Building for the Future

It’s spring and a young woman’s mind turns to… how utterly buggered the world is right now. I had just finished 2+ weeks of dog sitting a gorgeous pooch who was the cuddliest spooner to ever walk on 4 legs in a big house in a part of town where the bus runs on time and the passengers on it smile instead of scowling and marinating in their own faeces as the passengers on the bus in my part of town do.

I had returned to my own little patch where the meth-heads in my local Woolies were having a domestic in the doorway and every possible item in the store was sheathed in a covering of single-use plastic ready-made to kill every species of marine life still left alive. It wasn’t the best of homecomings. My black heart kept beating in my chest more out of spiteful rage than any life-sustaining function. I carried my box and two bags of groceries across the zebra crossing without making eye contact with the drivers who resentfully stopped for me. I could feel the eyes of the young P-Plate boys burning on me as they revved their engine impatiently; a pit bull of a car snapping at my shins as I passed in front of it. This is a daily occurrence on my street. I made it to the other side and rested my bags and box on the low fence of the housing commission flats and caught my breath. This place, that store, these people; I felt nothing but blind rage at it all and wished nothing more than to be free of this horrible suburb. The sky was low and grey with much-needed rain but even the thought of that lifesaver in this drought couldn’t snap me out of my funk. But then, a rustle in the undergrowth of the housing commission garden on the other side of the low fence caught my eye. I have avoided looking at this patch as it used to be a wildly overgrown area dark and dripping with ivy and trees, looking like the haunted forest from the Wizard of Oz but the council cleared it out completely and now it is an empty barren patch of grass and discarded branches of the removed trees. It depressed me to see even more destruction of what little urban greenery we have left, but it wasn’t as barren as I thought. There was life here.

A family of Australian ravens; mum, dad and what I presume to be last year’s chick were all fossicking in the debris for nest materials. Two of them were on the ground at first and then a third arrived in a whoosh of glossy black wings that reflected the little bit of light that managed to get through the cloud cover. They hopped and waddled around; their piercing blue-grey eyes on the lookout for the perfect twig for their nest. Last year’s chick just wandered around looking a bit confused but mum and dad were hard at it and in no time they had each dragged large branches of the fallen trees out of the debris and had fly-hopped up onto the end of the low fence I was resting against. Those black beaks held sticks twice the size of their bodies and if it was a mystery how they had the strength to hold them, then it was a miracle when they both managed to fly off with them in their beaks.

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I left my belongings on the wall and walked around to where they had flown. A woman and her son were walking down the footpath toward me. The mother had red lipstick on a smiling mouth and she and her son were gazing skyward as they walked. I knew that smile. It was the smile of wonder. The same smile I was likely wearing when our eyes met. “Excuse me, did you see two ravens fly past?” They both started talking at once, as eager to share as I was. “Yes!” “Wasn’t it incredible…” “Branch bigger than the bird…” They pointed out the tree and there the ravens were, making their nest in the low branches above the footpath beside the busy road. We watched for a few seconds together, sharing our wonder. “Have a nice night.” The mum said as she and her son walked away down the hill to the river. The river undoubtedly had plastic rubbish floating on its surface and toxic chemicals sinking into its depth, but for one brief moment in Marrickville, I felt a kinship with two other people who could appreciate the wonder of a family of ravens still trying to build a future for their young in spite of it all.

The Human Language of Sharks

It seems that in the age of the anthropocene that many discussions are happening in regards to humans, animals and the places where we meet. However, many of these discussions concern only one species of our multispecies world – often we humans – and the conversations usually have a colonial attitude in terms of our ability and our right to inhabit the spaces where wild animals live and to be able to do so without impunity and with the presumption of our complete safety. This attitude has extended as far as habitats where human beings cannot live, namely the oceans, and yet still we expect to be able to enter oceans in complete safety as if it is our right as human beings not to dare to be harmed by anything as lowly as an animal.
Our human-created world of technology and resulting
detachment from the natural world we are a part of is causing us to experience and exhibit a form of narcissism that humanity has never manifested to this degree before. We no longer seem to have a fear of the natural world nor awareness that it can better us in any way. Nature seems to have been put permanently on a leash for our psychological comfort and through this concept human law makers and legislators seem completely flabbergasted when nature does get the better of us in some way.
Colin Barnett’s Western Australian Shark Mitigation Program seems a perfect example of this neurosis. The very small chance of a shark having the ability to injure or kill bathers in its own habitat has incensed the government so much that it has enacted what can only be called a genocide on the creatures who live there to ensure the safety of the creatures who visit there. When looked at in a rational, non-hysterical way, this can only be seen as some sort of colonial madness. Sharks are not creeping out of the water and sneaking into people’s homes at night to feed on them, they are not hiding under our beds, they are not organising sleeper cells in our cities waiting to take over. They are creatures who have been here for much, much longer than us and much, much longer than any other creatures on Earth. They are living their lives in the oceans of the world and should be allowed to do so unmolested.
Why is this hysteria occurring despite widespread opposition and condemnation from Australia and the world? Why are sound minds and logic being ignored in favour of a small minority of paranoid lawmakers?

I believe much of this has to do with language. Even as I write this, spell check is continually putting a squiggly green line under the pronoun ‘who’ whenever it follows the noun ‘shark’ or ‘animal’ or ‘creature’. Our language has been hard-wired to think of animals as ‘it’ not ‘he’, ‘she’ and definitely not as animals who think, feel, remember, choose, decide or act. Their ability and agency has been diminished by our language and thus by our laws. Our colonisation of their spaces and their lives has not just come from our nets and boats and hooks and guns but from our language, which has colonised their ability to be.

July 8, 2014