish were here."
In 1982, Freeman House joined with his neighbors living along the Mattole River in northern California to form the Mattole River Watershed Salmon Support Group. A century earlier, the Mattole had been filled with tens of thousands of salmon in the fall and spring. By 1982, only a thousand at most made the journey. House felt the absence of the fish. He compared the sensations to an amputee's suffering from a phantom limb: "Salmon resides in the hearts of humans: for many, even the imminence of its absence creates an active ghost." House also "felt" the ghosts call out to him: "Tonight, by the side of the river, one of those ghosts, perhaps the ghost of the Bear Creek king salmon from just over the ridgeline, has found its way through my ears or through my eyes or my fingertips to lodge itself in the muscles at the base of my neck." Helping the salmon to spawn became his obsession. Even during a New Year's Eve celebration, his thoughts were with them. Every few hours through the cold, rainy night, he checked the fish traps and milked the eggs from females in the hopes that more salmon fry would survive.
During the past twenty years, numerous small bands of dedicated naturalists have begun searches for species declared dead and vanished. For example, in 1952 the Colorado Division of Wildlife declared grizzly bears extinct in the state. Still, reports of sightings in the San Juan Mountains in southern Colorado continued to circulate. From 1980 to 1982 the division conducted a search using baited traps and snares. They caught many black bears, but no grizzlies. However, Tom Beck, the chief biologist leading the search, wryly commented that "failure to catch a grizzly bear does not mean a definite absence of bears." Years later, Beck reaffirmed the possibility that a few bears in the San Juans might well have eluded his searchers.
In 1990, a grizzly bear expert and environmental activist named Doug Peacock gathered a group of friends and fellow bear lovers, including nature writers Rick Bass and David Petersen, for a mission. The 1980-82 searches hadn't been done right, Peacock insisted, because the grizzly bears knew they were being hunted: "Any creature that can ride a motorcycle in the circus and learn to dress itself is capable of learning other things, too." Peacock believed that the San Juan bears had retreated to the most remote canyons and mountains, avoiding humans, foraging almost exclusively at night, existing on a mainly vegetarian diet. What was needed was a different kind of search.
The Round River Conservation Studies' San Juan Grizzly Project was indeed different. It began with hunters searching for the "grizzly within." As Rick Bass explained on the opening page of his book The Lost Grizzlies, "There is a place in our hearts for them, and so it is possible to believe they still exist, if only because that space of longing exists." Bass and Peacock and the other members of the project all felt the bears to be out there, somewhere, living highly constrained existences. Bass even imagined a mother's instructions to her cub: "This is where you run when you hide. This is where you do not go. It is all right to eat berries from this bush. This stream, but only this stream, is all right to drink from. Beneath this tree is where we will nap, our family, for as long as we are on the earth. Only this tree, in this drainage."
As the bear seekers journeyed deeper into the mountains, they began to ponder how these constraints affected not just the grizzlies — both living and ghost bears — but humans as well. What might happen if state and federal governments bought more land for the bears to roam and established greater protection for them in the South San Juan National Wilderness Area? "If only we could loosen the constricting bans around them, perhaps our own hidden wounds, our own limits to spontaneity, would begin to heal," wrote Bass. "We have lost these grizzlies and lost our relationship to them. We have lost a part of ourselves, of who we were and who we will be."
For two summers the group wandered through the mountains looking for the bears. From time to time, they found signs of a bear's presence. Peacock once spotted a single nine-inch track, oddly positioned at ninety degrees from the rest of the smaller, black bear tracks; to him it was possible evidence that a grizzly, aware of being hunted, was trying to hide its trail. On another occasion the group found a huge rock overturned, to them an indicator that grizzlies had been digging for insects. Not far away they found a giant bear scat with fur attached. Back in the lab, scientists using DNA analysis confirmed that the hair came from a grizzly. During the winter break, when Bass returned home to Montana, he dreamed of hibernating San Juan grizzlies. It was an intimate communication, "like sharing a secret with them, now that we believed they were still out there-and it was like holding a responsibility, too, believing that their future depended on how well we protected their country."
Ultimately, Rick Bass saw a bear, species unknown, and the bear saw him. "And what I saw in those eyes, that brief wild meeting of eyes, was fright, looking so much like the frightened eyes of man that I was granted the beginning of a new perception." Until that moment, Bass wrote, he had always celebrated "the importance of mystery," but was deeply afraid of it. Now that fear finally gave way to acceptance. "The mysticism of the event is what leads me to believe it was a grizzly. The strangeness, the power of all that surrounded it."
