"When did human beings forget their cousins the creatures?" asks Priscilla Stuckey in Kissed by a Fox, which I found myself re-reading recently. "When did we fail to remember that the web of life is a delicate one, requiring attention and care?
"Some point to the rise of agriculture ten thousand years ago. Ecologist Paul Shepard suggests that domesticating plants and animals led us to turn 'from finding to making,' from taking our chances with nature to manipulating nature. Others say that when people gathered into cities and built urban centers we became increasingly separated from the natural world. Environmental historian J. Donald Hughes writes that the urban revolution meant 'the great divorce of culture and nature' wherever it took place on the planet. Still others say that literacy trained people away from intimate connections with the more-than-human world. Philosopher Eric Havelock observed that when people no longer had to 'story' their experiences, as they do in oral societies, telling tales of characters and relationships, they shifted to considering others as things rather than persons. Cultural ecologist David Abram emphasizes that relying on the printed word changes our ways of perceiving: instead of listening to breezes, watching clouds, or feeling our way along animal tracks -- all practices to cultivate intimacy -- we allow our senses to dim, except for one particular way of using our eyes.
"While there is truth in all these analyses," Priscilla notes, "I want to point to something at once simpler and more sweeping. I think we forget our cousins the creatures when we forget each other. When we retreat from caring for the human community, we lose regard for the more-than-human one as well. And the opposite is just as true: when we fall out of relationship with the natural world, we lose interest in helping one another thrive.
"For this is the bottom line of survival: it depends on our relationships with others. Though the land-community survived for millions of years without humans, we cannot survive without the land community. We are dependent for our day-to-day survival, our very existence, on billions of nonhuman others. And we are dependent in equally complex ways on one another."
We are indeed.
"Caught up in a mass of abstractions," writes David Abram, "our attention hypnotized by a host of human-made technologies that only reflect us back to ourselves, it is all too easy for us to forget our carnal inherence in a more-than-human matrix of sensations and sensibilities. Our bodies have formed themselves in delicate reciprocity with the manifold textures, sounds, and shapes of an animate earth -- our eyes have evolved in subtle interaction with other eyes, as our ears are attuned by their very structure to the howling of wolves and the honking of geese.
"To shut ourselves off from these other voices, to continue by our lifestyles to condemn these other sensibilities to the oblivion of extinction, is to rob our own senses of their integrity, and to rob our minds of their coherence. We are human only in contact, and conviviality, with what is not human."
The art today is by American ceramicist Caroline Douglas, who received a BFA from the University of North Carolina and has worked in clay for over forty years, inspired by mythology, fairy tales, dreams and the antics of animals and children. Since sustaining a serious injury in 2000, Douglas has been exploring the relationship between healing and creativity in her dual roles as artist and teacher:
"Our imaginations are sacred," she explains. "At the deepest level, they can put us in touch with the collective unconscious that we all share. I create in clay a version of my intentions and dreams. Making something real in physical form makes it real on many levels. In my classes we travel a journey of transformation and exploration through art to find a deeper place, a more fulfilling place -- that place where stillness reigns and time stretches out and magic has its way with us. It is an alchemy of sorts, a turning of lead into gold. "
Please visit the artist's website to see more of her deeply magical work.
The passages quoted above are from Kissed by a Fox & Other Stories of Friendship in Nature by Priscilla Stukey (Counterpoint 2012) and The Spell of the Sensuous: Language and Perception in a More-Than-Human World by David Abram (Pantheon, 1996). All rights to the text and art above reserved by the authors and artist.