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Petri Kuljuntausta is a Finnish composer of mostly digital music, with a growing reputation for audio texture, and moving sounds via multiple speakers. This excerpt by Petri was included in the Interspecies production entitled "Belly of the Whale" . This music uses underwater animal calls as its primary source material. wimpy button Check it out.

The Interspecies Newsletter

June and July 2010
bear and jesus
dolphin-shaped oil slick reflecting nearby buildings in a puddle at 4th and Broadway
Slicked Up and Wild

When did wilderness transmute from a real place devoid of human intrusion into a romantic notion that thrives nowhere on Earth beyond the human imagination? Are wild animals actually wild, when every species has become dependent on humanity for their very survival? Has there ever been an industrialized culture that did not treat nature as a part of property law?

Such questions rise like oil from the dirty sea floor of my mind, as I glean the daily update of the Gulf of Mexico oil spill. One unexpected  effect, is my own re-reading of a crucial book about the historical roots of the human disjuncture from the wild: Man and Nature: A History of the Modern Sensibility by Keith Thomas. The book says little about key events, discoveries, and provides no description of historical exploitation. It focuses entirely  on a heavily footnoted discussion of sermons, literature, broadsides, pamphlets, aesthetic philosophies, the ethics of farming, arguments for and against all the many flavors of property rights. What God was thinking when he put humans in dominion of planet Earth.

Thomas advances the idea that neatness and symmetry have always been a distinctively human preference, and which capsulizes the separation between culture and nature. Except when things go wrong.

The author quotes Henry More, who preached in 1655 that no one “but those as stupid as the basest beast would not agree that a tetrahedron has more beauty than any rude stone lying in a field”. He gives us Thomas Burnett, who wrote in his Sacred Theory of Earth of 1681, that God created mountains primarily to serve Man; the proof being that rivers flow from them to provide water for cities. Climbing them offers exercise and good health. Most importantly, their very placement in the countryside provides the best possible boundary between nations. And let’s include Samuel Collins, who argued in 1717 that the cauliflower is by far the most worthy plant. Man created it. It grows neatly and efficiently, and ultimately exists to serve humans as food.

With a few exceptions, Judeo-Christian culture has always been male dominated, and ethics and myths follow from that. Thomas’s writing suggests, although it never declares it outright, the cruel illogic that arises from the “natural” act of sex and consequent birth as interpreted within the male dominant Judeo-Christian ethic. You read about it daily in the Catholic Church’s troubling response to a historic pandemic  of pedophile priests, or in its contemporaneous treatment of birth control, as well as its own nuns. The act of creation in Genesis is rarely regarded as the wild  act of physical birthing it had to have been. Instead, it is described as a formalized seven-step intellectual expression of male reasoning powers. Were conventional thinking any different, the God of the Judeo-Christian creation would have been a woman.

These ideas and especially these quotes, plus hundreds more like them, provide the historical foundation of Thomas’s masterwork. Anyone with a concern  for our children’s common future needs to read Man and Nature to understand how deep and persistent runs our disengagement from nature.

These ideas have drifted to me on the daily tide as I personally attempt to breathe in the vast despair of the Gulf Of Mexico oil spill.

Last week I discovered the “Spillcam”, which streams live footage of the Gulf of Mexico oil spill via Youtube. I’ve watched it every day since. Not understanding why it holds my attention as it does, I do know (although I'm not sure why this matters) it displays none of the aesthetic wonder of a simple oil slick on water that continually segues from purple to pink to green with a mere turn of my head. If all six billion humans turned their heads in unison, there would still be nothing positive to be found in what is occurring off our southern coast.  I checked Spillcam again this morning. It is still there. Here it  is, below, just in case you missed it. If the box below shows empty, you should rejoice. because it probably means that the oil phallus has finally stopped ejaculating. Or who knows, maybe it means both BP and the government don’t want the rest of us to be mesmerized by such bad news since a serial gusher recommends the absolute necessity for a revolutionary transformation in energy policy.

The most viewed version of Spillcam on Youtube is in Spanish. Trying to make sense of this clear co-option of a more expected English-speaking concern, maybe it expresses nothing more than the prevailing Texas and Florida demographic. If illegal immigrants are watching, maybe they do so as a way to reassess the growing difficulty of residing in this country, especially since the recent Arizona fascism was put into law. Is it worth it for these immigrants to endure a status as criminal-by-dress within a USA where an entire coastline has forfeited all possibility for neatness and symmetry.

If you insist on remaining the optimist, and always seek good news within the bad, consider what may finally emerge if the broken pipe continues to spew its blood-colored fluid for the next million years. By then, be assured it  will have attracted its own unique, robust, evolved biome. A community of latter day crabs, anemones, and worms, as addicted to  the rich pudding of organic chemistry as you and me. If this is not enough cause for optimism, it's probably time you considered a Prius.