The ivory-billed woodpecker is another ghost species that has caught the public's imagination. The twenty-inch bird, known as the Lord God bird because it was so beautiful people would exclaim "Lord God!" when they saw it, had not been sighted for over fifty years. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service declared it extinct in 1997, after logging had destroyed its southern swamp habitat. Then, in 1999, a student at Louisiana State University reported spotting a pair of the woodpeckers at the Pearl River Wildlife Management Area. James Van Remsen, curator for birds at the university's Museum of Natural Science, found the claim credible. As word got out, a search team gathered. John W. Fitzpatrick of the Cornell University Lab of Ornithology supervised the installation of a dozen sophisticated listening devices and recorders, whose tapes would be analyzed by computers. Van Remsen recruited world-class birders, habitat biologists, woodpecker specialists, and computer software experts. Zeiss Sports Optics, the maker of binoculars favored by birders, funded the search.
When James Gorman, a New York Times reporter sent to cover the January 2002 search, walked through the Pearl River swamp, he felt the presence of something akin to Freeman House's ghosts: "These woods, a remnant of vast forests, inspired something of [a] sense of incalculable loss." Then, one afternoon, days into the search, four team members heard a sequence of "double-raps," a tapping peculiar to the ivory-billed woodpecker. One searcher, habitat biologist Peter McBride, said that the sound "arrests you" and could "send a chill up your spine."
After analyzing four thousand hours of recordings, especially those made on that particular afternoon, Fitzpatrick announced that the double-raps were gunshots. Still, just like the biologist Beck concluded of his grizzly bear hunt, Fitzpatrick felt that the absence of evidence did not decisively prove the absence of birds. He planned to keep looking elsewhere in Louisiana, as did Zeiss Optics' David Luneau, who told the Times, "I will definitely be searching, somehow, somewhere." In the culture of enchantment, the search itself becomes a sacred ritual, what Emile Durkheim called an "imitative rite," meaning that the worshippers act in the hope that "like produces like." The Lord God bird in the heart might lead to a manifestation, a Lord God bird in the swamp.
In 2000, a team of biologists from C. W. Post University headed by Matthew Draud began a study of diamondback terrapins on Long Island. These aquatic turtles faced numerous obstacles to reproduction, from boat propellers that killed them when they surfaced in the water, to beach-cleaning sweepers that crushed their nests, to habits like laying eggs below the high-tide mark that made them particularly vulnerable. For three years Draud and his team simply counted and recorded dead hatchlings. But by 2003 they had come to care too much for the creatures and began to move turtle eggs, sometimes to better locations on the beach, other times to incubators in the laboratory. Local residents began to rescue wounded terrapins. Nearby researchers in New Jersey even salvaged eggs for incubation from terrapins killed by cars, and released 150 to 200 one-year-olds back to the wild each year. Marc Bossert, the team member most responsible for the intervention, explained: "I started as a scientist. Then I evolved."
In the Wind River Mountains of Wyoming, a formerly healthy twelve-hundred-animal herd of bighorn sheep had declined to eight hundred by 2001. Typically, only two of ten lambs survived, and even these suffered from failing immune systems. Scientists claimed that acid rain (caused by coal exhaust from power plants in Utah and Arizona, car exhaust from California, and fertilizer plants in the Pacific Northwest) had altered the Wind River ecosystem so that it could no longer support large herds. But the charismatic bighorns were not abandoned. The people of Wyoming put selenium mineral blocks out for the sheep to lick in the hope of restoring their immune systems. The director of the National Bighorn Sheep Interpretive Center confessed to the Los Angeles Times, "The town loves these sheep and we're proud of them."
Similarly, in California people embraced an endangered bird species despite its unappealing looks and fondness for carrion. By 1982, only twenty-one California condors — birds with nine-foot wingspans and a history dating back over one hundred thousand years — remained alive. Faced with the possibility that these last few birds might themselves perish from lead poisoning caused by bullets in their carrion diet, U.S. Fish and Wildlife officials captured the survivors. It was a sad and desperate effort. John Borne-man, who worked for the National Audubon Society during the 1980s, recalls, "When he was captured in the wild — the last bird — I closed the door to my office and cried."84 But in 1985 the captive condors began to breed, and in 1992 both adults and offspring were released in California and other southwestern states.
