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

M2E56L196-196R408B312
grey squirrel (motion camera)
indigobuntingbluefinchfeederc4May2017
indigo bunting in finch feeder
M2E56L195-195R408B311
visiting female mallard (motion camera)

Trail walks in NH

eastern newts:

sparrowbirdlongtailondamlookingdownLowPlain23April2017
sparrow on a beaver dam

Cape Cod

largegreenfrogcloseHeritageGardensSandwichMA26April2017
large green frog – Heritage Gardens, Sandwich MA
paintedturtlepondHeritageGardenSandwichMACC30April2017
painted turtle – Heritage Gardens, Sandwich MA
redsquirreleatingHeritageGardenSandwichMACC30April2017
red squirrel, eating – Heritage Gardens, Sandwich MA
songsparrowperchedrearheadCoveMotelCC27April2017
song sparrow – motel, Orleans MA
rabbitscratchingfacecedartrunkMassAudubonWellfleetCC29April2017
rabbit scratching face – Try Island, Wellfleet MA
rabbitbycentercMassAudubonWellfleetCC29April2017
rabbit – Mass Audubon Center, Wellfleet MA
ploverbirdsidefacerockswrackbeachsandCoastGuardBeachCC27April2017
piping plover – Coast Guard Beach Eastham MA
marshcrabclawpurpleclosebestMassAudubonWellfleetCC29April2017
marsh crab – Mass Audubon, Wellfleet MA
largeblackwhitecatMassAudubonWellfleetCC29April2017
large black and white cat — a crow was scolding it fiercely and chasing it away – Mass Audubon, Wellfleet MA
gullblackbillwhiteGreatIslandTrailWellfleetCC27April2017
great black-backed gull (immature) – Great Island Trail, Wellfleet MA
greenfrogfaceMassAudubonWellfleetCC29April2017
green frog in pond – Mass Audubon, Wellfleet MA
goldfinchbirdpinebNausetLightBeachCC27April2017
goldfinch – Nauset Light Beach Eastham MA
fluffyhousesparrowbCoastGuardBeachCC27April2017
fluffy house sparrow – Coast Guard Beach Eastham MA
chipmunkobstructedPametTrailsTruroCC28April2017
chipmunk partially obstructed – Pamet Trails, Truro, MA
blacksnakeleavesPametTrailsTruroCC28April2017
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:

cormoranpostboatsBristolRI7May2017
cormorant -Bristol RI
brownNorthernRoughWingedSwallowbirdCliffWalkNewportRI6May2017
Northern rough-winged swallow – Cliff Walk, Newport RI
RabbitBbitingitchSachuestPointNWRMiddletownRI7May2017
rabbit – Sachuest Point NWR, Middletown RI
mockingbirdwithsomethingSachuestPointNWRMiddletownRI7May2017
mockingbird with morsel of some kind – Sachuest Point NWR, Middletown RI
smallpuffychippingsparrowbirdredheadKettlePondNinigretNWRCharlestownRI8May2017
small puffy chipping sparrow – Ninigret NWR, Charlestown RI
towheebirdsidebestKettlePondNinigretNWRCharlestownRI8May2017
towhee – Ninigret NWR, Charlestown RI
scarlettanagerbirdTrustomPondNWRSouthKingstownRI8May2017
scarlet tanager – Trustom Pond NWR, South Kingstown RI
gullbirdclosebeachFoglandBeachTivertonRI9May2017
herring gull – Fogland Beach, Tiverton RI
brownwhitegullTheNarrowsNarragansettRI8May2017
immature herring gull – The Narrows, Narragansett RI
muteswanbirdwingsTrustomPondNWRSouthKingstownRI8May2017
mute swan – Trustom Pond NWR, South Kingstown RI
turkeybluefacecfieldTrustomPondNWRSouthKingstownRI8May2017
male turkey in grasses – Trustom Pond NWR, South Kingstown RI
anotherabbitbrambleTrustomPondNWRSouthKingstownRI8May2017
rabbit in bramble – Trustom Pond NWR, South Kingstown RI
RabbitCfacegrassSachuestPointNWRMiddletownRI7May2017
another rabbit – Sachuest Point NWR, Middletown RI
housefinchesCliffWalkNewportRI9May2017
house finches, male feeding female – Cliff Walk, Newport RI
cormorantnestingmaterialoceanbCliffWalkNewportRI9May2017
cormorant with nesting materials (I could see the nests out on rocks) – Cliff Walk RI
yearlingdeerfacehiddenTrustomPondNWRSouthKingstownRI8May2017
yearling deer hiding (one of three together) – Trustom Pond NWR, South Kingstown RI
rabbitneckstretchedtickTrustomPondNWRSouthKingstownRI8May2017
rabbit, neck outstretched – Trustom Pond NWR, South Kingstown RI
yellowwarblerbirdbestTrustomPondNWRSouthKingstownRI8May2017
yellow warbler – Trustom Pond NWR, South Kingstown RI

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

2 Comments on “The intersection of impossible worlds

  1. With many thanks for your thoughtful narrative and beautiful photos.

  2. If you haven’t read the Good Good Pig,by Sy Montgomery, I recommend it. Natalie

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