Unexpected Point 1: Ancient, often beautiful animal images are found etched into (petroglyphs) and painted on (pictographs) rock surfaces worldwide. When travel was possible (remember?), I journeyed to see examples from Arizona to Australia, the United States and the Land Down Under two of more than 100 countries where such artwork is found. Animal rock art dates back at least 40,000 years and is found in caves, rock shelters, and in the open air. Animals are not the only subject matter, of course, but they are among the most frequent with human images also common, sometimes interacting with nonhuman animals, sometimes hinting at some sort of transition between or combination of both human and other animal. Experts warn of the hazards of attempting to interpret artwork created so many epochs ago by people with lives so unlike our own. That said, even without attempting to understand the work, it is almost always quite moving at a deep gut level.
Unexpected Point 2: Trees are alert and communicate with each other. Mother trees nurture their saplings, aspiring monarchs wait for their elders to fall so that can literally take their place in the sunlight, and the entire community (we need to recognize that a forest is a community of trees) warns and collaborates with each other against danger. A concept more familiar to us in terms of bees and other social insects, current thinking perceives a forest as a superorganism made up of unique, cooperative individuals. What are we to these giants? I recommend Peter Wohllenben’s scholarly “The Hidden Life of Trees: What They Feel, How They Communicate” as well as Richard Power’s wonderful novel, “The Overstory,” winner of 2019’s Pulitzer Prize in Fiction (the first section in particular is as beautifully written as anything I’ve read in a long time). Next time you walk in a forest, pay attention to that feeling of standing in a glorious cathedral.
Conclusion: Life is beautiful and big and messy, complex and intertwined. We are a part of it, not apart from it. We have struggled from the start to make sense of it, which is fine, but we are wise to simply learn to celebrate it for whatever it is. And it is, as I said, big and messy, complex and intertwined, and so very beautiful.
Ken White is the president of the Peninsula Humane Society & SPCA.