Interspecies Communications

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YellowJacket Saints and Sinners

From the Interspecies Newsletter

wasps and fliesIt's been a dry summer here, a dry year, the kind of weather that persuades the wasps to arrive in force. I was cutting a joint into a board with a spatula-shaped Japanese saw. The yellow jackets were obviously attracted by the sweet smell of fir sawdust. One at a time they buzzed along my sawing arm, right through the invisible boundaries of my personal space. "Swish", a reflex causes me to start wielding the saw as a weapon. My ears register the slightest "tick" as springy metal whips up against the hard cuticle of insect skin; "hzzz",the saw blade momentarily vibrates into song before, "thud!" it slams against the dry mossy ground.After four or five blows, I pause to peruse the results of my vengeance. Just beyond the frontier of my bare feet lie six yellow jackets in disarray. Two have been dismembered, wings and body sections strewn across a foot or more of ground. Two more lie whole but unmoving, their skin broken, a dark liquid beading out from the tear in their thorax. The last two are yet alive, obviously stunned, but quivering at a rate beyond the ability of my eyes to capture.

More yellow jackets appear. This time, their advance registers like a buzz saw ripping through my insides. Tick, hzzz, thud: the ersatz samurai blade springs into service. Within moments the bodies of fourteen more yellow jackets lie broken against the two foot wide swathe of ground that has become our battlefield. Yet this is no victory. As one squadron gets annihilated, I already hear the sympathetic vibrations of fresh recruits racing towards their supposed "enemy", namely me. If anything, the battle grows ever more lopsided.

An entirely new mood arrives on the wings of this new horde. Is it my imagination, or do they actually buzz less ferociously? Mostly, I can not help but notice that these replacements appear quite disinterested in either the sawdust or in me. Instead, they zoom directly into the hub of their fallen comrades, urged to action by some new and quieter task. This change in tactics forces me to drop both my guard as well as my saw, and so peer downward directly into their midst. Down and down I probe, my eyes refocusing several times as this vast mass of a giant finally perceives a glimmer of the unimaginable universe that is the insect's domain.

Lying on my side, face rubbing up against the moss, I behold an epic spectacle of yellow jackets. They drop down out of the sky one by one, land upon their fallen comrades, turn them this way and that to find a good strong grip, and so lift them bodily into the air. Are the yellow jackets rescuing one another? One of the purported saviors hovers a mere centimeter from the ground, attempting in vain to gather and match up the various parts of a dismembered comrade. I can only fantasize that this airlift, this potential mission of mercy, will eventually conclude back at the hive; the wounded soldiers ministered back to health by yellow jacket nurses and yellow jacket orthopedic surgeons and even yellow jacket pharmacists capable of secreting enzymes and hormonal potions that serve as the social insect's version of medicine. So my mind conjures up a vision of a wasp field hospital; the hymenoptera equivalent of M.A.S.H.

As I watch, ten, fifteen, and finally twenty or more of the sleek black and yellow insects land on the moss, buzz quietly, and then go about the business of carrying away their kin. Somehow, a creature who displays such compassion for its mates deserves a better deal from me. With that sentiment well in tow, this giant chooses to relent. He stands up, postpones his original ambition of sawing some boards, and so strides away from the battle.

Battle? Is that what it was? Not very likely. Now I wonder if the yellow jackets ever had any real interest in my flesh whatsoever. Furthermore, I've always known that my daughters gets stung because they're frightened by the threat of the wasps, and so flail at them with their little human arms. In retrospect, it seems a classic case of interspecies miscommunication—The yellow jackets get flailed, my daughters gets stung.

Guarded comments

Later that same day, in retelling the story of the altruistic yellow jackets to a friend and colleague, I am unabashedly accused of inventing a scenario that, in fact, exists nowhere in nature. Certainly wasps are altruistic by the "official" biological definition of that term; meaning that the individual gives up its independence, its daily activities, and many times even its life for the benefit of the hive. But a wasp field hospital? You've got to be kidding?

