An interview with Among Animals contributor Hunter Liguore (“The Truth of Ten Thousand Things”)
Q: What inspired you to write this story?
A: I was interested in confronting extinction of a species. Historically, there are quite a few eyewitness accounts of those who experienced the extinction of the passenger pigeon. What would it look like to witness the death of the last polar bear? How would it change us, as a people, if at all, and how especially might the media “spin” the story?
Q: What was your writing/research process?
A: I looked into the idea that what we consider loss—in this case, the loss of a species—that it is part of the evolution of thought and action, collectively. That on a large scale, all our thoughts, as the human race, creates the future we see and experience. (E.g., “To know the past, observe the present consequence. To know the future, observe one’s present conduct” —Master Sheng Yen.) With regards to the story, I tried to consider that the passing of the last polar bear (like the passenger pigeon) was simply part of where, at this time, human thought evolved to and created. That it was neither good or bad, but simply, another experience, that we incorporate into our day.
Q: The “send-off” for Betty is mix of celebration and mourning. What do you think people today should be feeling as we face a future of endangered species like the polar bear?
A: I would never want to tell someone how to feel, but my own feeling is that we collectively can create a world with hope and nurturing, and more so, reciprocity with the natural world—plenty of people, communities, have stepped forward to make alliances with animals, trees, birds, endangered species, rocks, rivers. When we’re accountable for our own actions, and how it relates to the natural world, then we can shift perspective from placing blame on others and paying for our own debt, while creating solutions and a happy world. It’s amazing to me when I hear people complain about the world—if they are upset about litter, for instance, many don’t realize they can pick it up. When you suggest, “Pick it up if you see it,” it’s like a shift happens in them, and they’re given permission to do something about it rather than waiting for someone else to do it. So you didn’t drop the trash in your neighborhood, but walking by it is the same as neglecting responsibility. We have more power in one shift of thinking than we know. So start small. Find a small area in your community to nurture back, love it, give back in whatever way you can—be it praying/mediation over it, picking up trash, planting flowers (which will bring bugs, which will support birds, and continue to nurture all life); feed the earth in whatever way you can; be attentive to what you buy and use and how it effects the world at large; over time, small efforts create big results—you’ll discover how forgiving the natural world is, and how important we all are to the process.
Q: In what ways does Betty’s story allow for healing within Yunnan’s family?
A: The death of the last polar bear, in a way, parallels a shift within Yunnan’s family. We can say one is good and one is bad, but they are both different moments of experience, neither good or bad. The healing comes, I think, when we can experience from another person’s (or being’s) perspective. Yunnan can live from her father’s perspective, and child’s, and know forgiveness, just as her father can live from hers; equally, Cave Bear lives from the point-of-view of the polar bear; she remains awake to the bear’s death, with compassion, as opposed to turning from it. The pattern for each character is remaining awake to their experiences; thus, bringing forth healing to themselves and really, the world-at-large, since we’re all interconnected.
Q: What do you hope readers will take away from your story?
A: Whatever they feel and interpret. What I take away is that human existence is a struggle. We often hold so strongly to our own opinion, and it doesn’t help anyone to stay in conflict; for me, this is the essence of war but also the beginning of ending it. When we let go (of being right), we can foster love and understanding, bringing it into our relationships. It wasn’t too late for Yunnan and her father, though many years have been lost. While it is too late for the polar bear in the story, perhaps, recognizing our own contribution to pollution and degradation of the environment, we can alter the course of extinction. And if not, life continues.
Q: How can we save the last polar bear from extinction?
A: My thought: each person taking accountability for their debt in what they use and consume and generate that affects the rest of the living world. Small efforts create big changes.
Learn more about Hunter Liguore and her work at www.HunterLiguore.org.