Category: Eco-literature


Strange Company: A guest post by Jean Ryan

By Midge Raymond,

Today’s post is courtesy of Survival Skills author Jean Ryan, whose blog you can find on her website. Enjoy!

Strange Company

Recently I watched a program on strange animal partnerships. The first story featured an old blind horse and the goat that adopted him. Each morning the goat would lead the horse out to graze, skirting any obstacles, and all day they would stay close together. In the evening the horse would follow the goat back to the barn. This was the pattern for several years, until the horse died, and the goat, seemingly bereft, died soon after. There were other odd companions: a deer and a cat, a cheetah and an impala, and most famously, Tara the elephant and Bella the dog. And there were all sorts of unlikely mothers, animals willing to nurse just about anything. My favorite was a calico cat diligently raising a litter of skunks.

One scientist, Temple Grandin, posited that caretaking is an attribute specific to mammals, that our warm-bloodedness keeps us connected on profound levels. However, another story in this program focused on a goose smitten with a tortoise. Not only did this goose bring food to the tortoise, it attacked any other animal that came too close. There was also a story about a barn owl that cavorted with a black cat, and a crow that assumed the care of a kitten.

Maybe it’s not so odd that creatures raised together, even mortal enemies, will overcome their natural instincts and bond instead of fight. But what about animals that link in the wild? In the last segment of the program, a dog chanced upon an abandoned fawn, and they became immediate, playful friends. This alliance lasted for years, the dog waiting patiently for the deer’s inevitable return.

The central questions raised in this documentary were: Do animals feel compassion? Are they empathetic? The answer is fairly obvious, based on the evidence presented, but it invites a deeper question: what, from an animal’s point of view, does compassion feel like? Of course we can never know this, cannot enter the mind of a crow or cheetah, can never leave the frustrating confines of our own consciousness, which is why we must leave room for staggering possibilities.

From what I’ve seen, there is no limit to a dog’s ability to forgive; dogs are actually inclined to forgive: our oversights, our neglect, even our abuse. Dogs always want and expect the best from us. There is no love more unconditional than a dog’s love. Even cats, in their own haughty way, forgive us our humanness when they bunt our heads or settle on our laps. And the unions we enjoy with non-domestic animals are no less rewarding, and often more powerful, on account of their strangeness, as evidenced in that tender video many of us saw of an elephant seal cuddling with a young woman.

There is another video, a more recent one, of a spider monkey showing a person how to crush leaves. Certain plants have insecticidal properties, and monkeys in their canny, unfathomable way, will crush the leaves of these plants and rub them on their fur. In this video, the monkey seems to be trying to teach this method, placing leaves in a human’s hand and then pushing the fingers closed. The monkey seems quite adamant that the human needs to learn this. It’s one of the most touching videos I’ve ever seen because it shows how little we know of the animals we have come to depend on, for companionship, for service, even for help with psychological disorders.

There are three categories in fact, three ways we classify the animals we employ for our own needs: service animals, like seeing eye dogs and miniature horses; comfort animals, like those brought into hospitals and assisted-living facilities; and therapy animals, a group comprised of animals that help calm our demons. Any sort of creature can be considered a therapy animal. There is a parrot, for instance, that accompanies a schizophrenic man named Jim on his daily excursions. Jim adopted this bird after it had been dropped off, in bad shape, at a pet store. Jim nursed the bird back to health, and the bird apparently reciprocated. You see, whenever Jim experienced a psychotic episode coming on, he would pace his apartment, smacking his head with his hands. “Calm down,” he would tell himself. “Be good, Jim. You’re okay, Jim. You’re fine.” The parrot, hearing these words, began to utter them, and Jim found that the words, coming from another source, had a far more calming effect. The parrot also began to nurture Jim in other ways, sensing a psychotic break at the onset and tucking itself under Jim’s neck. We are warned against anthropomorphism, and I do think we are presumptuous in attributing human emotions to animals, in limiting them to the paltry depths of own feelings.

Compassion must be a far different thing in the animal kingdom, some primal, boundless urge we will never fathom.

I do know this: If I had the forgiveness of a dog, the intuition of a parrot and the kindness of a monkey, I would be one very special human.

Jean Ryan is the author of the short story collection Survival Skills and the essay collection Strange Company. Learn more about Survival Skills here, and visit Jean’s website to find other publications and posts. 

Cat Editors: AMONG ANIMALS contributor Suzanne Kamata

By Midge Raymond,

Among Animals contributor Suzanne Kamata’s new book, The Mermaids of Lake Michigan, has just been released, and she also has a new cat editor, a Siamese named Mii.

My son found her by the riverbank, or rather she found him. She has been a delightful addition to our household. She often traipses across the keyboard while I am writing, adding characters as she goes. Not sure exactly what she’s trying to tell me, but I’m trying to figure it out!

Congratulations to Suzanne! Learn more about her work here and here, and click here to check out Among Animals.

Announcing the winner of the 2016 Siskiyou Prize!

By Midge Raymond,

We are delighted to announce the winner of the 2016 Siskiyou Prize for New Environmental Literature: Katy Yocom, for her novel THREE WAYS TO DISAPPEAR.