Genuinely confused by this alteration in my perspective, I decide to call upon the expertise of an entomologist, a scientist who studies insects. Introducing myself over the phone as an insect aficionado, I ask him to please interpret my description of observed yellow jacket behavior. He pauses as I conclude my tale, clears his throat, and then quickly repeats the scolding already meted out by my friend for attributing human qualities to the motives of an insect. "Wasps do not care about one another as we humans occasionally do. Nor do they exhibit, well, compassion either. In fact to be really honest about it, compassion is not even a term within the biological lexicon."

Instead, the entomologist chooses to lay the entire incident at the feet of pheromones, those chemical smells and tastes that make up the form and content of yellow jacket communication. Certain pheromones mean defense, others signal food, so on and so forth.

Some of the most elegant studies about insect communication, including pheromones, were done on that distant cousin of the yellow jacket, the weaver ant. It was discovered, for example, that when a worker weaver ant chances upon an intruder, even at a considerable distance from the nest; she stops foraging for food and begins to fight while also releasing alarm pheromones. If the adversaries are numerous, some workers break off from the fight and immediately return to the nest, all the while laying an odor trail to and from the battleground. Back at the nest again, they recruit other workers by jerking their faces back and forth, toward and away from the nest mate as a further statement of the incipient problem. It seems significant to add here, that these same workers utilize a very different kind of dance, a side-to-side, face-to-face, antennae waggling dance, when communicating the presence of food to other workers. This is, of course, a distinctly different type of motion than the toward-and away, call-to-action dance.

yellowjacketThe entomological researchers, one of whom is E.O. Wilson, the distinguished father of sociobiology, limit their speculations about the depth of the weaver ant communication to the guarded comment that the antennae rubbing may transmit the actual odor of the food; while the invader dance resembles the movements employed in fighting. But Donald Griffin, from whose book, Animal Thinking, this example was lifted, wonders if the consciousness issue need be sloughed off so ungenerously. He remarks that the intruder dance may just as easily be interpreted as an intentional pantomime. Likewise, the two differentiated communications are just that, communications; expressions of animal consciousness. Thus the two dances convey to the recruited ants two distinct messages about what is to be done at the end of the odor trail. Griffin adds that his colleagues err on the side of anthropocentric absurdity, when they argue that it is nothing but coincidental that the fighting dance actually succeeds in preparing the ants for fighting rather than food gathering. It seems the same ingrained thinking that leads our nuclear industry to state that it is merely coincidental that the building of nuclear weapons also prepares humans beings for nuclear war.

The recruitment of ant workers includes yet another feature that suggests the animals are firstly thinking, and secondly acting upon those thoughts. Rather than immediately setting off down the odor trail, some of the ants on the receiving end of the recruitment gesture instead turn to other workers and repeat the same gesture even though they have not been directly stimulated by the invaders. In this manner, a maximum number of recruits is enlisted very rapidly. The second line of ants communicates a message learned only from the communicated signal, and not from the pheromone itself. So on down the chain.

Many biologists have described this process, although none of them have yet made an attempt to interpret it's deeper meaning. This suggests the subjective/objective impasse as described by Donald Griffin in Animal Thinking. Griffin charges entomologists of being predisposed against insect consciousness, even if that is what the evidence suggests. By disallowing any interpretation of rudimentary consciousness into perceived ant behavior, students of insect behavior are primarily offering the rest of us a statement about the predetermined limits imposed by their science. Once again: we are presented with a presumably objective point of view that works especially hard to demonstrate what is actually the subjective limitations of its own objectivity.

Griffin concludes:

When asked how they know that these ants cannot entertain any conscious thoughts, the scientists usually fall back on the prior conviction that insects are genetically programmed automata and that their brains are too small to permit conscious thinking. Evidence of differentiated communication has not yet altered this deep-seated conviction.

