Night-Mares and Horsepower: Domestic Partners in the More than Human World

march 2013 006

By Madronna Holden

Why should we call our bad dreams nightmares?

In The White Goddess, Robert Graves related an ancient story from the British Isles that tells how– after men captured wild mares and kept them in stalls and bred them at their whim– the Night Mare visited these men’s dreams with her long teeth and punishing hooves.

As a girl, my family once had a mare who was a nightmare for a man who wished to control her, a huge thoroughbred with her ancestral wildness still in her. Since we were moving two thousand miles away, we sold the mare to a man who wanted to train her as a jumper.  But I got a phone call from him complaining she was unrideable.

I went immediately to the stable and the ring—the like of which the mare had never seen—to show just how well she handled.  I let her reins go slack as she read my body, turning on a dime and cantering like a dream.

As I slipped off her back, the trainer drawled, “No offense, but you can make that mare look like an old plug”.

That odd complement was centered in the Western worldview: the idea that I was a good rider because I made that mare look so tame.  I knew this man was wrong.  I didn’t do it. The mare did– as many other examples in the Tao of Equus demonstrate other horses as doing.

Though this mare would do anything you asked her to do if you asked properly, she refused to be manhandled.  She broke my heart with her grace that last time I rode her.  I hope she somehow understood it was out of my hands to let her go—and that she taught her new “owner” something about getting along with the world larger than himself.  In this case, about 2000 pounds larger.

After all, it was the job of mares to socialize others in their wild herds.

There is danger involved in assuming that such creatures are at our service just because we purchase  them– as this man found out.  And as we ourselves find out in our attempt to control the natural world with inappropriate technological development– though we still try.

As illustrated  in Stanley Kubrick’s classic film 2001: A Space Odyssey, we and our technology inevitably shape one another.  Human life in the machine age has become increasingly mechanistic even as we project our own psyches onto our machines. Advertisers know this as they sell trucks with the not so subtle claim that they will increase the masculinity of their drivers.

But the understanding of our psychological entanglement with our technology is not complete if it stops and starts at the human psyche.  There is something else to consider:  we are not alone in the world.  Domestication does not merely shape our consciousness.  It is about the relationship between human consciousness and other natural life.

Such lives cannot be simply reduced to the energy we measure as the “horsepower” of our machines.  Different cultures have very different ideas of domestication than the contemporary industrial impulse to count “horsepower” as force harnessed on our behalf.

Indigenous peoples in Western Washington very much valued the horses introduced into their territory after the coming of whites to this continent. They loved to race them and sometimes, to travel with them—though canoes made better vehicles of transport on landscapes so crossed with rivers. Horses were more useful for travel in the open areas across the Cascades and along the Columbia River.

Stories from pioneer families I gathered in Western Washington record astonishment at how an Indian might labor for months to obtain a horse he  favored from a white family—but then never keep that animal under fence.  One Indian man explained that if the horse came back after he turned it loose, that was great–and if it didn’t—well, it had a life of its own.

At the Walla Walla treaty proceedings in the mid-nineteenth century, the Nez Perce entered with a display of horsemanship that left the US cavalry in a state of wonder, as reported by a cavalry lieutenant who observed it.  But he also wondered at the fact that those who rode such magnificent mounts let them graze the open prairie without any human restraint.

Local native people on the Oregon coast indicated their attitude toward horses in their lack of bridles and reins.  Coquille elder George Wasson came to speak in my Linfield College class shortly after the film Dances with Wolves was released. He pointed out the glaring cultural misstep in this film in the portrayal of Indian riders as using bridles.

Norman Dick was a pioneer child whom Siuslaw man Andrew Charles sat in front of him on his horse and took for long rides.  The Indian man used his arms to hold the toddler securely, since he rode his horse “Indian style”– without reins.

There is an essential lesson in the attitude toward “horsepower” that does not forget that there is a life behind it —a life that is more than the harnessing of it for human purposes.  It is better to cooperate with such life than fight its rebellion.

To try to  “break” any other life for our use, as the old West terminology has it., is bound to cause  us problems.  We may try to “break” a horse—or a cow that stands unmoving in a milking stall all day given hormones and antibiotics to keep it alive and maximally producing– or a plant that is genetically engineered to rein in its DNA to our use.  But there are results that are not predicted by those whose vision of  natural  life starts and stops in the barn or the laboratory—or the pocketbook.

There is mad cow disease that results from feeding these captured cows rendered brain and spinal cords from other mammals.  There is the spontaneous migration of genes between plants over unforeseeable distances in a process we have no idea how to accurately predict, much less control.

Natural life may shrug us off its back as easily as it slips houses down the hill below a clear cut—as has happened throughout the lower Umpqua River drainage.

The genetics of plants is better observed by those who,  like Barbara McClintock, derive their insight from speaking with the corn. Though her findings eventually won her the Nobel Prize, she could not find funding or professional placement for decades.  As both a woman and a scientist with this novel approach, she struggled to do her work in isolation until her colleagues finally recognized the importance of her finding.

Such scientists have much in common with traditional farmers all over the world– like the Czech farmer (her grandfather)  my student Iveta Habartova eloquently describes:

“My grandpa knew every branch and every tree so intimately; he spoke to the trees. He always told me that he had to talk to the trees to give them love so that they would grow well. Every time I entered my grandpa’s orchard, it was like entering a church. It was where all the wisdom, love and years of experience that my grandpa collected were kept. It was where he shared all those things with me. “

This is a profound expression of Wendell Berry‘s “agrarian mind” and its intimacy with the land–and contrast with industrial farming.

Domestication in its root means to bring something into our home with us:  to make it a part of our family.  As opposed to Monsanto’s battle for secrecy to prevent its agricultural products from being labeled for their consumers, caring for a Palestinian olive tree is a public affair, whose care is inherited by particular family members, and whose harvest is undertaken by a whole community.

During the year I lived and taught under Israeli Occupation, I once had dinner with a Palestinian family who used traditional methods of grafting to turn less than an acre into a garden overflowing with abundance.  As I sat in the shade of the trees this family cared for with such tenderness, I was for the moment sheltered from the winds of violence that blew all about us on this land.

This is certainly a profound lesson of appropriate domestication:  if we tend the land, it will shelter us.

And it will teach us about the vital processes  of natural life.

If we learn to “domesticate” with integrity as we bring other natural life into our homes and hearts, we might also learn to treat other  natural life—including humans—with respect, tenderness and generosity.

It is certainly past time to turn our technological nightmares into these better dreams.

I have received many wonderful comments since this essay was recently published, but I wanted to call reader’s attention to this one in particular from my student Susan Riley:

“Like Iveta’s grandfather, my grandmother treated her plants and livestock as reverently as she did her family. I distinctly remember her talking to her pansies, cupping them in her old weathered hand and telling them how beautiful their ‘faces’ were. Of course we laughed and thought she was being eccentric (heading toward senile) but no one could deny, that woman could charm a stick into growing into a beautiful, productive tree. Grandma’s chickens and her one old cow also got the best of care and attention and gave her eggs and milk long after what might be considered ‘normal’. Mostly I remember her wonderful vegetable garden. She had to share with the deer that wandered freely through her property but always managed a bumper crop of peas, cucumbers, tomatoes and zucchini. Nothing has or ever will, I think, tasted as good as grandma’s fresh spring peas creamed with Betsy’s fresh whole milk. While I’m sure Grandma felt she owned her property and animals, I’m also sure she considered that ownership more of a caretaker position than one of domination over the land and livestock. From her we learned to appreciate and respect even the smallest of creatures and we learned to talk to the pansies.”

375 Responses

  1. Interestingly enough Caesar Milan, the Dog Whisperer discusses something very similar within the pet owner/dog relationship in modern society. Many pet “owners” take true ownership of their dog. They give their dog’s personalities, and try to make them into people. We fence our dogs in, put leashes on them, and expect them to have manners. We put them down when they bite someone, when in reality, there are just being dogs. We seem to think it is okay for our toddlers to pull on the dogs tail or ears, poke them in the face, or try to ride them like ponies. No wonder the dog eventually snaps!
    In any case, Caesar Milan discusses that we need to give dogs’ back their lives. He says most of the behavior problems (not attributed to inbreeding) are caused to us trying to force these dogs to be people.
    We need to give them jobs. For instance, my dog runs with me 6 miles every day. She takes this very seriously. When I am on the treadmill in the winter, she still stands right beside me and guards me. We do not have a fence in our yard, and I only leash her in public places where it is law. Surprisingly, she NEVER pulls on the leash, like most dogs do. She walks proudly beside me because she WANTS to be beside me. We see her training as not things she needs to do to be “well-mannered” or for my purpose, but as a way for her and I to communicate. I don’t adorn her with clothes, or give her people food, etc. I treat her like a dog. The way she WANTS to be treated. It would be like someone treating us like a dog. We wanted to be respected and treated for who we are, not want someone else wants us to be. Dogs are the same way. As you stated above, domestication does not mean breaking their will, making them do what we want. It is about loving them and respecting them for what they are, and bringing them fully into our lives.

    • Thanks for sharing these thoughtful parallels with horses (there is, of course, the famous “horse whisperer” that got made into a movie), Danielle. I think it is essential that we treat other lives in the natural world as lives worthy of respect on their own terms–and creatures we can learn something from as well. Sounds like you have a great running partner!