By then, the scientists and game managers were deeply attached to the birds. Biologist Bronwyn Davey says, "The condors become like friends. You get to know them individually, get to know their personalities." Los Angeles zookeeper Michael Clark helped rear the birds by using hand puppets that looked like condors. "I don't think anyone who has ever seen such an animal up close would want to see it die out," he said. By 2002, more than sixty California condors lived in the wild, with another hundred and one in captivity and nineteen in field pens waiting to be released. In the Angeles National Forest, some of the wild birds began following hang gliders, who helped them find thermal wind currents.
In 2003, when a hunter killed a condor, the news media framed it as a murder. The dead bird, AC-8, was a female with a known history and personality. Just as at funerals, when the living tell stories about the dead, the friends of AC-8 bore witness to her passing, telling a reporter about her life. She was over thirty years old and could no longer have chicks, but she mentored others in the flock. Greg Austin, deputy director of the Hopper Mountain National Wildlife Refuge, recalled, "She was showing these other birds positive things; her foraging grounds, her roosting areas."
Even the deaths of individual animals from species not approaching extinction now fill people with sorrow and compassion. No longer are majestic whales or endangered condors the only ones whose deaths make the morning paper or the evening news. In New York City a coyote somehow made his way to Central Park, where he romped around, swam in the lake, and killed a bird for dinner. He was captured and then released in a rural habitat. When the coyote, named Hal by city workers, died a few days later, an obituary in the New York Times carefully detailed the causes of death: stress, heartworms, and rat poison. In 2006, songwriter and singer Jonathan Meiburg from Austin's Shearwater band released "White Waves," a funeral dirge in honor of the largest hammerhead shark ever caught with rod and reel. Researchers found that she'd been pregnant with fifty-two nearly full-term pups. In the song, the shark appears to serenade her killer: "He took me out on the tide / To make pearls of my eyes / And uncover me." And a woman in the Southern California foothill community of Monrovia found a deer impaled on a wrought-iron fence surrounding a neighbor's home and held its head in her arms as it died. "You think you're a mature person and can handle things, but I just stood there and cried," she told a reporter. "We could see three deer in the background watching, like they knew what was happening. It was just heartbreaking."
Sometimes wild animals even have memorial statues. In Florida, speeding boats and increased water pollution have ravaged the manatee population, reducing it from around two thousand in 1988 to one thousand four hundred in 1993. After scuba diver Harvey Barnett found a wounded, dying manatee, he put up an underwater monument in Kings Bay to honor all manatees killed and injured. Its inscription reads: "Life must become more than the wants and needs of humans. We are not on this earth alone."
This public, formal mourning is everywhere, testament to a growing hunger for connection with nature. When police in Palo Alto kill a mountain lion resting in a tree in a suburban neighborhood because it might hurt someone, the residents don't celebrate, they grieve. When a bear cub that has learned to beg for food in a national park one day grabs a backpack off a camper and is put to death for it, the park spokesman calls it "tragic and heartbreaking." The deaths of "wild" animals at the hands of people, far from being "normal," unremarkable events, now more often lead to critical indictments: it was wrong to shoot Big Daddy, wrong to blast the mountain lion out of its tree, wrong to build a spiked fence where deer roamed, wrong not to close the campground where the bear cub first started begging so that it might be forced to return to the wild. Each death, each preventable accident, each case in which humans kill a creature out of fear is also a summons to extend the realm of enchantment, to recognize wildlife as sacred.
But the stories that recast ordinary animals as some form of kin aren't simply about consecration, they are consecration. Scientific findings, news reports, and popu lar films that present mystical, shared human-animal experiences form a new creation myth, one that promises an essentially religious redemption. They offer a new beginning, a return to the days before the Fall. As religious studies scholar Mircea Eliade wrote, "the return to origins gives the hope of rebirth."
Richard Nelson once watched Koyukon elder Grandpa William speak and pray to a bird of a species that neither man had ever seen before. As he observed the exchange between man and bird, Nelson thought he could see back in time: "For how many thousand generations, I wondered, have people spoken and prayed to the natural beings around them, as a customary part of daily life? At any other time in human history, this event would be as ordinary as talking to another person. . . . More than anything else, I wished it had seemed quite unremarkable for me, wished my ancestors hadn't forgotten what Grandpa William still understood."
