Archive for September, 2009

On the weekend at my place in Kangaroo Valley I was doing some work around my vegetable garden. The garden is covered in netting to protect the crops from local wildlife who are tempted by the joys of human grown food.

As I pulled up the netting I saw a snake, a red-bellied black snake. I jumped back, startled. Then I looked more closely and realised that the snake was dead.

This snake had been with me for years, and our paths had crossed occasionally when I wandered around my property. We were not what you would call the best of friends, but we were good neighbours. We shared the land together. We acknowledged each other’s presence. We allowed each other the space to live separate but connected lives. Now through my worthy intention of growing vegetables, this beautiful snake died.

Looking at the snake, I knew she had to be cut out of her last torment. With scissors I gently cut away the netting, and handled her sensuous body for the first time. I felt the fullness of her weight, her black skin surprisingly soft to the touch, and her red (I thought it more pink) underside still bright. Her elegant head, her eyes wondering how life could end this way, suffocated by synthetic netting. I wondered how painful this would have been for her.

I stood still and apologised to the snake, for taking her life, even it unintentionally. I felt enormous sorrow. She was an important part of the life of this land, and now she was gone. Did the land feel this loss also?

I needed to ceremonially bury the snake. I dug a hole on a short rise, just in front of the bend of the creek that runs through my property. I placed her gently in her shallow grave. I placed some red sand over her body, the sand of the old dreaming country.

Such sadness. Just one snake? How much more destruction goes on every day, in every place, by industrial civilisation. But I killed this snake with a veggie garden net! Death is still death, whether caused by a machine, or by carelessness. But this was not the death of just one snake; it was the death of another who lived on the land that I “own”, a fellow inhabitant.

Living in the country one needs to get used to the presence of snakes. Through paying attention, and being fully aware, I was able to sense when the black snake was around, and take extra care. Better to develop a snake sense, I feel, than mowing the entire property, which some neighbours do to avoid snakes.

That sensory awareness, that ability to feel into the presence of a wild other, was a gift I received. I’ll treasure that.

Val Plumwood 1939-2008

Val Plumwood 1939-2008

The noted Australian eco-feminist philosopher Val Plumwood implored us to “re-imagine the world in richer terms that will allow us to find ourselves in dialogue with and limited by other species’ needs, other kinds of minds”.

How could we imagine ourselves in dialogue with other species? How would we limit ourselves (such a radical concept today) as a result of the presence of other kinds of minds? What are these other kinds of non-human minds?

One key and important step is to understand how contemporary societies have become out of touch with our ecological world, and with ourselves as ecological beings. We have constructed an extreme opposition between humans and the non-human order. This is what Val Plumwood called the “human-nature dualism”, which she describes as “a western-based cultural formation going back thousands of years that sees the essentially human as part of a radically separate order of reason, mind, or consciousness, set apart from the lower order that comprises the body, the woman, the animal, and the pre-human.”

This human-nature dualism (falsely) conceives the human as not only superior to but different in kind from the non-human.

We have set humans up as being mindful beings (within a  human-centred self-referential system), and non-humans (including nature) as dead matter, as spiritless, all mind and intelligence having being contracted to humans.

A dualism is not just a simple dichotomy. A dualism has a hegemonic flavour, and allows the colonisation, domination and backgrounding of other peoples and the non-human world. By setting humans as above nature, we deny our embeddedness and dependency on nature. The driving force behind “progress” is the attempt to build a human society beyond the limits of nature (we just hate limits!). And just is case you didn’t realise it: This is actually impossible!

Rather than constructing a dualism, or trying to transcend them, we can hold a creative tension between pairs of opposites. Tension between opposites can be healthy, allowing for the emergence of a creative holding of the pairing in its intrinsic pattern, beauty and rhythms, without domination of one over the other. There is a tension between night and day, between ocean and land, between breathing in and breathing out.

We are often offered a false choice between saving nature or saving culture. Or we offered a choice that implies culture is more important than nature (it’s not). Don’t buy into this. We want both. We can’t have one without the other. We can’t just breathe in!

Instead, take part in the radical project of re-imagining the world in richer terms. Allow others, non-human others, and places, to have a voice. The reality of nature is re-emerging now asking desperately to be heard.

Pause. Listen carefully. The word is beckoning you, waiting for your participation.