  2. When I looked up the word domestication, told me it was “(biology) The adaptation of an animal or plant through breeding in captivity to a life intimately associated with and advantageous to humans.” The three last words were what stuck out the most to me at first. Then, as I looked at this as a whole, look at the words that are used: “adaptation,” “breeding,” “captivity,” “intimately,” and “advantageous.” It became clear to me that it seemed one word here wasn’t fitting harmoniously with the rest. Though humans may think that we have an “intimate” relationship with an animal or plant, through “captivity” and “adaptation,” you have drastically changed that plant or animal from its origins.
    I could relate with the way the Indians would bargain for a horse and then let it roam and if the horse decides to come back, then it is meant. Similar to how humans will say, “if you love something let it go, and if it comes back, then it is meant.” There is a partnership here. One power or being is not above another, but they are working in conjunction. They are working together as a whole. Somewhat like the cycle of life.
    Now to put both of these ideas together. Does changing something or someone alter who that person is and whether it is the person or thing that you love anymore? Letting someone go if you love them is suppose to be totally unselfish and giving because you want the best for that person, even if the best is not you. If you were to keep and “domesticate” that person, to change them into the type of person you’d want who would stay with you and love you back, you are altering that person from who they really are. If you have to change someone then is it still an “intimate” and true love that you feel for them? So, if we have to change or “domesticate” animals and plants, is it a true and “intimate” love that we feel for them?

    • Hi Jennifer, thanks for your comment. I think you have a key point in the idea of appropriate domestication (seems like we ought to have this parallel to appropriate technology) as letting something go, letting it, that is, be itself. If our relationship with other natural lives can teach us anything, it is that the cycle of life does indeed work with this sense of interdependence– where species are honored for who/what they are and at the same time work together in partnership.
      You also have a great point in your analogy with “domesticating” another human– taking this to imply ownership and control has led to tragic domestic violence. And no, I don’t think you can be “intimate” with someone (or with a natural life) you feel you need to remake for your own benefit. Great perspective you present!

  3. For starters, I am not the biggest horse fan in the world but I can competely relate to this story. My family is huge farmers and they always have used horses to move our cows. It’s amazing the way that the horse will respond to different riders. When my uncle rides, he can get the horse to do whatever he wants yet when I ride the horse hardly listens. It’s amazing how they can feel the different rider and riding styles and obey them or not. Almost every animal is domesticated nowadays from sheep to bears to pigs. I feel that there are certain animals that just should not be kepy locked up in a cage rather let go to run wild.

    • Thanks for your comment, Mitch. I don’t think everyone has to love horses! Some can certainly related to some animals (or no animals or plants) better than others. But they key point is allowing them some room to be themselves– as you indicate in your sense that some should “run wild”– that means, of course, that we need to set aside some habitat for them to do that.
      I wouldn’t say this mare obeyed me, but rather that we were able to work in tandem.

  4. It is always so interesting to learn the story behind our words. I’ve not heard the one for “nightmare” before. I had a pony when I was growing up. He was very fat and I never bothered with a saddle because I never rode him for long periods of time. He didn’t like the saddle and even once lay down and tried to roll with it on! I just wore old jeans, got on the fence and guided him with the bridle. I watched a few horse shows last summer while working at the state fair. It was sad to see how picky people were with their horses. They held the bridles tight so that the horses neck would look just right. So many of the horses didn’t know what their trainers were asking them to do because of all of the rein jerking that was going on. I guess everyone derives pleasure in different things. As for me, being responsible for the well being of a bird is not something I would ever do. I think that a bird in a cage is cruel. I believe that all birds yearn to fly. If I end up being reincarnated as an animal, I hope I will be a wild animal. Being under the control of a human would feel horrible. It would be boring too compared to that of a wild animal. I would rather be a starving parrot over a parrot in a cage any day.

  5. A powerful analogy, Kelley. Thanks for the follow up elaboration here!

  6. This made me think of an experience that happened a few days ago to me. I was shopping at a comercial grocery store and I was looking at the tomatoes. I was discusted by what I saw; all of the tomatoes looked exactly the same, and in my experience, tasted very bland. I contrast this with my experience at the local farmer’s market where families that have been farming for generations go to sell their products. The tomatoes there were different shapes, sizes, and colors. Most looked so deformed that they were ugly. They tasted amazing though! Just because we have the ability to domesticate nature doesn’t mean that it is always better or that we should. You really can not compare things that are created with nature as opposed to fighting nature.

    • You’ve got a point there, Ashley. Not only is control-domestication rather than partnership resulting in dangerous depletion of key aspects of natural systems (like topsoil in the midwest), but it robs us of our quality of life. Those other tomatoes just taste better. That is, they taste like tomatoes. Thanks for your comment.

  7. I loved what you said about olive trees and how their care and love for them are handed down from generation to generation of Palestinian families. It saddens my heart so, that Israeli bulldozers pull them up with such ease for the sake of their “settlements”. Trees older than Jesus, orchards of them, every one of them loved and tenderly cared for over generations to be wiped out for Israeli roads and subdivisions. Palestinian pre-teens throwing rocks to defend them. I remember seeing a video of tribal women of Palestine openly wailing for Allah to help them as Israeli bulldozers tore down a huge orchard of ancient olive trees that had been in their family for centuries. The Israeli drivers of the bulldozers were emotionless. One woman from Israel in an online class I took wrote to me in disgust saying that the Palestinian people are not “recognized” therefore the settlements were totally legal, and that my opinions were based purely on Palestinian propaganda….When I suggested that the same thing was said against my people in America, she wrote back and called me a troll….true story…..I believe in my heart that tribal women of our great Mother Earth should be uniting to defend such atrocities, the environmental crimes alone in Israel should be enough to demand action. If there are such indigenous women organizations similar to the Grandmothers, I would love to know and find out how I can participate.

    • Thanks for your comment, Val. It is tragic that these olive trees are being bulldozed– along with Palestinian homes. Not all Jewish individuals are like the one in your class with her inability to see or listen– nor are all Israelis. Check out the site of Jewish Voice for Peace and the work of Israeli peace activist Gila Svirsky.
      I don’t know of an indigenous group in Corvallis, but I know a woman who lives outside Creswell whose circle you might join and/or who might put you in touch with a local organization closer to you. I will email you with her contact info offline after I check with her.
      And just fyi, there is a letter on this site that is a copy of a letter I wrote to the Israeli Defense Minister, “What Makes a Hero”.

  8. The first thing that stuck out for me in this article was the statement: “Human life in the machine age has become increasingly mechanistic even as we project our own psyches onto our machines”. This line is powerful as it portrays the disconnect of humans, especially of the Western culture, with that of nature. Acknowledgment of the natural world has been diminished to a point that only puts in the context of money, production, and further scientific enhancements for the benefit of only humans.

    The mare who was in a situation where the new owner only wanted to control and transform her is sad to think about because it is one representation of a good majority of animals who are subjected to the control of humans. Industries such as food have been very clever in concealing the truth to consumers making it as though food basically appears without any trouble or consequences; so what people don’t realize is that the population of animals are starting to disappear because we don’t treat them in the respectable and caring manner that they deserve.

    In contrast, indigenous peoples use a much gentler approach and actually identify with animals as a way of maintaining a healthy relationship with them. In the case of the Siuslaw man, Andrew Charles, who rode horses unbridled, he set a good example for the kind of care that our animals are entitled to. Rather than controlling them for the benefit of only the man himself, it is like a compromise was made where he was able to ride the horse freely and the horse could oblige without being tied up. Compromise seems to be a faltering issue at hand for Western cultures and until food industries and other Western science perspectives (and of course the consumers) can acknowledge the good in establishing a healthy relationship with nonhuman animals and of course all of plant life, it will not be surprising to see the unfortunate downfall of so many parts of our natural world continue to increase.

    • Thanks for your thoughtful comment, Erin. I think we feel the pressure in our personal lives when we become subject to clocks and schedules–mechanistic structures for our lives. I can imagine how it might change our consumer habits if every meat consumer had to visit the farm where his/her meat came from (or watch a video of it). It is certainly true that many of the meat production practices are hidden from consumer, just as Monsanto works so hard to keep gmo labeling off its products. This should already give us a clue something is wrong. Good companies with good production practices would want everyone to know of them.
      The compromise you are speaking of is a matter of mutual adaptation- -or partnership. I agree absolutely that animals and plants deserve such respect–and that we are harming ourselves as well as them in not providing it.

  9. Horses truly are one of the most beautiful and powerful creatures I can think of as well as a poignant symbol of human domestication of large animals. A relevant part of the Western land expansion by European settlers can be attributed to their use of horses as well as being a positive resource inherited by the indigenous peoples. Perhaps the defining difference, as mentioned in the essay, is the ways horses were (and still are) regarded by indigenous peoples as compared to the predecessors of modern ranchers in the Western world.
    It is not to say that some don’t care for their horses in a similar manner as one would care for and ultimately grow to love a house pet. However, wild animals have the instinct and purpose to exist independently from human control and deserve a great deal of respect when utilized for domestic practices.
    If we seek to improve our consciousness of how we treat the natural world, we could grow to cherish its gifts as well as multiply the benefits while practicing responsibility. When human consciousness determines how we relate to the rest of natural life on the planet, our social relationships amongst humankind will only reflect the interdependency we all share.

    • Hi Kirsten, I agree with you about horses being magnificent creatures. They did indeed play an essential role in colonization of the Americas–as well as in the lives of native American freedom fighters. In the Southwest (the Apache) and the Northwest (the Nez Perce) these peoples were only subdued after the cavalry slaughtered their horses.
      I never thought of a horse as a “pet”– I cannot image making pets of horses in the sense of subduing them to human will. And in fact, even our pets deserve natural lives of their own–as do animals we use for food.
      I like your conclusion about cherishing gifts of the natural world as well as multiplying its benefits: that is a great result of creating a partnership with natural life as opposed to trying to dominate it.
      Thanks for your comment!

  10. Just because humans have domesticated certain species of animals, doesn’t make them property, though we may think differently. I have no experience with horses (I’m an asthmatic and highly allergic to hay, which is vital with horses). I do believe they are gorgeous and smarter than we give them credit. While animals may be unable to design, create, and use a computer, tv or bulldozer (though if my Shephard were asked, she’d say differently), doesn’t maket them unintelligent. Many of our “domesticated” animals are wtih us by choice or by force. For example, cats tend to roam part of the day but they frequently come back. Dogs too. If we force an animal to stay with us, by fences or tie outs or other means and the animal doesn’t really want to, they won’t.
    Dogs are my passion. Each one of my dogs have “run away” but they come back. Yes, I keep them in a fence but that’s mainly for city code sake. I’ve got a beagle that frenquently goes with the mailman on part of his route. (some things I just don’t question). .