Honey Bee Bandstand

So ants, so honey bees. Scientists observing the components of honeybee communication have, established that their complex waggle dance (art form?) communicates (language?) sun position (astronomy?), a system of measure (mathematics?), direction (navigation?), and even the desirability of the food in question (adjectives and/or adverbs?). Furthermore, the waggle dance is not only utilized to locate food, but can also be used to communicate the location of a water source to cool an overheated hive (thermodynamic engineering?); or even the location of a materials source to repair a damaged hive (architecture?). Lastly, is an intriguing version of the waggle dance that enlightens the bees to commence a once-in-lifetime swarm. "Enjoin together," commences the song that drives this dance: "form into a well-drilled unit, protect the queen, (listen to the beat now), go forth from the hive, venture into the world, and search for a new hive cavity with all the right attributes." However, if we subscribe to the prevailing non-interpretation of insect communication, the queen must be the only one privy to these "right attributes" because none of the rest of the bees were even born when the last call was made. But how else could the bees learn it? If, for example, one were to explain the swarming phenomenon in terms of instinct, then it almost sounds analogous to the human child emerging from the womb not only cerebrally and physically prepared to acquire language, but also possessed of the syntax and vocabulary of a specific language already at his disposal. French babies born speaking French. But if the waggle dance is not instinctual, then it signifies that the queen, herself, must be a kind of insect professor, who teaches an actual grammar about "right attributes" to the workers. Griffin points out that most scientists deny that the language of honeybees can be called a language, because "there is no evidence that the bees are able to judge whether or not their dances symbolize anything in their surroundings." Nothing has been demonstrated beyond the fact that the human researchers, themselves, are able to extrapolate the connections implicit in the dances. In other words, if the bees were shown a replica of their own dances (a televised version of Honey Bee Bandstand?) they would not be able to tell whether the signals accurately represent, for example, the distance and direction to a food source they have just visited. Here we are faced with an example of the Bambi Syndrome: scientists can not accept the reality of animal language or animal consciousness until an animal possessed of certain key attributes of both human language and human consciousness appears on the scene. In this case, unless the bees are able to comprehend their dance outside of its essential honey bee context, the scientists will continue to declare that the waggle dance is not fit to be called a language. By inference, there is no cause to suspect consciousness either, unless the animal is able to demonstrate a perception of itself outside its own life context. So goes the prevailing sentiment about language and consciousness as espoused by the scientific heirs of the industrial revolution. According to this definition, language is not only the medium that communicates the objectification of the world, but, it is the message as well: it is the objectification of the world. One can only wonder if these same entomological critics were shown a segment of the real American Bandstand, with Dick Clark, would they be able to discern the fundamental sexual signaling going on between teenage dancers, although it was a rite of passage they, themselves, once visited? On a more subjective level, I give my eyeglasses a good symbolic cleaning before pronouncing the very opinionated judgment that these experts whom our culture chooses to explain nature to the rest of us, see nothing but genetically programmed robots where I perceive, instead, a hotbed of writhing, insect sentience. I mourn those very sentient beings presumed dead. Who is able to resurrect the Lazarus of nature?

