Sunday, December 9, 2007

Of Salmon Bones and Eagles

Salmon bones... strewn over the sand. Mostly vertebrae and ribs, teeth and skulls; sometimes partly connected, other times scattered in thousands of broken pieces.

Millions of salmon course up these rivers every year. They find a mate, find a patch of gravel in a fast flowing stream and leave their eggs and sperm. After that they die... every one of them dies. Seagulls, bald eagles, crows and ducks all converge on this dying feast and eat their fill of decomposing fish. And under the water a host of other creatures, including crayfish the size of small lobsters, all devouring the abundance. No one in this realm is thinking of dieting, no thoughts of caloric consumption, and all eat beyond their capacities. At times the eagles are so full one can almost walk up to them before they will fly away. There is nothing of reasonableness or moderation circulating within these realms.

A spirit of competition rules the day. This is not a day for an emphasis upon cooperation. Create your space, mark your space, fight for your space... or perhaps fight just for the hell of it, just because one can. The eagles show this most dramatically... repeated moments of combat, on the ground and in the sky... yet, interestingly, when the day is over, when the bodies call for rest, they gather together. They long for each other’s company. The competition seems to have nothing to do with eradicating an opponent. There is nothing in it which seems to feel like hatred. There is no warfare. It is more visceral. It is more responsive. It is about bodies amidst plenitude. It’s what bodies tend to do when surrounded by such abundance. It is what creatures have always done, at least since the days of the dinosaurs. The combat emerges because of and within connection, relationship. For combat and connection are inseparable in these times and places.

Human beings have created institutions which create warfare. They go to battle. But I wish to suggest that the competition at play in the worlds created by the dying salmon has little in common with modern, human warfare. Governments at battle are not simply larger versions of eagles jostling for space. Human institutional structures, governments and otherwise, use and at times destroy lives, sometimes they can even help and sustain them, but they do not operate like living, organic bodies. They don’t evolve in relation to a living earth, they are not born as infants, raised by parents, they don’t fall in love, they don’t kiss and fuck, they don’t run their allotted course and die a fully anticipated death, and in their dying they don’t provide nurturance for their offspring. Governments and other institutions do not emerge from a mother’s womb, rather, they come to be through acts of recognition from other institutions, they come to be in realms of law, through bureaucratic transactions, amidst flows of paper, not amidst flows of blood and sperm and mother’s milk.

Also... perhaps we must rethink our wishes, our desires as human bodies in human communities. Perhaps we should loosen up our desire for peacefulness, our desire for a removal of conflict, perhaps the jostling and bustling of human life is simply that – human life. Perhaps competition and cooperation are not in opposition to each other at all. Perhaps they both are movements which occur when life, human or otherwise, is connected together, and finds itself swimming within realms of abundance. Competition and cooperation are both social movements, movements which do not destroy life, but, on the contrary, keep it connected. The eagles may fight, but they also roost together.

At this moment I am haunted by the words of two dead thinkers. One, Gilles Deleuze, stated that the opposite of war was not peace but was combat. Such a statement may feel confusing, even wrong, but a day with the eagles convinces me it may be connected to a solid wisdom. The other ghostly words were provided by Gregory Bateson, who stated that we can know nothing about any thing in particular, but we can know much about the relationship between things. Knowledge of war and peace may elude us, knowledge of the isolated entity we call ‘eagle’, even knowledge of our own hearts may be troublesome, but the combat of eagles, the movements of the salmon, and the movements between them both, and the movements between all of them and us, brings us much understanding.

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