There are a group of crows here where we live. I don’t know if they are a family, or just crows that are living on the same piece of land, but they appear to be habituated to this place. When I go out the front door, one of them will make a characteristic “caw” sound, maybe once or twice. But if I go out accompanied with Rory, my dog, the “caw” sound is different and I sometimes hear another crow or two cry out an acknowledgement. Rory is a Brittany, bred as a hunting dog, and his interest in birds of all kinds is very keen. It is not a stretch of the imagination to assume that the crows understand that, and while I am pretty much harmless, Rory is a real danger to the crow people and his presence needs to be announced to each other. 
It is clear that both Rory and I are seen by the crows. But, not so obvious is the fact that my presence is noted in different ways by other folks, as well. Not only are we noticed, but it seems much else is noticed that we are almost completely unaware of. When an ecologist at the University of Missouri played a recording of the sound of a caterpillar chomping on a leaf, some plants, hearing the sound, produced defense chemicals to ward off a potential attack by an actual caterpillar.
There is no need to go down the rabbit hole of attributing intelligence or emotion to these plants in exactly the way we would apply such traits to humans. Arguments could be made for and against. But what we can pretty safely say is that other creatures, be they plant or animal, have an awareness of our presence when we are near to them.  And I have been wondering if this fact might not help inform how I live my life.
I do know that when I am in the presence of another person I act with a certain degree of respect towards them, listening when they speak, giving them physical space, and so on. This is especially true if the person possesses knowledge and understanding that I lack. They are senior to me, elders, and I acknowledge their seniority by my respect. If I were to carry this same attitude towards the other life forms which are everywhere around me as I do to an elder of my own species, then I would live each day with a gravitas that is now lacking. In order to do this I need to come to respect the other life forms by understanding the fact of their seniority based on their own unique wisdoms, wisdoms which I cannot easily comprehend, or even comprehend at all. This was perhaps best said by Henry Beston, who wrote, 
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 splendor and travail of the earth.
A Native person might read what I wrote here about respect for the other life forms and say, “well, of course.” But most of us reading this are members of one or another lost tribe, not of Israel, but of the west, and are divorced from these ideas which are self-evident to someone whose culture includes the necessity of respecting the other creatures. So, we make our way like children, taking small, halting steps towards a way of thinking of which even our grandmothers and grandfathers were unaware. 
Journal Entry 2016 — Three Otters, Three Nights Past the Equinox
Alone with Rory at the cabin on the big lake, three heads emerged from the lake’s surface, black and silky and slick. Looking up, shiny eyes, shiny fur, they inquired of my reason for being. Not of being there, but of being at all. It seemed they wished to know if I might be worth my life, such as it was. They looked at me a long time and I felt my life was being weighed, like the weighing of a soul in front of Osiris. Then they dived, all three in unison, exactly in unison, and though I looked across the water for so long, I never saw the three of them surface, though I looked to the east, west, north and south. I have no idea if I passed the test or not. Over the years, when I took some test, or was judged in some way, I always had a sense of how I did. Not this time. I believe I shall never know.
Comments are welcome.




  1. Gratitude for sharing your journey. In 2016 the otters greeted you and gave you a question. In 2021 it seems you listened to the crows and are closer to answering it – you are worth your life, connecting to the wisdom in the realms surrounding us. In sharing your journey, I awaken to mine. In gratitude.

  2. It is good to hear from you, Karen. It is healthy to again and again engage in the question, what is a life well-lived? If I do that with an open mind responses may sometimes come from unexpected sources. Be well, Dennis

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