Judge JoeAnn Hart writes, “THREE WAYS TO DISAPPEAR begins with a focused lens on the endangered Bengal tiger then expands its reach with every page to reveal the interconnectedness of the natural world and fragility of all life. Weaving together the worn threads of ecological balance, this ambitious and moving novel addresses scarcity, climate change, family dynamics, cultural conflict, human accountability, women’s economic autonomy, and most of all, love, in all its wondrous forms. This is a story not just about saving the tigers, but ourselves.”

Katy Yocom was born and raised in Atchison, Kansas. After graduating from the University of Kansas with a degree in journalism, she moved to Louisville, Kentucky, where she has lived ever since. Her fiction, poetry, essays, and journalism have appeared in Salon.com, The Louisville Review, decomP magazinE, StyleSubstanceSoul, and Louisville Magazine, among other publications.

In conducting research for her novel, THREE WAYS TO DISAPPEAR, she traveled to India, funded by a grant from the Elizabeth George Foundation. She has also been awarded grants from the Kentucky Foundation for Women and the Kentucky Arts Council and has served as writer-in-residence at Kimmel Harding Nelson Center for the Arts, Crosshatch Hill House, and Hopscotch House. Her short fiction has been nominated for a Pushcart Prize, and her poetry has been translated into Bulgarian. She holds an MFA in Writing from Spalding University.

She lives with her husband in Louisville, Kentucky, where she helps direct Spalding’s low-residency MFA in Writing program. Learn more about Katy on her website and via Facebook.

As the Siskiyou Prize winner, Katy will receive a four-week residency at PLAYA and a $1,000 cash prize.

It was a very competitive contest this year, and we would also like to congratulate the finalists and semifinalists:

 

FINALISTS

Small Small Redemption: Essays by Sangamithra Iyer

The Heart of the Sound: A memoir by Marybeth Holleman (published by Bison Books)

Song of the Ghost Dog: A YA novel by Sharon Piuser

SEMIFINALISTS

Karstland: A novel by Caroline Manring

Rumors of Wolves: A novel by C.K. Adams

The Harp-Maker of Exmoor: A novel by Hazel Prior

 

Thanks to everyone who submitted and to everyone who writes with the goal of making this world a better place. And please stay tuned for announcements for the next Siskiyou Prize!

 

On Valentine’s Day, Love Rhymes with Everything!

By Midge Raymond,

Valentine’s Day is the perfect day to launch our newest title, Love Rhymes with Everything: Animal Ruminations through Poetry & Paintings.

This beautiful book is the result of a unique collaboration among artist, poet, and publisher, all of whom have volunteered their time, skills, and resources to create a full-color art book that will delight and entertain — as well as benefit animal rescue organizations!

In Love Rhymes with Everything, you’ll meet sanctuary animals and beloved pets, rescues and strays now living in peace among their own, or in forever homes with their human families. You’ll meet cows and pigs, dogs and fish, chickens and ducks, cats and goats — and many more.

You’ll see the beautiful faces of these exquisite creatures captured by Dana Feagin’s whimsical paintings, and you’ll hear their voices in Kat von Cupcake’s affecting poetry. In this collection of rescued and beloved animals, you’ll learn that, for these fortunate animals, love truly can conquer all — and, with all proceeds from this book benefiting animal rescue organizations, that love stretches far beyond these pages.

Every penny from the sales of Love Rhymes with Everything will benefit animals; visit the book’s web page to see which animal organizations — including Karuna for Animals, Sanctuary One, and The Sanctuary at Soledad Goats — are selling the book, and buy directly to support them.

If you’re with a rescue organization and would like copies of Love Rhymes with Everything for fundraising purposes, please visit our Nonprofit Partners page.

And for all of you in Southern Oregon: Join us for our book-launch event on Sunday, February 26, at South Stage Cellars in Jacksonville. South Stage Cellars has generously donated its tasting rooms for the event, and all proceeds from this launch party will benefit Sanctuary One. Click here for more details!

Announcing the 2016 Siskiyou Prize finalists

By John Yunker,

This is the third year of the Siskiyou Prize for New Environmental Literature, and we’re pleased to see it gaining momentum and awareness. Now more than ever we need a chorus of creative and passionate voices speaking up for the planet and all of its species.

This year, we received more than a hundred submissions, which included a wide range of fiction, short story and essay collections, memoirs, nonfiction nature books, and a number of previously published works in all categories. We began reviewing submissions when the contest opened in September of last year and have been reading steadily since then.

Every manuscript was given careful consideration, and the decision-making process was very difficult, given the exceptional quality of this year’s entries. As much as we love this contest, the hardest part is having to narrow the list down to only a few titles. It’s a completely subjective process, of course, and we thank all who contributed their work to this year’s prize.

We are delighted to announce the finalists and semifinalists:

FINALISTS

Three Ways to Disappear
A novel by Katy Yocom

Small Small Redemption
Essays by Sangamithra Iyer

The Heart of the Sound
A memoir by Marybeth Holleman
Published by Bison Books

Song of the Ghost Dog
A novel by Sharon Piuser

SEMIFINALISTS

Karstland
A novel by Caroline Manring

Rumors of Wolves
A novel by C.K. Adams

The Harp-Maker of Exmoor
A novel by Hazel Prior

 

The four finalists will move on to final judging by JoeAnn Hart.

We hope to announce a winner in the next month or so. To be among the first to hear the announcement, stay tuned to this blog or subscribe to our newsletter.

Again, thanks to everyone who submitted and everyone who writes with the goal of making this world a better place. We appreciate your support!

The Siskiyou Prize for New Environmental Literature