    Many years ago I was told by my grandfather a saying. I have no idea where it orginated and have heard many different versions over the years but it goes like this. “If you love something/someone, set them free. If they come back to you, they were meant to be with you. If they don’t, they were never yours to begin with.” I’ve found this true for animals and people and notice how it states “with you”. The older I get, the more I realize past generations were probably smarter than we give them credit.

    • Hi Christy, I enjoyed your humor here in commenting on your dog’s likely opinion and how we seem to think elders smarter as we get older! For all the grasping at things that our worldview encourages, it is heartening that this saying about letting things go is circulating among us as well. I have heard it many times– perhaps it even began with those pioneer conversations with native peoples quoted here!
      Thanks for this comment.

  11. The Westernized view on domestication seems to define it as property and homogenization of not only animals, but plant species as well. Whereas, the indigenous populations partner with the animals and environment around them and in so doing have been able to maintain abundance and balance in their cultures.
    Having been around horses all of my life your experience with the mare is rarely seen. Most of the big show barns I have run into on the show circuit (english) treat their horses in much the same way as that trainer did. They see their horses as property and money-making devices. It has always angered me to see how casually horses are thrown away once their ability to generate money has dwindled. I have never seen animals in this way. I have always seen the life and spirit inside and sought to nurture that. My relationships with the animals in my world are ones of partnership as I respect them as living beings and not as potential money-makers. I have rescued more horses than I can count from stockyards, charro rodeos and irresponsible owners and each time my heart breaks to know what type of pain they have suffered.

    I believe that we can still work with our domesticated animals and honor them as living beings at the same time.

    • Thanks for your comment, Kathleen. Ownership and the fitting word you use, homogenization–are very different than the partnership we should have with all those who work for us and share our lives with us. It is wonderful that you are taking it on yourself to honor these animals: you are to be congratulated in keeping your heart open to compassion even though you have experienced so much heartbreak in terms of what you have seen.

  12. One thing that came to my mind when reading your article about domestication was how we humans love to domesticate animals in order to use them for activities such as farming, but also because we believe that if we put a wild animal into a cage, we can watch the same wild animal that we would see in the wild, any time we want – whereas in nature, it might be very difficult for us to even come across some of these animals. But I agree with Danielle that when we domesticate animals – either as our pets or in zoo’s – we tend to give them personalities and think of them as people and we purposely crush their wild spirit, so the animal that we see in the end has nothing to do with the wild animal it once used to be. It very much upsets me when I read stories about animals such as tigers that attacked someone in a zoo and were immediately put down. We want to have wild animals but we are not willing to accept their true nature and their true behaviour. Tiger is one of the most dangerous predators on earth – I believe that if we want to keep such predators in our zoos, we should first accept their true spirits and a risk that comes with such animals. How is it possible that so many animals are put down in zoo’s because they attack someone? Firstly, it is only due to our incompetence that they even get the opportunity to attack a visitor, and secondly, to attack is a part of their natural spirit, it is what they are designed to do, especially when they feel threatened or provoked. I believe that there should be rules prohibiting putting animals down when they attack visitors or the zoo keepers. In fact, every time I have been to a zoo and watched how many of the visitors treated the poor caged animals with no respect, I was thinking that if I was the animal, I would take every opportunity to attack. People keep screaming around the animals, children put sticks through their cages and provoke them, people spend 10 hours every day sticking their cameras through the cages – how many of us would be able to withstand such pressure? If we are unwilling to respect the animals and learn about their true spirits, we should not cage or domesticate them. I like your interpretation of domestication – meaning to bring something into our home with us: to make it a part of our family. That certainly does not apply to how we treat the animals in our zoo’s – they are poor prisoners, crushed in their true spirits, of our desire to own a piece of wildlife that otherwise many of us would never be able to see. Perhaps every zoo should as part of their activities educate people about animals behaviour and the true interpretation of domestication and then people would show more respect for animals and no tigers would have to be put down in the future.

    • I think you have an important observation, Iveta, that we seem to equate an animal in a cage (or a laboratory for that matter) as the same as a wild animal, when in fact, animals behave very differently when they are caged. And to top that off, we expect these animals to be so tame that when they express their true nature, we put them down. There is an amazing discussion of the Bushmen’s relationship to lions in the book The Old Way– the Bushmen intentionally never developed to protect themselves against these creatures and lived in peace with them– which would hardly have been true if they had expressed the kind of behavior animals in zoos experience. Such behavior indicates a disrespect and ignorance of the animal involved– a treating of it like an object.
      I agree that zoos should make a point of educating their audiences about the animals involved. I think the best zoos create a true habitat (rather than a cage) for animals that have been driven out of their native range–of course, that is only second best thing to allowing them their original habitat.
      Thanks for your thoughtful and compassionate comment– not to mention, your wonderful words describing your grandfather’s attitude toward the plants and animals that he seemed to make a true part of his family!

  13. As I was reading this essay, I couldn’t help thinking about my mom. Back home growing up, we were considered “horse people;” it has been my mom’s passion her entire life. My mom has had one mare for 14 years that she rescued from a 12 x 12 stall, one foot deep in mud. My mom’s mare is very similar to that in the essay: “She would do anything you asked her to do if you asked properly, she refused to be manhandled.” This quotation concerning the attitude of one particular horse is not an anomaly. Horses in the western world are most often viewed as property because they are purchased, caged, and used as tools for human benefit in farming, racing, and even manufacturing glue and dog food. Western attitudes such as this express a worldview of domination and objectification. Wild horses are viewed as dangerous and in need of being broken because nature and humans are considered separate spheres, or dualistic. Contrasting worldviews treat horses (and all nature) with sentiments of gratitude, humility, and reverence. Wild beings should be left wild, not controlled. The relationship between my mom and her mare is one of companionship and trust, not domination.

    • Great story about your mom, Bree–and what she obviously modeled for you. This mare was very fortunate to have your mom find her and create a partnership with her– and it seems to have gone both ways, so that you and your mom both got something out of their relationship.

  14. I think that we have a lot to learn from the relationships Indians had with animals, plants, and the earth. By viewing other living things as life to coexist in the world with, Indians demonstrated a much greater “power” with animals and plants, able to gain from them by aiding in their sustenance. In seeking to control and domesticate plants and animals, oftentimes the true nature of them is lost. As a classmate posted above, tomatoes grown on industrial farms never taste like those bought at a local farmer’s stand or market because of the difference in the devotion put into growing the fruit. By caring for plants and animals with respect, as exemplified by Indians, we will mutually gain more from this relationship. This element of reciprocity is essential for not only plants and animals to grow and prosper, but for ourselves as well.

    • Thanks for your comment, Lauren. When we establish a partnership with other natural life, as you indicate here, we as well as they grow and proper. And your comment brings to mind something else: it seems that not only the true nature of the lives we try to control and remake are lost to us as we try to carry this out- but something essential is lost from our own natures, as well, as we see and treat other lives as if they had no existence beyond the lab or factory farm– or, as Iveta points out, the zoo.

  15. How interesting yet morbid the roots and meaning of our terminology can be sometimes. I would have never thought that a “tree-hugger” originates from axes being felled on indigenous peoples as they tried to protect their sacred forest as it was being chopped down, or that “nightmare” comes from the haunting karma the men felt for mistreating the majestic wild mares. You might find the book “An Underground Education” (sorry, can’t recall the author at the moment) interesting—particularly the chapter on the actual dark history of our beloved fairytales. Quick correction—in the first sentence in the paragraph when you’re talking about how we “break in” animals, it should be ‘us,’ not ‘use.’

    Instead of breaking in animals, we should lift them up and allow their inner beauty and individuality to shine. I agree that as humans we are meant to be stewards of the Earth, not dominators who impose our own psyche and desires onto others. I think what we find so appealing and inspiring about animals is their freedom and amazingly unique abilities to live in our shared world. I think we would suffer considerably if any animal became completely controlled, or “domesticated,” one day. We need to respect the unique and beautiful nature of all living creatures.

    • Hi Natalie, thanks for your comment. I think fairytales are often quite revolutionary in providing a counterpoint to the power dynamics of society– as they are passed on in communities in oral traditions. Whatever the society would like to hide, fairy tales usually bring to the fore. Now, the stories told in oral tradition are different from the sanitized Disney versions– and even from a number of Grimm’s tales, which were “cleaned up” as they were collected.
      Thanks for pointing out the typo for me to change: I will do that. I also want to emphasize that I did not write about “breaking in” animals- which is milder than the term I more frequently heard used: just “breaking” them. I never heard anyone say they were “breaking in” a horse, but plenty of folks talk about “breaking” it.
      I like your idea of respect-and the observation that if we ever did totally control and reshape an animal to our own purposes we would suffer– and I am also hoping that we would learn a better form of domestication in a better way, as I propose here.

  16. This article was very informative and enjoyed reading it very much. I have to say that the thing that I found the most intriguing from this article was this quote: “human life in the machine age has become increasingly mechanistic even as we project our own psyches onto our machines.” What I took away from this is that it is letting humans know that our lives have gotten very “machine” like. We become accustomed to our ways and do things repetive over and over again. We don’t branch out enough, and “live” enough off the land that we have surrounding us. We tend to not live off of our natural resources that this earth has provided to us. We in turn get “machines” to do our work, provide us with food and materials for us to live off of. What I say to this is what happend to good ole fashioned hard work, work that you put your own time, effort and sweat into? I say that is the best type of work, when you put your own hard work into, I feel you get the best thing from it, it is more rewarding.

    • I certainly agree with the value of hands on work, Jose. And I think your point is well taken that we not only live more repetitive (machine-like) lives in the modern age, but we want machines to be an intermediary between ourselves and the world, rescuing us from sweat or inconvenience. But isn’t it a larger inconvenience to live a mechanistic existence that must constantly chase the clock?