That which distinguishes, separates

So weaver ants, so honeybees...so yellow jackets. When I swatted those wasps out of the sky, knocking the living daylights out of them, the blow indubitably caused them to spray a chemical field across the battlefield of my front yard. The original pheromone probably "said" food (the sweet fir sawdust). This primary smell was then, no doubt, coupled with an alarm aroma sent off by those wounded during the subsequent assault. "Yum Yum! Help! Help!" wafted the aroma of the pheromones over the quiet breezes of late summer. The yellow jackets who arrived on the second assault continued to send out the mixed message. But now the call for food probably began to predominate the airwaves. The reason was simple. Being scavengers and predators, these yellow jackets arrived to find an incredible windfall of victuals, namely, their dead and dying brethren. No personalities here, no friendship, no conscious choices, no insect airlift, no individual emotions as we understand them. No thoughts manifested by a mind inside a brain as, ostensibly, are our own. Consequently, no empathetic qualities upon which to hang moral comparisons with human society. No, just meat! Witness the simple rote behavior of the social insect. In zoom the wasps from every direction. "So," concludes the entomologist of my own phone call, "Your observations are way off the mark. The insect world is even more...how shall we say, 'ruthless' than our own." I can only wonder if zoological convention would scold the entomologist for utilizing the same descriptive anthropomorphism for which he had earlier scolded me. I had described the "compassion" of the wasps. Now he chooses to sum up what he believes to be their mindless behavior as "ruthless". But to be fair about it, he is not unaware of his use of such a word, first excusing himself before falling onto that term. The verboten expression is utilized by such as he to describe an animal's ethology to such as me; chosen for no other reason than to shoo away my own crazy ideas; exercised only to enforce his message about the utterly cold neutrality of a wasp's heart in a language, no matter how flawed, that I can understand. It is his polite way of declaring that my own layman's observations about yellow jacket behavior are patently worthless until such time as said observer embraces both the objective methodology as well as the precise language of entomology. Do I dare complain? After all, without a commitment to methodological convention, scientists might never have discovered the many-layered beauty of such nuggets as the waggle dance of honeybees. Call it objectification if you must, says he, but the structured pursuit of knowledge is essentially good. Ultimately, we need it to progress. But this is a two-edged sword because a perception of the world based upon objectification is also a consciousness without context. Many point to this peculiarity of the contemporary perception as the singular stunning achievement of our species, the quality that distinguishes us from all the rest of the nature. For one trivial example, we are unique because we alone can watch our own dance up there on the TV: and know that it is us. Or was us, if the show was taped last week. This investigation of the honeybee's waggle dance makes me wonder how many other scientific studies about animal behavior and intentionality have been stripped of all references to animal consciousness. In conclusion, if we insist upon believing that animals can not possess the attribute of consciousness, then we must also recognize that we are conforming to the precepts of one particular school of traditional science. However, also realize that the evidence suggests we may be deluding ourselves on the order of the Renaissance Church deluding itself by refusing to accept the new heliocentric worldview offered by Copernicus. That which distinguishes also separates; any triumph engendered by the old worldview inevitably generates failure. The human race can not long endure its self-imposed separation from nature. When an overpopulating human race forgets how to relate to grizzly bears without rifles, the bears soon turn into an endangered species. When we separate our car exhausts from the nursery behavior of beluga whales, we soon end up puncturing a hole in the ozone. On a personal level, we forget how to give credence to the deep intuitive yearning for integration within nature. Nonetheless, this yearning for connectedness continues to break through the surface of the society. It is the incubator from which the entire environmental movement is nurtured. Unfortunately, a society that perceives itself separate and above nature, too often transforms even these yearnings into mere fragments of connectedness. For one painful example: the environmental movement diligently works to save forests while it often ends up raising its own operating budget through mail campaigns that utilize massive amounts of non-recycled paper. Or for a more generalized example, does the sheer amount of facts and information generated to explain nature ever satisfy the deep yearning for connectedness within nature? Most people would probably answer "no, they are two very different things." Yet our science seems set on a course to achieve the status of LaPlace's "great intelligence", who knows the position and velocity of every atom in the universe and therefore can predict all future events forever? In other words, the yearning for connectedness is a very different animal than the yearning for knowledge. Yet because our society delegates objectivist science to define and explain nature for the rest of us, too many of us equate the yearning for knowledge with the yearning for connectedness. They are, however, different needs stimulated by very different perceptions of nature. Unfortunately, merely to comprehend the absurdity of LaPlace's "great Intelligence" is never going to provide the transformation that the situation demands. This comprehension leads to changes based upon moderation and attenuation. It seeks new models to temper what it understands to be a kind of contemporary over-enthusiasm. For example, and to continue with our current model of the environmental movement: new organizations spring up every day to counteract what everyone understands to be a de facto emergency. But most of them end up sticking one more finger into what is a very leaky bureaucratic dike, without also delving into the mindset that created a deficient dike in the first place. Yet I do not mean to disparage these attempts at saving this or that animal, this or that ecosystem. Without the polarized infrastructure of checks and balances, the buffalo, for example, would almost certainly be extinct today, the first-growth redwood trees only a memory. Jeremy Rifkin explains it well: the environment is not the issue of our lifetime, but rather the context. The root problem that exists between humans and nature is not one of scale, but rather one of perception. Likewise, a perception of scale leads to a responsibility for scale. Gregory Bateson goes so far as to call the contemporary perception of human knowledge a crisis of the mind. He then adds,