The Human Rose interspecies relationship

Rose expert Jon Singer explains the problem of describing rose fragrance by referring to chemistry. There are thirty-three different named components (and others yet unidentified) making up the concentrated essence of a rose, also called attar. Imagine if there were thirty-three primary colors instead of just yellow, blue, and red. Add to this the fact that our sense of smell is quite puny compared to our sense of color. Singer adds that “combinations of even a few fragrant materials can be amazingly complicated; with a palette of more than thirty fragrances, the result is difficult to describe in comprehensible terms.” That may explain why the moss rose, Alfred de Dalmas usually smells like myrrh but once in a while smells like french fries.
If there are, hypothetically, a thousand varieties of rose, who can hope to distinguish between a thousand distinct fragrances? That is why I find no fault to
read in so many rose books that the hybrid perpetual, Frau Karl Druschki possesses no fragrance whatsoever. Although the Frau does not have what anyone would refer to as a perfume—either aristocratic or sensual—she does exude a subtle fragrance that leaves one musing about freshness. Let me describe it in comparative terms—not unlike the smell of fresh mown hay on a windy afternoon in June. Which is upon us.

parrot and sage

Mr. Oil Slick Man

Most of our adjectives for fragrance are comparative: this or that smells like apricots, like honeysuckle, sweetpea-like, orangey. The hybrid musk rose, Cornelia, smells like musk. The rambler, Dr. van Fleet, smells distinctly of apples. And how many times must I read that the perfume of the bourbon, Mme. Isaac Pereire is like raspberries. An entire class of roses, the teas, are named for a smell they are said to give off but don’t. Which tea is it? Oolong? Orange Pekoe? And how depressing that so many of the modern teas have had that luscious quasi-tea scent bred right out of them.
Beyond the rose bed, we say that buddleias smell like lilacs and most people know what we mean. But no one can say what lilacs smell like. Certain bearded irises smell like a candy from my childhood known as pez. A carnation is said to be spicy but not precisely sharp (Think of a smell being “sharp”). I find that a Carnation smells less like allspice or cloves; is rather sumptuous and rather unsharp, soft but never dull. Not much like a gingerbread cookie. More like pumpkin pie made with honey instead of sugar.
  And what of the very famous alba rose, Queen of Denmark? She is no musk. No Pez. No raspberry or pumpkin pie. In the absence of a true language of fragrance, I can not allude to any other universally-known smell and hope to render that scent comprehensible. Neither is her fragrance rhapsodic, munificent, redolent, celestial...expensive. All of it is nonsense.
As the Tao wisely proffers: the way that can be spoken is not the way. Or couched in a more accessible context: language sucks immediacy from experience. Philosopher Terence McKenna tells us that a true union with nature is seamless, “unmediated by language, by notions of self and other.” On that note, let it be enough to conclude that human beings love to smell the pretty roses. And June is when it happens best.

Excerpted from the Chapter "June" from Why We Garden, by Jim Nollman


Music for June

I've been bitten badly by the musical bug of old time music. I spend hours every day practicing new tunes on my mandolin, working diligently to play these intricate melodies at the speed of a machine gun which is necessary since I also play them at contra dances. Lately, I've started recording them, trying to figure out some brand way to arrange and express these tunes that have been recorded ever since the first days of the Victrola. Some tunes have literally hundreds of versions available. To get an idea, do an itunes search on "Whisky Before Breakfast" or "Red Haired Boy". My objective is do an entire CD, and then find a distributor, and sell enough copies to spend a summer on a sailboat with whales in the Hapai archipelago of Tonga. A worthy goal. Here's one tune: wimpy button It's called The Rights of Man, said to be Scottish in origin, widely interpreted in the Irish pub tradition, and a favorite tune of American Pamphleteer, Thomas Paine who was also a renowned fiddler of his day. Piano, drums, and mandolin.

angler blob
hairy angler
Deep Sea Fish


Links For June

From Interspecies member Stephen Davis of Phoenix: "It's been about 15 years since we were together on the Kairos sailboat. But I thought of you a couple weeks ago as I spent the first 10 days of April on a 16-meter sailboat in the Canary Islands with some of the old Kairos crew. We had a four-hour encounter with cachalot whales. I made a video, and it is on YouTube in two parts part 1- Part 2

If you startled a deer, you might not expect it to jump into the nearest pond and submerge itself for minutes. But that is exactly what two species of mouse-deer in Asia do when confronted by predators, scientists have found. The new discovery suggests all ruminants may have an affinity for water.It also lends support to the idea that whales evolved from water-loving creatures that looked like small deer.

Here are some of the most dramatic underwater shots of whales I've ever seen, from the always excellent National Geographic web site. They show a rather seldom photographed species, the Brydes Whale, which is an endangered species.

The Naked Science Forum is a web network for biologists all over the world to post photos of their research subjects. The animal page is among the most interesting photographic sites on the Internet.

Another page from National Geographic, one of the very news items I've found anywhere about the fate of whales from the Gulf of Mexico oil spill.

The Convention for Biological Diversity is one of those annual conferences we seldom hear about, but which provides the only real voice for so many non celebrity species struggling to survive the human a success story. This page describes the conference which just ended, but which is still worthwhile to peruse. This large site is a great resource for anyone who takes their animal activism with a chaser of politics.

David Maisel may be our foremost art photographer of the ongoing collision of Nature and Culture. This stuff is amazing, with deep conceptual roots meant to draw you in unexpectedly once the pretty images loose their graphic immediacy. It is not what you expect when you think of nature photography. Regard this tour as a prelude to an article by him in a future Interspecies Newsletter.

I seem to be have a thing for National Geographic this issue. Bonobo chimps have been shaking their heads to say no to their children even longer than you have. Watch this video, and recognize how cogent are the studies of animal language and interspecies communication.

Cachalot or Sperm Whale?
Activism as Language

Tibetan Lama and Orcas