  17. Western society attempts to bend nature to its will. Land forming processes were a start followed by fertilizers after the ground was unable to support healthy crops. The new method is genetics; if western society cannot make the soil do more then they will make the plants do more. No one can know for certain if a genetically altered product will have side effects. As opposed to changing our behavior we attempt to change the world around us; until we come to terms that we do only more harm than good western society will only continue causing damage. At some point the damage may become irreversible.

    • Insightful observation, Patrick. I have seen some recent Monsanto ads that indicate precisely what you point out here– that we need to “make the plants do more”…we have seen the short term successes and tragic long term failures of pushing the land beyond its sustainable bearing capacity. As you indicate, this is a foolhardy course that will at some point irreversible. We can and must be wiser than this. Thanks for your comment.

  18. Like Iveta’s granfather, my grandmother treated her plants and livestock as reverently as she did her family. I distinctly remember her talking to her pansies, cupping them in her old weathered hand and telling them how beautiful their ‘faces’ were. Of course we laughed and thought she was being eccentric (heading toward senile) but no one could deny, that woman could charm a stick into growing into a beautiful, productive tree. Grandma’s chickens and her one old cow also got the best of care and attention and gave her eggs and milk long after what might be considered ‘normal’. Mostly I remember her wonderful vegetable garden. She had to share with the deer that wandered freely through her property but always managed a bumper crop of peas, cucumbers, tomatoes and zucchini. Nothing has or ever will, I think, tasted as good as grandma’s fresh spring peas creamed with Betsy’s fresh whole milk. While I’m sure Grandma felt she owned her property and animals, I’m also sure she considered that ownership more of a caretaker position than one of domination over the land and livestock. From her we learned to appreciate and respect even the smallest of creatures and we learned to talk to the pansies.

    • Thank you for sharing this wonderful tribute to your grandmother, Susan. It is very touching– I felt her presence as I read of her tenderness for the natural life of which she was the nurturer and caretaker. In fact, I think it belongs as a adjunct to this post so that others can make sure to read it, so that is where I am placing it.

  19. As I read through this I couldn’t help but think of a coworker I heard discussing they had hit a dog and didn’t have time to stop to check on the animal. I felt so horrified by this conversation I asked him why he didn’t place much value on this dog. He explained to me that it was just an animal. I was so angry by this I couldn’t speak to him any further but I did manage to say that this animal that he had hit and not checked on was loved by someone and treated like someones family member and if this were his dog wouldn’t he want to know that someone actually tried to help it. I left him alone after that. I’ve come to this point that life is life and well whether if I can understand what an animal is telling me or not everyone deserves care and some sort of attention. It saddens me that we forget this and treat animals such as horses as an asset or something we can use or just put down if need be. I guess I just feel like we should have more thought into what we do or how we treat other life, and this is coming from someone who never even had a pet growing up.

    • Thank you for sharing your compassion here, Jazmin. I hope that our careless toward our world where we too often seen living beings as objects set out for our use changes to feelings more akin to yours!

  20. I was really amazed by how wonderful reciprocity in a relationship can work. It wasn’t until just recently that I truly understood about the give and take and mutual respect that needs to happen in my personal relationships. Now, I want to work to apply those ideas to my relationship with the world around me. I can only imagine what we could provide to the world and how the world would flourish if we gave as much as we took and had a mutual respect for everything around us.

  21. While reading this article, I couldn’t help but be reminded of that animated film, Spirit, narrated by Matt Damon; especially about the parts in which the white men of the west considered a “broken” horse to be the only worthy kind of horse. They would do all they could to “break” and control the wild horses on which the film centered. Though, of course Spirit, the main horse of the show, could not be “broken” by the pushy and arrogant white men, and he would not let a soul ride him, until he met an Indian (whom the white men had also captured perhaps to “tame” or otherwise kill) to whom he perhaps related.

    The Indian man and Spirit came to “know” each other. That is, the Indian man did not push himself onto the wild horse; he did not attempt to force the horse into domestication. They simply came to learn from one another and respect one another. In time, Spirit allowed the Indian man to ride him, not because he was “broken” but because he came to trust the man, something the white men could never allow him to do because they thought of themselves as being superior to horses as well as Indians. The Indian man did not think of Spirit this way. He thought of Spirit as a “friend”. He thought of him as kin, and respected and admired the wild nature of Spirit. Due to his “respect”, “tenderness”, and “generosity”, Spirit returned such feelings, and the Indian man and the wild horse each tamed something in the hearts of one another. Something only love, respect, and reciprocity of selfless, good intentions could properly cause.

    And even though dogs are far more domesticated than natural animals of the wild, by working with them for three and a half years at an animal shelter I see this type of thing as well. People cannot force themselves upon scared, un-socialized dogs either, in order to tame them. You must go slow, and EARN their trust. If you force them into domestication, they will not only have lost apart of themselves which might have at one time been wild and beautiful, they might eventually turn on you, spontaneously when you THOUGHT you had had them tamed… controlled. Such moments account for several dog attacks… and attacks by wild animals, such as tigers and elephants and bears, perhaps USED at circus’ or other organizations where wild animals are put on display.

    Such selfish attempts to domesticate animals account for numerous of these spontaneous animal attacks. And yes, it IS a tragedy when someone dies, but even though human lives might be lost due to their arrogance, the tragedy I feel is directed completely at the animals themselves in cases like these. At that tragic point of realization when an animal turns on its “owner” and “controller” due to endless routines and/or duties the person puts the animal through against the animal’s will, I see that all that is TRULY “broken” about such animals, is their spirit… their heart no longer gracefully wild and free.

    When one attempts to “break” an animal, force them into cruel domestication in order to control them, you break their soul, their intrinsic worth… the animal they truly are and rather should have been admired for. Their is certainly a different way to go about living side by side with nature and her animals. Respect them, treat them as equals, and they are more inclined to do the same for us. To break an animal, like a horse and especially carnivorous animals like tigers, I think is a tragedy.

    Allow them into our hearts, and they will perhaps allow us into theirs. And here, we can tame the fears we have of the uncivilized side of one another, for that is really what it is, isn’t it? A fear of not being able to control everything? Man’s selfish desire to own and control is so very common and it disgusts me. When can we just sit back and observe the wildness of every living creature, even the wildness in ourselves, without judgment or fear? Respect it and admire it. See it for what it is: beautiful and unbroken…. gracefully pure and wild…. untouched and serene. Let such life grow and thrive in its own unique and passionate wildness, rather than attempt to encage it with our selfish human ways of domestication, our unnecessary fears and ugly desire to control and own everything around us… or which lies in our way. What a tragedy. Humans are the “broken” ones. All of us. The Government has broken us with their laws, and we have broken each other with our egotistical, cold, and cruel behavior. Now that we are all broken, we must work on the only thing left that is natural, wild, and free… that is untainted by the ugliness and feebleness of domestication. The earth and her wild creatures.

    • This is a powerful and often eloquent comment regarding something about which you obviously have some personal passion– and personal experience in the animal shelter. I think you have an excellent discussion here on the ways in which we “break” a live creature as an aspect of our domestication. Your last points about all of us being “broken” in some way to the (dis?) order of industrial society is certainly an idea to ponder. Thanks for this comment, Cherisse.

  22. My opinions don’t fit with the majority of comments made here, but I do have some issues with our relationships to animals versus our relationships to humans which I find that much of what has been stated here is implied.
    In our natural world we have been placed in a position of dominance ( whether you agree with it or not) over the animal kingdom and our ability to understand them is up to us but even Cesar Milan knows that he has to be the dominant ‘alpha” to dogs in order to be the ‘leader’ of the pack. By doing so he is asserting himself and bringing a sense of stability and not just allowing the animal to take control. He is teaching it discipline and not allowing it control him or the rest of the pack. Certainly he understands the animal, but he doesn’t allow it to ‘do its own thing’ and has no desire to break it’s spirit..
    My grandmother was also a farmer in Iowa and raised chickens, tended a garden, and knew about how to make it successful without all this nonsense about talking with the plants and animals. I think it is time to get a reality check !

    • Thanks for sharing your personal perspective here; diversity helps create dialogue. I appreciate your taking the time to contribute to this.
      I agree that it would be ludicrous to assume we can converse with other species in English: “speaking with the natural world” in many indigenous traditions as well as among some modern scientists (including Nobel prize winners) means being alert to the reality of others and attributing intrinsic values to them: this entails a method of communicating with rather than attempting to merely dominate the natural world. Indeed, domination is a form of “doing your own thing” (as you put it) rather than understanding and assuming a place in natural communities.
      In this context, it is important to note that there are other systems (ways of creating order) other than the dominating one: the modern Euroamerican worldview sets out two alternatives : chaos (“doing your own thing”?) or domination. On this site, I am proposing a third alternative: partnership. Partnership does not mean that there is no authority within a system: though that authority may be linked to nurturance and service. And it may be fluid: that is, one may assume the elder status in age just as others assumed it before one.
      The fact that mares are responsible for the socialization within a herd indicates that horses have learned something we ourselves might attend to: we need to foster a society in which “loose cannons”– those with nothing but a domination or egocentric agenda– are not rewarded with status and money. It is certainly counter-productive (and irrational) to reward such persons for creating the pollution, etc. that few of us want.
      This irrationality stems at least in part from a dis-connection between humans and natural systems that has come with industrialism: whereby we behave as if we can effectively dominate nature without carefully attending to (and subjecting ourselves to) the authority of natural systems established over time. In this case, the proof is in the results: with the dominator worldview (and the actions that flow from it) we have managed to set every natural system in the world in decline in a few hundred years. Those societies with partnership views (and behavior) have survived in place for between 10,000 and 100,000 years. I am not implying these were utopian societies but instead ones which, as Nigerian writer Chinua Achebe has so aptly put it, had systems able to battle the “human instincts of self-destruction”. Hegel once remarked that humans may be the best of creatures because we can also be the worst: this is because we are decision-making creatures.
      Acting as if we can or should be controlling the natural world leads into what I call the “dominator paradox”- we do this to gain power, yet since power is linked to knowledge, and one cannot know a thing if one looks at it simply as something to be used, the dominator winds up disempowered in the end.
      Thanks again for your comment.

