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"...a wiser and perhaps a more mystical concept of animals."
June 24, 2009 1:00 PM   Subscribe

"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. " - Henry Beston, naturalist and writer.

The quote, often seen in veterinary waiting rooms, continues:
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 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 (1888 - 1968) wrote a variety of books - including fairy stories - but is probably best known for The Outermost House, which chronicles a year spent in a tiny 20'x16' shack on the outer tip of Cape Cod. His only companions were the various migrating birds, the sea and the constant shore patrols of the nearby Coast Guard station. He had gone there to spend a bit of time spiritually recovering from his service in WW1, and ended up creating a masterpiece of American nature writing.
posted by jquinby (15 comments total) 18 users marked this as a favorite

 
(previous, sort of: the quote above shows up from time to time on AskMefi)
posted by jquinby at 1:38 PM on June 24, 2009


Thank you for the quote and the author. I love prose like this.
posted by wires at 2:26 PM on June 24, 2009


The Outermost House has always been one of my favorite books about nature.

I had no idea Beston wrote fairy stories, though. My only experience with him was through that book. I'm so excited to read them!
posted by winna at 2:27 PM on June 24, 2009


I'd never seen this quote before, but it is perfection and it made my day. Thank you!
posted by blucevalo at 2:38 PM on June 24, 2009


Henry Beston.com
posted by No Robots at 2:41 PM on June 24, 2009


Isn't HenryBeston.com already in the OP?
posted by hippybear at 2:44 PM on June 24, 2009


oops. yup.
posted by No Robots at 2:48 PM on June 24, 2009


I wasn't sure where the first part was going, but yes. It's always fun to point out to people who like to pat themselves on the back for being highly evolved or the ultimate creation of the almighty or whatever, that I can thing of at least a dozen environments where they wouldn't survive 24 hours but your average house cat could settle down and raise a family.
posted by Kid Charlemagne at 3:27 PM on June 24, 2009 [2 favorites]


Incompleteness? Hasn't the dude ever seen Star Trek: The One With the Whales? Some alien species evidently thought whales were smarter than we were and Gene Roddenberry had the insight to think of it.

In all seriousness, though, they are neither below us nor above us. They are just fellow carbon-based lifeforms which we occasionally eat.
posted by kldickson at 3:58 PM on June 24, 2009


They are just fellow carbon-based lifeforms which we occasionally eat.

Or vice versa.
posted by brundlefly at 4:03 PM on June 24, 2009


Ever since I moved into a national park I can't for the life of me figure out why the whole country isn't a national park, with a few exceptions. I'll definitely read this.
posted by furtive at 6:31 PM on June 24, 2009


Ever since I moved into a national park I can't for the life of me figure out why the whole country isn't a national park, with a few exceptions. I'll definitely read this.

We'd have to wait at least eight more months, unless we abolish the second amendment. H.R. 627 will fix that issue, though.
posted by Thoughtcrime at 8:13 PM on June 24, 2009


Some alien species evidently thought whales were smarter than we were and Gene Roddenberry had the insight to think of it.

I think John Varley came up with that idea in the '70s with his "Eight Worlds" setting.
posted by infinitywaltz at 8:29 AM on June 25, 2009


That's a perfect quote; thank you for it (my vets have never exposed me to it, alas!). It succinctly and beautifully captures the reasoning behind my frustration when people go about assuming animals are to be pitied as lesser, incomplete, lowly life forms relative to humans. Someone on AskMefi a long time ago said something that got to the heart of it too--about the crazy things organisms are doing every day we can barely comprehend. "And the bacteria in your toilet doesn't give a whit about your taste in modern art either." etc. Yes.

It isn't a linear projection, and if anything, evolution agrees it isn't. Niches, people. Like when they realized a while back encephalopods can do complicated, highly evolved things seemingly much more complex animals aren't capable of. Sigh.
posted by ifjuly at 11:59 AM on June 25, 2009


Other nations . . .
About ten years ago I went to the Cahokia Mounds and climbed to the top of Monks Mound. From the top I could look down on a flock of swifts that were flying low to the ground, browsing on winged insects and I was struck by the notion that the swifts could be the spirits of the ancient people who lived there, ten thousand years ago. Then the birds rose, as a group, higher and higher until they were at eye level with me. As they hovered around one individual flew straight at me and I ducked to avoid being struck. Then he did it again.
"He's counting coup," I said to myself, and with that they all sank back down to the floodplain and resumed feeding.

Just one of those moments, you know, when it all feels right.
posted by Restless Day at 2:25 PM on June 25, 2009 [1 favorite]


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