An award-winning essayist and poet contemplates the disappearance of the Earth’s creatures and asks, “[w]hat do animals mean to the contemporary imagination?”
Human beings live in an age in which industrialization and mass extinction are facts of life. But as Deming (Creative Writing/Univ. of Arizona; Rope, 2009, etc.) suggests in this collection, the more people denude the planet of animals, the more diminished they become in spirit. Humans may deny it, but “[animals] are the core of what we are as creatures, sharing a biological world and inhabiting our inner lives.” Whether she is observing wildlife in the Arizona desert, the American East Coast or Africa, Deming reveals the many lessons that animals can offer the humans who misunderstand or indiscriminately abuse, maim and kill them. Long seen as scavenging pests, crows live in groups—misnamed “murders”—where members serve as loving caretakers to one another. Ancient symbols of fertility, pigs are now routinely taken for granted as sources of meat or as lab specimens for brutal experiments. Intelligent and compassionate, elephants have become the victims of “African militias and warlords [who] use [ivory] poaching to fund death” in their countries. Even when it comes to creation and art, animals as seemingly insignificant as the ant reveal that making art is “a process that meets a biological need” rather than one that somehow elevates humans above other animals. Human ego, greed and bloodlust are at the heart of the animal and planetary destruction that seem all but inevitable. Yet the compassionate work of concerned scientists, groups like the World Wildlife Fund and even zoos leave Deming hopeful. By remaining animal-aware and learning to identify and understand the past and present ties that bind them to all species, humans can make what she calls “the next leap forward in our evolutionary story.”
Eloquent, sensitive and astute.