  23. I definitely see the truth in this essay. I am a horse groomer at Portland Meadows, and, It’s funny, many trainers here, including my boss, would rather have a woman for a groom. That is because, most men do try to manhandle the horses, instead of just getting to know each horse individually and letting the horse get comfortable with them.

  24. I have very fond young childhood memories from visits to my grandmother’s house. She lived on top of a hill overlooking Eureka, Montana, and there was a brilliant field full of wildflowers next to her house. My grandmother would take walks with me through the fields and tell me the names of all the different wildflowers we came across. Her favorite was the shooting star, so naturally mine was too. I also remember the vibrant paintbrushes and distinct bear grass. Grandmother loved sharing what she knew of the wildlife surrounding Eureka, and I was her avid listener-adventurer extraordinaire. We did not explore to conquer, but to appreciate and admire. However, we did sometimes take bundles of flowers home with us to put on the kitchen counter. Looking back, we loved what we found so much that we sometimes felt inclined to take it home with us instead of letting it be to grow and flourish. Although I still struggle to see this as exploitative in any way, I do sense the presence of the dominator mentality—we saw something we liked and took it without thinking. The mentality has so infiltrated the way we live that it shows up, however subtle, in places such as nature walks with grandmother. I am still reflecting upon how I feel about this, but I do know that the shooting star will always have a special place in my heart and memory.

    • Thanks for sharing your lovely excursions with your grandmother, Kirsten. As you reflect on the flowers you might note that some flowers flourish all the more by being picked (they bloom again and again). Sometimes beauty is asking to be shared (like the flower that entices the bee). It would of course be nice if the seeds went somewhere–even if in your yard, when the flowers died back. It is interesting that among some native peoples, some wildflowers were not to be picked–and some could not be picked before they were read to seed.
      I think a partnership view might ask how this loveliness is asking us to help share or spread it.

  25. I enjoy the thought of domesticating with integrity. When I was a child, I would spend a lot of time with my aunt and uncle during the summer months. They had horses, yet I would never ride them. My aunt assumed that it was because I was afraid of them, but unknowingly to her it was because I didn’t feel right about jumping on its’ back and roughly handling it as I felt she did. Nowadays, I do not feel that she handles it as roughly as I originally understood, but I do feel that there was a lack of respectful domestication. I appreciate that this article puts forth the description of domesticating to be a mutually beneficial relationship. To the contrary, Westerners (especially) are so used to and expectant of breaking and domesticating things (which, in their minds, includes animals, although they are not a thing whatsoever) Once again, this was an article that showed true humility, and was also a reminder to me that I am no more valuable than anything else on earth. Lastly, just because I may own something it does not mean that I have the almighty power over it.

    Thank you!


    • You are quite welcome, Dana. Funny thing about the Western mind and the sense that “owning” something gives us “almighty power over it”. Former Supreme Court Justice Felix Cohen (featured in this week’s “quotes to ponder’ on this site) notes that because their sense of land “ownership” was bound up in caretaking rather than control, our government asserted that native peoples did not own their land.

  26. Your statement about trucks and masculinity really hit home for me. Just the other day, my 10-year-old daughter noticed that the pickup in front of us had a set of fake testicles swinging from the hitch. My daughter asked me, “What is that weird thing hanging on that truck?” I explained that some men think that their trucks have “balls,” and they are putting fake “balls” on their trucks to let everyone know that the trucks are being driven by manly men. We had a good laugh at the foolishness of it all, but the incident did highlight the theme of men dominating nature. In the Midwest, it seems like there are a lot of men who think that they are only “real men” if they drive gas-guzzling, supercharged big pickups that can haul more weight faster than the trucks driven by their buddies. Granted, some of these men actually work on farms and need heavy-duty engines, but most of the ones who hang “balls” off their trailer hitches aren’t farmers or ranchers. They are just average men, trying to look bigger and stronger than their friends, without even considering the environmental impacts involved with driving their big pickups all over town. They seem to think that status is all that matters in this world, and it’s sad that their status is tied to their “balls.”

    • There could hardly be a more clear example of this connection between trucks and masculinity than one with testicles hanging from it! That must have been an interesting moment with your daughter. Too bad there isn’t a better sense of self-esteem (or self-expression) among these guys!
      Thanks for your comment, Roxanne.

  27. Domestication is a funny thing. As you mention it has roots in the notion of bringing animals in to the home. Say what you will of the domestication of most animals, but farm dogs and cats I think are given the most inclusive and equal role you’ll find in the western world. A good barn cat borders on feral, they have free reign to live as they want because they keep vermin populations down. We nurture them because they help us tend to the farm. A good sheep dog is a smart and capable farm hand. The human farmer may have the more controlling role in the relationship, but no more so than a father and son, or a employer and employee.

    My sister-in-law has a horse, and her relationship with her horse is, what you would expect in the west. She is the master of the two of them. However, she has had enough experience with horse to know that the mare is a temperamental creature all it’s own, and that some times it’s just better to come back and try again tomorrow with more fresh greens in hand.

    • Thanks for your comment, Peter. If a plant on a desk counts as a “nature” experience in the experiments I cited on “We Can’t Blame it On Nature”, then an animal in the house must count for something too. Your last sentence made me smile.

  28. I have to say that I am part of the no fence bunch. I have two dogs that hang out with us or on the porch, not a fence a day of their life. I also loved a mustang mare that freely roamed my yard. She must have been happy and content as she never wondered far from my farm. (She passed last year after 12 years with me, she is now buried in my east field). I also talk too and name all my chickens and my few trees.

    As a horse owner I have always thought it was sad that many felt they needed to break a horse, and when they truly do break a horse you can see the sad soul in their eyes. It is a partnership and when you have a good relationship with your horse, they take care of you.

    If others saw that everything is a partnership, I beleive that all would be much better, from gardens, nature and even personal relationships. If we took the time to grow ourselves in understanding, the world would be a much better place.

  29. Now I know the history of nightmares! I’ve always wondered where that term came from, and now it makes sense!

    If anyone has read the story of Monty Roberts, the horse whisperer, then what is described in this essay will make profound sense. Being a horse lover, I have always thought of my horses as having a relationship with them, and understood their sense of love for their caretaker. Yes, sometimes the horses get into a bad mood, but then again so do humans. But when that deep caring relationship is built with your own horse, nothing can interfere with the bond that is established.

    I’ve always been fascinated with Monty Roberts, because he has brought the beauty of a relationship and understanding horses back to the forefront of our western culture. Through his time spent learning about horses, he actually started to act as the horses did within their herds. He recognized what their different body movements and sounds meant. And because he took the time to understand these incredible animals, he was able to teach others the true meaning behind caring for a horse and not “manhandling” the horse to get what you want. In turn, the horse is respected and gives back far more than anyone trying to dominate it could receive. Besides, who realistically can dominate a 1600 pound animal when you are only 100+ pounds?

    Growing up I was always enthralled with the horse stories like black beauty, (yes this dates me, but it is truly a heartwarming story). There were many stories in books and movies depicting how horses will respond to those who love them, and not respond to those who try to dominate and control them. I remember a quote that said, “If you love something enough, let it go. If it comes back to you it is yours forever,” (anyway something similar to that quote). This was also described in the article by one Indian man, “that if the horse came back after he turned it loose, that was great–and if it didn’t—well, it had a life of its own.”

    Animals will respect and respond to humans if they are revered and loved. This doesn’t mean you can go out and expect the same result from wild animals, but it does show if you respect animals, and use caution, you will experience an incredible blessing in return. As the article points out, if you learn to “domesticate” with integrity, we might learn to treat other natural life with respect, tenderness and generosity.

    • Since I wrote this, I have heard of a similar derivation of “nightmare” in two other cultures- interesting, I think.
      Very thoughtful points here, Marla. I think your point about wild animals is also well taken: it is a strange romantic notion that we can somehow be “one” with such creatures without learning anything about this. Such relationships take much observation and care- which, after all, is at the heart of respect.

  30. In reading your essay called “Night-Mares and Horsepower: Domestic Partners in the More than Human World” for “Our Earth/Ourselves”, I can relate to how all living things should be treated with respect. I had a horse once who trusted (and loved) me so much that he didn’t need a lead line. He would follow me around like a big old puppy dog. I do believe that treating all that we own (or think we own) like we don’t own it, with much respect and love will get the same results as your mare who knew what it was like to be respected, and expected it from everyone. People want too much control over nature. Instead of taking the time to learn about nature and how to get the best from it, man has found ways to take control of nature, to get things done quicker to make more money faster. If we can find ways to destroy our earth to make money, we can find ways to make the green ways more profitable for corporate America. It seems we may be getting to that point slowly, but we’re in that direction. But will we be able to save ourselves in time? The planet will change on its own with or without our help, so if the human race may be erased one day, or our planet destroyed, do we really need to speed it up?

    • Your last (rhetorical) question is a good one, Judilyn: if our haste is speeding up our destruction, do we really want to hasten that result.
      I find it a wonderful gift when any living thing in relationship with us shares itself with us through free choice– as did your horse. How much more rewarding I find that than getting something to follow my will.