The only way out is a spiritual, intellectual, and emotional revolution in which finally, we learn to experience, firsthand, the connections between person and person, organism and environment, action and consequence. 

For example, Von Frisch's entomological explanation of the waggle dance was never meant to describe a relationship between bees and bees, so much as it is about the contextual relationship between bees and those human beings who utilize the methodology of scientific data collecting to observe them. I, for one, prefer to call it a mystery and not a dance. I long for mystery in my own life, just as others no doubt, long for answers. Perhaps the single greatest lack of contemporary science is its inability to provide a sense of mystery to our lives. Instead, mysteries exist only to be solved. By contrast, spiritual ecology promotes mystery—not as a no-nothing counterpoint to modern education—but rather, as a primary method for changing our perception of nature.

The parable of the honey wine

Among the Masai people of East Africa, honey wine is brewed by a man and a woman who must remain chaste for two days before, and for the six day period during which the wine is fermenting. Should this couple commit a breach of chastity, not only would the wine be totally undrinkable, but the bees who produced the honey in the first place, would fly away. The first time I read this account I took the obvious anthropocentric bait, and interpreted the bees departure as a bad sign, something to be avoided at all cost. But do they fly away because they are indignant, or because, contrary to whatever the Masai may believe, the act of human sex has somehow, liberated the bees from the slavery of producing honey for another species? An act of conception, of nurturing the next human generation may thus be construed, not as a wrong, but as a balancing of the transgressions perpetrated against nature by the current generation.

I do not mention this account of Masai beekeeping only to offer an unorthodox interpretation of a complex set of metaphors. No matter which explanation we accept, we have also started to treat the Masai/bee myth as a source of mystery. I have chosen not to neutralize its import by finally confiding that, after all, this anecdote is just a fairy tale—The big bad wolf now dressed up in the sexy clothes of a copulating Masai couple. Rather, I ask that we attempt to apprehend a generalized version of the global human/bee relationship by stitching the Masai point of view to any of several other bee myths, and then stitching the two of them to the contradictory scientific points of view as espoused by EO Wilson and Donald Griffin who together state that, based on the "evidence", bees are or are not communicative. But that seems akin to stitching a piece of a Masai robe onto a scientist's field fatigues. In fact that is the whole point—all these versions need be coexistent if they are to birth a Gestalt reality. All together, they define the human relationship to bees. We might even get flippant here and imagine some bright young entomologist coaching the Masai couple to heights of rapture just to document the resultant waggle dance.

Back on the telephone, the wasp scientist finds little humor in the bizarre Gestalt incursions I insist upon stitching onto his exclusivist discipline. By contrast, he emphatically demands to sound like an entomologist from central casting. Entomology, if not the first or only word, is absolutely the last word on insects. All we know about insects is a result of a careful and quite objective observation. My own feisty view about the yellow jacket universe, (not to mention honeybees, ants, and Masai) is worthless as an actual perception of reality. In a word, I do not know how to perceive.

A long forgotten memory suddenly flits through my consciousness. A college classmate of mine, a nun, once informed me that I could never understand compassion until I first embraced Jesus. And of course, here was a splendid example of the exclusivists' brand of religion. The nun had left me feeling speechless if not also angry by her inflexible declaration concerning my own inherent inferiority. I felt tongue tied and thus, quite unwilling to challenge what she obviously considered to be ironclad religious dogma. Perhaps the emasculation of some twenty year old male guitar slinger who questioned just about everything she believed sacred, had been her tactic all along.

