Pet Connections

December 16, 2016

Thanks to Alissa Simon, HMU Tutor, for today's post.

I have been trying to put my finger on just why we own pets. They're costly, time-consuming, usually messy and, in general, not visibly useful. I have been re-reading some of country veterinarian and writer James Herriot's stories in order to better understand the transition from working animals to friends and companions. Herriot noticed and wrote about the change in society's relationships with animals. Though often categorized as children's literature, his writing offers wonderful perspectives about life in general. He recognized and wrote about the fact that typical working animals are also great companions. There is something special and important about having a warm, loving, trustworthy friend which seems more useful than just about anything else we have commodified.

I do not know why anyone else owns a pet, but I'll offer a reason as to why I own one. Growing up, I had many pets which I cared for and loved. Yet, I did not understand the full attachment and responsibility that one has to a pet until I owned one as an adult. The most difficult decisions are made by adults. I have owned two cats now, as an adult. The first one, Pride, was a stray that we adopted and I grew to love. Typically an independent cat, he stuck close to the house when he got sick. He also purred nonstop. Cats, apparently, do not purr when alone and we still do not know precisely why they purr. Once sick, his purring actually increased. He either must have known that his end was close or he sensed my anxiety. It seems to me that purring is nearly always appropriate, whereas the human emotional releases are not nearly as soothing to others. When people cry, humans often hug or also cry. But purring actually does soothe humans. I will never forget that even while being euthanized, Pride purred. I am convinced that it was more for me than for him. To me, this is the very essence of connection.

I am in awe of being a part of such a strong connection, and so even though it was difficult, I did end up rescuing another stray cat. It is not surprising to say that I love this one too. In the end, I think that we own pets for their absolute willingness to trust. They do not judge, they know little of sin or evil. They talk in their own way, they interact according to their own personalities and comfort levels. Humans observe their patterns in order to connect because we want to feel connection just as much as they do. Communication across beings is surely something very unique, almost supra-natural.

The following quotes taken from an NPR article about people with serious mental illnesses who have bonded with a pet enlightens human need in general. I feel that connections are meant to be explored and not taken lightly. I also find that it is an appropriate time of year to dwell upon our relationships with both humans and animals. Enjoy and relish those around you!

~ “One study participant placed birds in his closest social circle. When he was hearing voices, he said that they 'help me in the sense, you know, I'm not thinking about the voices, I'm just thinking of when I hear the birds singing.'”
~ “Another said that walking the dog helped them get out of the house and with people. 'That surprised me, you know, the amount of people that stop and talk to him, and that, yeah, it cheers me up with him. I haven't got much in my life, but he's quite good, yeah.'”
~ “As one person in the study said, 'When he comes up and sits beside you on a night, it's different, you know. It's just, like, he needs me as much as I need him.'”


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Nature Resources

September 30, 2016

“We do not organize education the way we sense the world. If we did, we would have departments of Sky, Landscapes, Water, Wind, Sounds, Time, Seashores, Swamps and Rivers.” - David Orr, Author of Ecological Literacy

Thanks to Alissa Simon, HMU Tutor, for today's blog.

Merriam-Webster defines nature as: the physical world and everything that is not made by people. It also says, however, that nature can be: the way that a person or animal behaves. This addition, makes us wonder how much of our behavior is made by us, which would, according to Merriam-Webster, imply that our behavior is both natural and artificial. Understanding nature versus artifice sounds straightforward, that is, until you try. In the Syntopicon, Mortimer Adler writes, “The conception of nature which tries to separate the natural from what man contributes seems to depend upon the conception of man. Controversies concerning man's difference from other animals, especially the dispute about human freedom (considered in such chapters as Man and Will), bear directly on the issue of the naturalness of the things which result from man's doing and making.” Man simultaneously acts upon nature both internal and external to himself.

Vitamin N, a new book by Richard Louv, also tries to understand nature through immersion. He claims that all humans have an inherent connection to nature and the more we step away from this aspect of ourselves, the more barren we will feel. Therefore, instead of separating man and animal (as in the Syntopicon), Louv writes,

“Defining 'nature' isn't easy. To some people, nature is everything. To other's, it's the Grand Canyon or the wren outside the window. Science has tended to leave the definition of nature up to the poets. This lack of a clear designation is one of the prime reasons why scientific research on the impact of nature on human development has been so thin until recently and that such a high proportion of current research is funded by commercial interests.
“Here's one working definition of nature: biodiversity. That definition may not include, say, rocks – at least not directly – but it does describe the process: in order to survive, life needs other life, and it needs variety.”

He continues to claim that the more interaction with nature, the higher the satisfaction and sense of well-being one feels. Nature fills a primal need within us, one that we may not yet be aware of or able to understand. Furthermore, nature filters into nearly every view of ourselves as human beings. It is relevant when discussing our biology, psychology, creativity, imagination and religious structures. Louv continues: “Most religious traditions, especially in indigenous cultures, intimate or actively offer ways to discover the divine in the natural world.” Therefore, humans may be better able to understand their own nature while walking in nature. Added to that, physically moving in nature often improves memory and clarity of thought.

While a discussion of nature can quickly overwhelm, Vitamin N gives simple ways of interacting with nature. His book demonstrates that nature, while daunting, impressive and ubiquitous, is also necessary, energizing, thrilling and restorative. It is filled with ideas for all levels to gain access to nature. In it, he writes of a “hybrid mind” in which one can access nature to their own level, using both technology and the outdoors. Therefore, no one is left out or obstructed. Simply step into nature to the extent that it pleases you.

Therefore, coinciding with the National Parks 100th anniversary, I thought it fitting to place a couple of resources mentioned in Louv's book on today's blog. His book proposes many other ideas, 500 to be exact. There are also excellent suggestions for getting children involved with nature. For more from Richard Louv visit his website.


“What is life? It is the flash of a firefly in the night. It is the breath of a buffalo in the wintertime. It is the little shadow which runs across the grass and loses itself in the sunset.” - Crowfoot, Chief of the Siksika First Nation, 1890


Understanding Land Ethics from the master himself, visit the Aldo Leopold Foundation for more information:

Humans need to interact with nature, but wonder how to do so without changing it. Leave No Trace Center for Outdoor Ethics studies the same things:

Humans are always interested in navigation – internal and external – as a way of locating ourselves. Find out more about celestial navigation and navigation in general from AMC, Appalachian Mountain Club:

The National Audubon Society's tips for getting outdoors:

If you have no time or place to garden, create a seed bomb (try sticking to plants that are native to the region):

Create, volunteer or learn about Homegrown National Parks:

Learn about nature firsthand – from your own surroundings. Be aware of the first buds, birds or insects in your area each year. Check out National Phenology Network to understand more:

Help for teachers and parents of K-12 from the Cornell Lab of Ornithology:

Learn all about hiking from the American Hiking Society. There are also volunteer opportunities:

Become an environmental education advocate through the North American Association for Environmental Education:

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