  31. While I have a great deal of respect and love for nature – plants and animals – I have to say, no amount of talking can help me keep a garden alive. I don’t know what it is but no matter what I do, what I plant or how I plant it, everything dies long before season’s end. Maybe I don’t spend enough time with it – I don’t quite know. My mom on the other hand can grow anything in the dry Utah soil. She spends hours watching her garden, watering it, walking through the rows and moving this or that. I tried to learn from her one summer, but I couldn’t pick up exactly what she was doing and she would just laugh at me when I asked her how she did it – she said I must not water my plants…well, now I think I know the difference. She’s out there genuinely enjoying the garden for the sheer joy of its existence. While I’m really just hoping to generate our own produce, she gives most of hers away because she and my dad couldn’t possible consume it all. I think she passes her energy onto the garden when she’s out there. It’s really a wonderful thing to watch.
    Now, as for issues like major ag corporations like Monsanto – I have nothing good to even think of them. I know that part of what Monsanto’s business thrives on is what I consider thievery. From what I understand, they genetically modify their seeds, sell them to consumers (large ag companies), then when their seeds cross-pollinate other people’s crops they sue them for “intelligence rights” or something of the sort – the people whose crops pop positive for having the genes that have originated from Monsanto’s “creations” either have to pay Monsanto for their “contribution” to the unsuspecting farmers crop or lose the crop. Now how on earth is that ethical? You would think they would have to get into that business with the understanding and acceptance that crops will cross-pollinate and if your “invention” happens to be carried to someone else’s crop, well…you really shouldn’t have any right to it at all. Just amazing the way our judicial system works sometimes. This seems to have gone off on a tangent, but I think this is just an example of how some people simply have absolutely no respect or knowledge that simply being a human does not confer rights of creation and ownership on them.

    • I am sure your mother puts her “energy” into those successful gardens, Maria. And I think there is also something about the way we interact with our gardens in this more relaxed fashion. As for Monsanto and genetic engineering, check out the newest post on this site: the Canadian farmer who was sued by Monsanto finally won his suit (the link to his website is in the post here:

      • That’s awesome!!! I’m shocked that he won, but even more shocked that he won in such a big way! That they had to pay to have the crops removed is absolutely wonderful. Maybe a tide is turning…I hope so. My husband and I were recently having a conversation about what it would entail to try to wage a personal “boycott” against anything we feel strongly against and found it’s so much more difficult than you would think! We already avoid all Coca Cola, Pepsi, and Nestle products but keep finding susidiaries popping up in every aspect of our lives, from food to non-food items. I’m taking a course on African history and am appalled at what these corporations find no issue with doing to other human beings. It’s not an old story, it’s happening every day and it makes me sick to think I could be unkowingly contributing to the tragic lives of other people. It’s certainly nice to see some good news come of “fighting the good fight”.

        • It is indeed, Maria. I like to think that Percy was fighting for all of us in his years-long battle against Monsanto’s suit against him.
          As persons of conscience such as yourself begin to assess the true costs of what they purchase, we are entering into the change we need.

  32. And that is truly fascinating about the term “nightmare”! I have wondered about the name many times. I have nightmares frequently and spend time at night trying to forget the dream by trying to figure out where the term originated. I guess now I’ll actually have to count sheep or something instead!

  33. I always thought horse bridal bits were cruel and unusual. How cruel is it to direct a horse with a metal bar in its mouth? It must bother them.

  34. I agree that it is wrong to believe that simply because a person purchases a particular animal that he/she has the ability or right to control it. I learned this lesson well when I was a little boy and I bought a goat from a farmer who was friends with my father. While the goat was friendly and playful when I visited the farm, I soon learned that he was not happy when removed from his home. Within 2 days of getting him home to my house he began to attack and bite me viciously. After a lot of crying, my father returned the goat to his original owner. The old woman at the farm house loved the goat and he ran to her as soon as he got out of the truck. It was stupid of me to think I could buy the goat and expect him to honor that deal. Whenever I visit zoos and animal parks, I always feel sorry for these creatures that really have no business being captured and contained for our amusement. In many cases the misery of the animals is obvious. Animals have a right to exist in freedom without interference from humans, and to live their lives in their natural habitat. Hopefully in the future, facilities like zoos and circuses will be outlawed and this type of behavior on the part of humans will finally be recognized as wrong.

    • I very much like your statement about the inappropriateness of thinking your “could buy the goat and expect him to honor the deal”, Joshua. I think the usury attitude toward any other lives (including human ones) is the source of major problems in our contemporary world.
      I do think that a few progressive zoos are becoming like wildlife refuges for conserving species that no longer have much of a chance in the wild. Of course, the better tact is to support the conservation of habitat that would allow these species to continue their lives as the natural world originally sanctioned it.

  35. I find the problem that the mare gave the man who bought it, and wanted immediate jumping skills, very common with animal owners. There are many times we see animals owners, especially dog owners, who have “bad” dogs. These “bad” dogs might bark excessively, run ahead of the dog walker, and not “obey” orders. This is because the owner usually doesn’t have a strong bond with the dog, and take the time to train and treat the dog as if it was a a friend, and not something you control. A friend of mine has a very strong bond with his dog, that was rescued from a dog fighting ring. Most people would think a dog that is trained to fight, would have no discipline. When he first got the dog, it would constantly hesitate, growl, and bark. He knew he had to give the dog time, and knew he had instantly had a bond. He gave the dog time to get comfortable with him, didn’t try to make it obey any orders, and treated it with kindness and just as if it was his friend. Now today, he can take it on walks without a leash, and it listens to the “orders” he gives. If we would take time to realize these animals have feelings just as we do, and take time to bond with them, the problems many face with animals would not exist nearly as much as it currently does.

  36. I never distinguished nightmares to actual mares but it definately interesting and makes sense.I think that we as a society are so use to the ideologies of the modern society that we are unaware that we live in a natural world that has been here for an eternity. And it is us who needs to be reintroduced to the natural world since so many of us have forgotten.

  37. Where are the Night Mares when we need them? Something has to give a serious wake up call to the people who are willing to splice genes, create clones, engineer spare body parts as if they are God. How much damage worldwide has to be done before those in power wake up or will they wake up. As far as my limited experience goes, politics (and therefore power) belongs to the highest bidder. It is only things like the safety devices in our cars and the manufacture of babies nipples that go to the lowest bidders. Go figure!

    I am afraid that I am totally guilty of using hybrid seeds in my garden but that is only because heritage seeds are SO expensive. For someone like me, who doesn’t know that many people who have their own vegetable gardens, having to buy heritage seeds in bulk is staggering, unavailable. Are hybrid seeds the ones that have had gene splicing done on them? I know you can’t use the seeds from the vegetables for the next year cause you don’t know what you’ll get but it isn’t what you planted the year before. Do the folk who do the gene splicing on vegetable seeds know the damage that is being done? Is there anything that someone like me can do to get their attention? Somehow, the damage has to be stopped before it is too late for any solution.

    This planet belongs to billions of beings other than humans and it just isn’t right that the minority has control over the lives of the majority. Because the farmers in Australia put a bounty out on dingos they now have a HUGE Kangaroo problem. There are more kangaroos than people now in Australia. They don’t know what to do. But they already did it, didn’t they. If they hadn’t put the bounty on the dingos, the kangaroos would not have had the opportunity to overpopulate.

    Hopefully, sooner, rather than later, those in charge are going to get a clue that the damage they are doing won’t always be reversible.

    • Hi Cendi, I don’t think that hybrid seeds are a problem (except that most of them are infertile, so you can’t save them). In my area, folks are saving seeds and trading them with one another. And I don’t know about you, but my friends and I can hardly use up all the seeds in a single packet– so we share the costs and the seeds of varieties we want–and after we grow them we can save and trade them.
      GMO seeds are something else again. I cannot recommend that anyone use these. though Monsanto is making it exceedingly difficult for folks who want to use non-gmo seeds (i.e. their seeds) on any scale.

  38. Like the horse at the beginning, nature will do almost anything for us if we ask properly. We have no right as humans to manhandle anything in nature. Indeed, as we try to control the natural world and expect our technilogical prowess to be able to manipulate nature, we will find how utterly unimportant we are in the grand design.

    I was glad to see that you acknowledged that mad cow diseasecomes from feeding cows the rendered brains and other parts of other dead cows. We humans frown on cannabalism so what is the difference with our non human brothers.

    Your statement of, “domestication does not merely shape our consciousness. it is about the relationship between human consciousness and othe natural life.” couldn’t ring more true. We have lost the conscious connection with the natural world. We believe that we have the right to consume everything we want. That the world is there for us to use as we see fit. We couldn’t be more wrong in that assessment.

    • Nature and natural systems are wondrous, Jeff and as you point out, will act in our benefit “if we ask properly”- our being able to ask properly, of course, is contingent on our knowledge of nature and her language.
      The data on mad cow disease in this respect is pretty firm– it is reason why it is now illegal to feed cows the brains of any other animals (including other cows)– which used to a common practice (these waste products were rendered into cow feed) perhaps fifteen years ago.
      Thanks for your comment– we shape our own humanity as we decide how we wish to “domesticate” other lives.

  39. Reading the story about your horse really hit home for me. I’ve read that horses really pick up on people’s emotions and react accordingly. I assume that your mare picked up on some emotions that didn’t jive well with her. Therefore she wasn’t willing to perform the way he wanted.

    My dog is very much the same way. As most people know, since I talk about her all the time, I have a German shepherd named Peyton. I adopted her about 2 years ago when she was about to be put to sleep because she was too aggressive. She was only 6 months old at the time. Her previous owners decided to move, but instead of taking their puppy, they chained her to a tree and left her in the desert during the middle of summer. Animal control finally picked her up, but by then she was skin and bones.

    I have had an anxiety disorder since I was a kid; I get anxious and nervous, sometimes having panic attacks. Peyton picked up on that very quickly and wouldn’t respond to anything if I was in an anxious state. If I was upset or sad, she wouldn’t listen to anything I asked of her. Even though I wasn’t necessarily upset at her or frustrated with her just upset in a general sense, she wouldn’t respond. I didn’t want to lose her or any harm to come to her because of my problems. I needed to take control of my emotions in order to help her.