Now I am left speechless again; this time by a professional insect man similarly caught by the spider web of his own unyielding paradigm. Here we are faced with an expression from a very entrenched sect of biology that also expresses itself as an exclusivist religion. But does that also mean that a Masai winemaker, or a child, a Gregory Bateson, a poet, or for that matter, anyone unversed in the zoological scriptures remains incapable of first observing, and then describing nature? This unasked and thus unanswered question worries me no end.

Ironically, this biological dogma also seems to assert the polar opposite of the nun's creed. That is, anyone who actually permits compassion to color his observations about nature can not quite make it as a professional biologist. One might rightly wonder how that nun might have managed, had she decided to become a practicing biologist; and, in effect, attempted to juggle what can only be construed as two opposing worldviews about compassion. On the one hand she assures herself an exclusive privilege to savor the emotional treasure of compassion. Yet on the other, she also insists upon an equally exclusive ability to effectively sublimate this exclusive compassion. Listening to the entomologist, I am left with the uncomfortable feeling that this professional describer of nature as it were, is practicing a kind of observational fascism. To paraphrase physicists Bohm and Peat:

We increasingly ignore the wider context that gives things their unity. In fact, this spirit is now spreading beyond science, not only into technology, but into our general approach to life as a whole. Understanding is now valued as the means to predict, control, and manipulate things.

How do any of us grasp the subtleties of animal behavior unless we are able to utilize all of the tools contained within our own acoustic version of the pheromone, namely human language? After all, our speech is certainly an extension of the minds' own ability to think and grasp ideas. Can we expect to abrogate our language of its symbolic, metaphorical, moral, and emotional context, and then honestly expect that our consciousness has been vacated as well? Voided, just like the personality of a yellow jacket. No doubt, this particular entomologist would answer in the affirmative, that only by cleansing our language of its mixed messages can we ever expect to perceive nature as it is. Actually, many biologists subscribe to the notion that words don't do the job at all. They describe the machinations of nature far more accurately by boiling down observations into mathematical equations. Yet if that be true, then I answer my own question. The visions of children and poets are necessarily flawed, meaning that they are not worth considering in any serious discussion about nature. Worse still, our policymakers subscribe heartily to this notion. They consult only the experts when making decisions about the exploitation or preservation of nature. To repeat an earlier example, we learn how many gray whales is really enough. The poets and the mythmakers are out of the loop altogether.

By contrast, many traditional cultures place much emphasis upon what is sometimes called a direct seeing' of nature that transcends both numbers and words. One perceives nature best by perceiving of oneself as a kind of concentrated fluid dispersed within the greater fluid of nature.

I take some license to apologize for the entomologist when I consider that he would almost certainly resonate with this essentially meditational approach to nature if it were naught but a personal and religious matter. Yet no matter how crucial the spiritual approach may be to the general health of the individual; still, it is nothing but individualistic, and subjective. In a word, it does not describe reality. That also implies that objective reality only shows itself when we mask an essential aspect of our whole being. We only wear one small part of our human being disguise, and so, do not utilize all the parts within ourselves. Instead we base our reckoning about nature only upon the separated rational part.

Now the argument begins to flesh itself out in my own mind, if the disguise does not. The objective viewpoint can not perceive the context of the whole because the objectivists, themselves, insist upon utilizing only a part of their/our whole being in the first place. That is why, for example, the science of ecology is an oxymoron. And had I thought to ask him about it, I feel sure that the entomologist might have answered that the scientific description of nature would be exactly the same if hypothetical Venusians, instead of humans, were making the assessment. But what does that mean? Do the bees communicate or do they not? Perhaps it all depends on what part of the human disguise you choose to don at any particular moment. Or perhaps it means that the description of nature remains the same under all circumstances, with one significant exception: when modern human beings are making the assessment.