In the modern era, where so many species have been so severely reduced, the mythic return to the time of origins offers a vision of plenty and harmony. Marine ecologist Carl Safina has written that we must "insist upon remembering the shape the world is supposed to have: round and whole. And may that vision of abundance someday gather power to levitate the dead." The hope is that as animals return to abundance, filling up the skies, the seas, and the lands, humans will rediscover lost ways-or find new ways-of living with them.
Implicit in this vision is a new sense of man's place, a rejection of his position at the unquestioned apex of life on Earth. Philosophers, cognitive scientists, and other scholars are proposing a radical rethinking of the role of animals in shaping human evolution. Instead of portraying humans as the star species that progressed beyond all others, these thinkers stress human development through our relationships with other species. Philosopher David Abram argues that our very senses evolved through interactions with animals: "Our bodies have formed themselves in a delicate reciprocity with the manifold textures, sounds, and shapes of an animate earth-our eyes have evolved in subtle interaction with other eyes, as our ears attuned by their very structure to the howling of wolves and the honking of geese."
Another philosopher, the late Paul Shepard, has argued that wild animals promoted psychological maturation and cognitive abilities in our ancestors. Only someone who could "establish lines of connectedness or relationship" (who could think and act according to totemic and animistic concepts) with the natural world could survive. By repeatedly observing what animals did, and connecting animal behaviors with the stories told in their tribe's totemic myths — for example, stories describing and explaining what salmon or caribou did each year — hunter-gatherer peoples built up their knowledge of nature and refined their understanding of the human place in the larger order.
Along the same lines, naturalist Peter Steinhart argues that human-animal interactions helped us develop symbolic, abstract concepts. "We don't only think about animals: we think through them. They become mental forms around which we wrap ideas, hopes, fears, and longings." For example, if we describe someone as being "fierce as a bear," the concept of fierceness is made more vivid. And psychologist Anthony F. C. Wallace sees hunting and gathering peoples' efforts to categorize and understand animal behavior as the root of the human ability to categorize and create taxonomies. He points out that people now do not classify the world with more complicated categories or greater levels of abstraction than their forebears: "Psychologically speaking, it seems likely that the primitive hunter and the urban technician live in cognitive worlds of approximately equal complexity and crowdedness."
Benjamin Kilham, too, posits the existence of evolving humananimal cooperation: "Black bears are a fully developed social species successfully occupying the same time and place as humans, evolving not behind us, but beside us." Kilham's "mothering" of cubs, he is keen to point out, is matched by bears mothering humans, as when a small girl lost in the New England woods told rescuers that a black bear had found her and kept her warm through the night.104 Similarly, a new social relationship is occurring in the encounters among people and whales in Baja California's San Ignacio Lagoon.
With these new relationships comes mutual dependence. Daniel Quinn's novel Ishmael (1993) tells the story of a captive gorilla who has learned to communicate with people and wants to teach them that they are only one part of the planet, with a role to play in ensuring that other animals have the space they need to survive. But more than that, Ishmael explains that humans are only the first creatures to become self-aware. Ishmael says, "Man's place is to figure out how it's possible to do that-and then to make some room for all the rest who are capable of becoming what he's become." It is a vision of a future that re unites with a lost mythic past, a return to the time of origins, when humans and animals spoke the same language and their spirits and bodies mixed freely. But Ishmael's dream of coevolution ends with a warning. A poster in his cage faces outward with a message implying that gorilla survival is dependent upon human generosity, a message comfortable for people. But on the back, the side Ishmael sees, the message reads: with gorilla gone, will there be hope for man? In the culture of enchantment, forging a new totemic culture is not only a dream for interspecies companionship, health, and happiness; it is indispensable for human survival.
Copyright © 2009 by James William Gibson. Reprinted by arrangement with Henry Holt and Company, LLC.
James William (Bill) Gibson teaches sociology at California State University Long Beach and is a Faculty Fellow at the Yale Center for Cultural Sociology. He is the recipient of fellowships from the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur foundation and the Harry Frank Guggenheim foundation. Gibson's previous books include Warrior Dreams: Paramilitary Culture in Post-Vietnam America (1994) and The Perfect War: Technowar in Vietnam (1986). He is a frequent contributor to the Los Angeles Times op-ed page and has written for Earth Island Journal, In These Times, The Nation, Harpers, and The Washington Post. Gibson lives in Los Angeles and turned from the study of war to our evolving cultural reenchantment of nature in the course of a ten-year struggle to save the last thousand acres of open space in LA from development.
Teaser image by aussiegall, courtesy of Creative Commons license.