    She would do exactly what I asked of her when I remained calm. It was like she respected me more when I was calm, collected, and in control. From that moment on, training was a breeze. She learned shake and sit within minutes. She’s an absolute dream on a leash. Peyton is now a happy well adjusted dog. She loves people and especially loves her kitty Luna. When I take her to the pet store or for her runs people comment on how well behaved she is. Peyton was always willing to do what I asked of her, she just wanted me to ask her in a different way.

    • Thanks for sharing this story, Jennifer. Sounds like a great example of reciprocity in that you and Peyton are now both healthier and happier, it seems. We have much to learn from our more than human companions. I was fortunate indeed to have a mare such as this for a teacher during my own adolescence.

  40. Instead of being so concerned about domesticating animals, it looks from some of the stories here that our best bet is to try to become one with our environment and the animals that share it. It is very obvious that animals can sense our true intentions just as we can sense another human’s. I have birgs that react differently depending on who is present. I have one of them that is actually the better talker out of the three but will not say a word in the prescence of an adult. If children go into their room, the birds’ room that is, she will talk with the children. If you listen outside the door she will talk but if any adult other than myself and one of my daughters enter the room she will not say a word.

    • Thanks for the delightful story of your bird’s preferences, Mildred. I think this destroys the basis of the pride that makes some human think there is no choice involved in how animals (including the animals they experiment upon) respond to them in particular.

  41. People can manipulate and force themselves on animals in the cruelest and most brutal ways. However, in the case of horses, domination and force is NEVER affective as the individual may think it is. Little do they know of the connection and harmony that they are missing out on. I ride and grew up riding, and I often see people that like the idea of having and riding a horse, yet lack any clear understanding of what a healthy and mutual respectful relationship with a horse can provide. For them, it will forever be a battle; one that the horse never signed up for yet has to endure. Letting go of ego and accepting the fact that your human knowledge and experience is not the be all and end all can open you up to experiences with a animal partner that can show you things that you have never pondered before.

    • Thanks for sharing your insightful perspective about the possibility of avoiding the “battle” that the “horse never signed up for but has to endure”, Laida. I feel that I was very fortunate to have such a teacher as this wise mare during my adolescence– seems like you had the same kinds of relationship with the horses you grew up with.
      Folks who only try to force themselves on a horse are missing so much (not to mention, generally abusing the horse).

  42. A lot of emotion comes through from this essay. I hope you don’t worry about the horse wondering if she knew the situation was out of your control, she knew you loved her and that seems apparent. I also love how Mr. Wasson corrects the film about the portrayal of Indian riders in Dancing With Wolves. The creators of that movie place all that time and effort into making such a film without even having a true understanding of the culture. The least they could have done would be to hire a specialist on the indigenous culture. The reciprocity you speak of with the Palestinian family is absolutely true regarding the nurturing of nature. If we can all find a way to work with nature and not against it we, and our children, will all be better off.

    • Thanks for your comment, Jonathan. From your response, I think of the way in which find a way to work with nature helps us implement a way to work with one another.

  43. Reading this essay reminds me of my sweet chihuahua, Mena. She’s so sweet, loving, and very smart. She’s just not much of a socializer. She picks who she wants to hang out with and who she doesn’t. My husband and I have a lot of friends who come over to hang out and she likes a lot of them. Then again, there are a lot that she doesn’t like. If she likes someone she will go to them to be loved on and if not she won’t come in the room. She knows who she does and does not want to be around. However, some of my friends are not smart enough to realize that. They try their hardest to get her to come to them, constantly calling her name, then getting annoyed when she just looks at them. I tell them to just leave her alone and if she wants to hang out she will. They insist the problem is with her and that I should take her to be “specially trained”. It’s not like she is being aggressive or causing problems, she just wants to be left alone. This always makes me angry because as people we aren’t forced to spend time with people we don’t like, so why should Mena have to hang out with people she doesn’t like?

  44. The relationship between the girl and her horse was a partnership, and the new owner tried to make the relationship a dictatorship. I’ve never had a horse that wanted to work with me when I tried to control them. The horse that I high school rodeo’d on would pull shenanigans from time to time, but if I ever tried to get him to do EXACTLY what I wanted repetitively, it would be nothing but a fight. I had to learn how he was (stubborn and slightly ornery), and know when to choose my battles. He loved running barrels, but I found that we worked best together when I let him do his thing. We would work on perfection while practicing, but when I ran him, I gave him his head and trusted that he would do what we had worked together on and do his best at it. The best part about running barrels on Hank was the bond that we formed by spending so much time working together, and learning to work with one another in a partnership. We learned to respect and trust one another. I believe that all animals are this way and want to give just as much to their human if not more, but hope to get respect in return.

    • Great example of partnership that Hank taught you. I love it when a rider and horse (as in barrel race) just lean into one another, balancing and pivoting as they run. Thanks for bringing Hank’s point of view into this discussion!

  45. This essay speaks very strongly to me. I have a very soft spot for animals and the way they are treated. Cows being mistreated and chicken practicing canabolism breaks my heart. I have always wanted to protect every animal that is being mistreated, which would explain why I have inherited three very different dogs with three very different stories. Animals feel pain, they feel love, and empathy and trust and many people just treat them like they are there to serve us. Whether they are domisticated or not, they should be cared for and treated with respect.

    • I think that it is a measure of our own humanity whether we treat these creatures with empathy and respect– or as objects that we can do with what we will. Certainly we lose some better part of ourselves when we drain living creatures of life (in our own mind) in order to treat them however we wish.

  46. I like the concept of domestication that is brought forth in this essay. Up until now I have never thought of it as a process of building a new connection between humans and non-human animals in regard to bringing them into a new network of family. I had usually viewed our practices of domestication in the more Western mindset which involved forcing our domination over animals to maintain control. I believe nature will always show its resistance toward outside control. In the case of the essay I am referring to the disobedient horse and plants who’s genetics we still struggle to control because of the fact we are trying to control it in the first place. There are also many examples of nature working just fine before practices we consider integral to the domestication process. I spoke in a previous post about our effort to control wildfires. Control of the functions of Northwester forests seems to be a type of domestication (in the sense of control) that doesn’t really need or benefit from our involvement. The cycle of forest growth has existed long before we were even around to control fires and overgrowth and various other problems that “plague” the trees. The different definition of domestication presented here would benefit this case by instead causing us to see a connection we share with the woods and a respect we must have for its natural existence.

    • Thanks for adding to this perspective, Mathew. In the context of a dualistic worldview, domestication must be control or nothing– I like to think there is another way, one of establishing connection. As you indicate, that also means respecting and accepting elements of the natural world that are working without human interference.

  47. Human domination over nature seems more like a fable than reality. We may think we have control over the envirnonment and do as we will over nature. We can cut trees, build houses and continue to degrade the land. Humanity has many tools and many machines. However, one bad storm and humans are at the mercy of nature.And at the current rate, it’s more than one bad storm. In the article, the Night mare came to humans in their dreams, possibly as a warning to stop the humilitation of it’s mares. Can we see stop trying to force our will over nature and live in humility with nature?

    • Good point here, Tina. I think you are absolutely right. It is simply human pride (based on shifting sand?) that makes us think we can do such things–when indeed, we are only getting ourselves deeper and deeper in trouble. We need some humility to admit this and learn from our mistakes to stop this addictive process. Thanks for your comment.

  48. I am still struck by the sentence: “Though this mare would do anything you asked her to do if you asked properly, she refused to be manhandled.” Also, one man’s explanation that if a horse did not come back after being turned loose, “well, it had a life of its own.” These are the types of things we definitely need to bear in mind in all our interactions with others, human or non-human. To do otherwise is to spark rebellion or conflict of some sort, rather than enjoying the fruits of cooperation. In our dealings with others (again, human or otherwise), we need to think of how we react to various types of treatment–I know for myself, I respond much better to courtesy and requests than rudeness and orders. Even my bosses have figured out that they get much more out of me if they ask, or actually say “thank you” once in awhile, rather than just bluntly ordering me about like a machine instead of a person. To initiate productive change (or even just a conversation), I think we have to start with the basic premise of everything having a life of its own, whether a tree, a horse, or a person, and remembering that every life deserves respect in its own right.

    • I agree with your statements about recognizing that everything has a life of its own, human animal or other animal or plant, and that when this life is respected, it will in turn offer respect.
      It takes a little effort to realize there is far more beyond that face you see at work everyday that may be unhappy, distant or short when engaged, and that offering respect to that person will help you in your interactions with them, and may also help them move beyond whatever it is if for just that one moment while engaged with you.
      The idea of a horse without a fence and without a halter or bridal is the same for a falcon, hawk or even a homing pigeon that is treated with honor, dignity, respect and love. These animals survive not just on food, water, warmth and lack of illness, but also on socialization, on relationships that are healthy, reciprocal, respectful and mutual. The same may be said about a house cat that lives inside and outside. The animal goes outside and can travel miles away, could go wherever it pleases, but it always returns home, Animals understand the meaning and depth of home as we do, when they are raised with the respect they deserve and the love we all should receive.

      • I like your point about the importance of socialization to animals — many of whom live in communities, Lizzy.

      • “I agree with your statements about recognizing that everything has a life of its own, human animal or other animal or plant, and that when this life is respected, it will in turn offer respect.”

        In a very general sense it’s about finding that necessary harmony with the rest of nature, especially for our sake. We are a part of nature and dependent upon nature in every single way so it would be completely ridiculous to assume that we can just assert authority over it while not suffering the consequences of its treatment.

    • It takes some discipline and understanding to, as you put it, “enjoy the fruits of cooperation” rather than “sparking rebellion or conflict”, Crystal. Maybe a few of us get it partly right by the end of our lives– or enduring cultures get it right after they have had tens of thousands of years of experience at it. I’m glad you are helping properly train your bosses on this score!
      I like your “basic premise” that “everything has a life of its own… and deserves respect in its own right.”