What this objectivists' viewpoint renders in the real world is a perceptual buffer secured in place between our conscious thoughts and our very important gut connection to nature. Over the past few centuries, that buffer has metamorphosed into a weapon set in place for no other reason than to defend us from our own feelings; from our own rightful place within the community that is nature. How easy to use that sterilized weapon to capture and finally imprison a nature devoid of our own heart. Without that weapon, we may never have been capable to destroy so much, to participate so little. And of course, the animals, now little more than the objects of our objectivity, are endowed with neither motive nor choice. They have been divested of their poetic lucidity. That, of course, is the not so subtle verdict rendered by the professional journals where science is published and where lingual precision is law.

Poetic Reality

By the end of my phone conversation with the entomologist, I was left more dissatisfied than before; but not by any continuing inability to comprehend the mystery of the yellow jackets. No, in fact, I started to grow rather fond of that particular mystery. Rather, now I grew confused by this expert's dogma. As I heard him explain it, none of the human emotional models by which we appraise our own world seem to even apply to the rest of the animals. Yellow jackets are not saints, nor are they even faintly compassionate. Rather, they are just like the language of science, itself: amoral and neutral.

On the one hand, I respectfully acknowledge the entomological description of yellow jackets to be a very potent body of facts. On the other hand, just like a honey bee sharing the wealth, I have waltzed very far away from the current zoological stance that equates the gathering of data with truth-telling, which it is not. Entomology's yellow jacket is not my yellow jacket, although I certainly acknowledge that former creature as the yellow and black striped wasp who utilizes pheromones so deftly; the one who stings my daughters so "ruthlessly".

I returned to my task of sawing wood the very next afternoon. Yes, the yellow jackets flew in once again for a taste of human sweat and sawdust. This time however, I felt quite unwilling to swat them out of the sky. The reason had as much to do with field hospitals as it did with pheromones. That is not to say that I refused to accept the story that the wasps were cannibalizing their mates. Of course they were. But on the other hand, despite the cannibalism, I still clung to my mysterious vision of yellow jacket saints. I remained a firm believer of the homily: if an animal is observed manifesting the same mechanical behavior 99 times in a row, on the 100th pass it may, instead, start practicing medicine.

None of our observations are objective. No, instead they are all just opinions that add up to the same amount of truth as any one of them alone. Likewise, any two unique observations generates a third viewpoint that is necessarily different than either one alone. How else can any of us ever hope to comprehend the profound mystery that is yellow jacket intention? Not that I have suddenly been filled with the final word on yellow jacket diplomacy, yellow jacket compassion. Rather, for the first time, I have bent down far enough to the ground, and far enough away from the experts, to scrutinize the insect universe on my own. That observation, and moreover, that communion, has served to still my hand.

Perhaps we act more objectively when we cling to our poetry than to that miserly catalog called data. That is the truth, as best we can know it.

One final note. Some researchers, addressing the incredible challenge of translating dolphin whistles or chimpanzee signing into English, sometimes describe the enormous intellectual gap that exists between these large-brained mammals and ourselves by stating that it is like learning to talk to an extraterrestrial. Actually, compared to a yellow jacket, dolphins and chimps seem more like members of my own immediate family—friendly and familiar. If we are to believe that dolphins are "extraterrestrial", in effect, the ultimate strangers; what does that make the yellow jackets? Mostly, it makes them more in need of a good press agent. Perhaps that is the ultimate purpose of this anecdote. I have been dragged, kicking and screaming against my will, into the role of an apologist if not an enthusiastic promoter of yellow jackets. Yet I offer no apologies that this, my first press release, is neither effusive nor worshipful. I think of my swollen daughters and reject the idea outright. Instead, let it serve as nothing more than a respectful account of a small shift in perception. I doubt that the yellow jackets, at least the sentient yellow jackets of my own imagination, could ever ask for anything more from us humans.

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