  49. “If we learn to “domesticate” with integrity as we bring other natural life into our homes and hearts, we might also learn to treat other natural life—including humans—with respect, tenderness and generosity.”
    I believe this very much and was raised to believe this because of my mother way.
    My mother is an artist, and used to have a plant store when we lived in Philadelphia. She sold her plants in pottery that she made. We had a really old farmhouse, and the attic; which was at the top of the fourth flight of stairs housed all of my mothers “plants with special needs, sick plants and clippings.” We had a metal watering can, similar to the one in the Wizard of Oz that the Tin Man used for his oil, or at least that is how I remember it, and it clicked when you pressed the button and then released the water. My mother can bring any plant to a normal healthy state and I recall watching her in awe, following directly behind her while she talked to every plant, and spritzed them with mist, and then told me to water each plant for a different amount of time; depending on the plant. Every day, it was a different grouping of the plants, with different watering times, and different words of encouragement, love, and support spoken to each and every one by my mother.
    When we moved to San Diego, the plant shop was sold to her partner, and my mother could take only a handful of her plants. One of them was the smallest, saddest Elkhorn Fern imaginable. This fern was the size of my head, and I was a small four year old child. Thirty years later, and many plants later, this fern is the size of an automobile and hangs from a huge pine tree in my parents front yard. My sister’s children can actually hide behind the ferns frawns and completely disappear.
    I have also experienced horses responding to me when I treat then with respect and appreciation, and have learned how to interact with horses in a manner that is respectful to them, and lends to their methods of communication. I have watched and learned how they subtly express submissiveness, interest, frustration, agitation, embarrassment, sadness, pain and elation, and recognize that every horse I meet, and have the pleasure of getting to know better, has a completely different and very unique personality.
    I have worked with the marest mare you can imagine, one who would not even lie down to sleep at night; her heard was of the upmost importance and she would not allow for them to not be watched over for any period of time no matter how short. I have also witnessed sadness and despair when a heard loses its leader, its mother and guide. The pain is in their tears just as our pain is often within ours.
    It is refreshing to know that this way of thinking and interacting with animals is practiced and understood by others, that feeling the plants and animals and connecting with them is not considered ”abnormal” because not everyone thinks this way or is willing to admit it if they do. Everything carries a message and can teach you something if you open yourself up to this possibility and allow yourself to think outside the box that houses dominance and controlling ways of westernized domestication.
    I can think of no example of ruling with a heavy hand that has resulted in long lasting healthy and positive manner.

    • Thanks for sharing this delightful story about your mother’s relationship with her plants– which certainly illustrates a very different method of domestication than one which attempt to control earth’s others for our own benefit, Lizzy. Your stories of horses in your previous comment certainly fit here. Your last sentence is especially well taken– I also do not know of any example when “ruling with a heavy hand” has yielded positive benefits in the long term.

  50. The essay Night–Mares and horsepower: Domestic partners in the more than human world was so very much about the subversion of women and Nature that it is spine chilling, especially watching the U.S. political and power battle taking place in our patriarchal realms of “authority”, the Senate and Congress. I love the image of the punishing hooves and gnashing teeth of the captured mares and their spirits visiting in the dark of night to express anger in dreams. I understand these night-mares and feel a kinship and understanding of the feelings of outrage and resistance around attempts to curtail my freedom and control my body presently resurging. Women’s indignation in our culture is still carefully and subtly suppressed and I find it interesting that the word “nag” often refers to women’s expression of self. This also appears to be closely associated with the discomfort in the night-mares expression of fury.

    • Thanks for the pointed connections here and sharing your affiliation with the “night-mares”, Maureen. I hadn’t thought about the use of the word, “nag”–but you have a great observation. Just as Clarissa Estes spoke of “women who run with wolves”, the “night mare” might show us part of our wild (and healthy unsubjugated) self as well.

  51. “There is danger involved in assuming that such creatures are at our service just because we purchase them– as this man found out. And as we ourselves find out in our attempt to control the natural world with inappropriate technological development– though we still try.”

    I agree. This paragraph above and the ones before it reflect on the larger issue of our attempt to “control” nature instead of working with it to create harmony. Any dichotomy that exists between humans and the rest of nature is caused by us, not by it. In the example of this horse, the man erroneously felt that it SHOULD be rideable and so therefore set about to try and “conquer” the horse. That’s why he failed. You on the other hand succeeded in riding the horse because you approached it as something that was equal to yourself, not below you, and so was to be treated with respect.

    The moral of your story is a very powerful one – we cannot suppress and conquer nature since all life has meaning and equal worth. We are a part of nature too, not separate from it. In accordance with this, we must work in harmony with nature, for to work against it is to also work against ourselves.

    • Your last paragraph here is a very perceptive one, Mac. We are a part of nature–and to attempt to control it is to “work against ourselves.” I also like your insight that all life “has equal meaning and worth”; this is the essence of the partnership as opposed to the dominating worldview. Thanks for your comment.

    • HI Mac,

      I agree with you. It is really a shame that some people consider animals less than human. Just yesterday at work I was chatting with a co-worker following and he was explaining how his dog had been diagnosed with epilepsy and that he had to give the dog medicine for the rest of its life.

      Another co-worker who was listening to this story along side me said “it’s a good thing the dog has no idea what is going on”. I was really taken aback by the comment, and the tone was very human dominant which was very strange coming from a woman.

      I worked as an avian veterinary technician when I was in my early twenties and saw some pretty amazing things working with some very sick birds, dogs, cats, pot bellied pigs, etc. Animals might not know how to talk, the name of the medicine administered to them or that they have ” Giardia” or “pneumonia”, but they know they are sick, and they understand this comes with many side effects in the natural environment. That is why they know how to respond. They also understand when someone is helping.

      As I have been working with horses more lately than I have in many years, I am re-learning just how smart, sensitive and connected horses are with one another and with their human companions. The relationship is reciprocal, and respectful. There is nothing that may be forced, only earned from one another. This takes patience, focus and real honest caring,


      • Thanks for sharing some instances of what we are might learn from our more than human companions on this earth, Lizzy. It sounds like you have had some pretty remarkable experiences!

    • I couldn’t agree with you more on your points. We are a part of nature, and like a part of nature, we should realize our actions. Your comment on “….was to be treated with respect” is a key concept that should be practiced in things beyond human and nature as well. If we could only convice others of this, we would all be in a better place. Very good post.

  52. I just got my first dog who is a three month old weimaraner, so she is relatively small now, but will be very large once she is full grown. I have noticed that there is a certain amount of fear that she will be a somewhat uncontrollable dog when she is older and so I want her to be well trained. At the same time I realize that it is mostly out of my own ignorance and lack of confidence that this fear come and that underneath it all is my desire that she is a dog who in a certain way lives fully into her potential. I have to believe that this desire lives in everyone whose lives involve animals in someway, but that this desire is so underdeveloped that it is overshadowed by our ignorance. Both seem that they can end in very similar results whether it is a well behaved dog or a productive dairy cow, and it is how one gets there which seems to be different, one is through control and misunderstanding where we can try to fit the animal into a mold, and the other is through love and understanding where we try to draw out of the animal what lives in it as its potential. As I am finding out, it can be hard to pull yourself out of ignorance, but at the same time it seems so important and is definitely worth it.

    • Very thoughtful sense of balance in this perspective, Andy. I think that much of what we do wrong has a good (and recoverable) impulse that went awry at its heart: the key is to make it conscious, as you did in the case of your relationship to your dog.
      A well behaved and a “controlled” dog are not necessarily the same thing, as you indicate. And I think fear is an essential part of our confrontation with a living world larger than we are: I have felt the same thing camping alone in an isolated and beautiful place. Just a bit of trepidation mixed with awe or wonder at the life of nature so much larger than ourselves.

  53. Animals were not put on our planet to be dominated by us. They were certain species that were meant to be our companions and friends and we should treat them as such. I could not imagine training an animal to obey every single word I said. If I did I feel as though I took away the personality and free will of the animal.

  54. The phrase “And it will teach us about the vital processes of natural life” was the key to this essay. The process of natural life is not only the key to the success of the natural world, but that of our own. We are all so interconnected in ways that we might not even realize that what happens to one, will surely impact the other. If everyone realized this idea, the entire world would be in a far better place.

    • Thoughtful point, Andrew. Seeing the world according to what it might teach us rather than how we might manipulate it, is an essential difference that would, as you indicate, lead to some substantial improvements in our choices.

  55. I love the moral of this article: work with nature and nature works with you; fight nature and nature fights back.

    It’s interesting to read how humans sometimes treat other species like they are our tools or just simply machines that we can craft and buy as we please. I’ve seen humans have another sort of confusion towards our technology, where we treat it like it is a living organism, trying to reason with it in order for technology to function according to our will of it (how many times have you seen someone talk to their car while trying to get it started?).

    Another way to look at how we create technology is not only how we “entangle” it with our psyche but also with how we envision nature should work for us( a good example is genetic enhancements of plants). Though I do not feel this is a correct thought process of nature and would rather see a paradigm shift of Professor Holden’s views of working together with nature and technology.

    • I very much like your re-phrasing of this “moral”: “work with nature and nature works with you; fight nature and nature fights back.”
      An interesting view of technology– we might say that it is, in some ways, living, since it is an extension of ourselves..
      Plant selection has taken place for thousands of years to “enhance” their genetics according to our sense of useful plants: corn, for instance, would not exist without human intervention. On the other hand, I am not sure I would call gmos an “enhancement”. I also like your idea of a paradigm shift: seems that we might learn to adapt to natural systems millions of years in the making rather than try to re-arrangement them willy nilly for our benefit.
      Thanks for the thoughtful comment, Alexander.

  56. The reason I quit wanting to ride horses is that I could not find someone who could teach how to ride without a harsh bit, spurs, kicking, and other mechanisms of torture. It has always been my desire to have a relationship with animals and to have that relationship be more about mutual respect than fear and pain.

    • Thoughtful personal choice, Michele. Actually no one taught me how to ride but this mare herself (and a wonderful quarter horse gelding before her that was all heart). I was infinitely lucky in this way.

  57. Horses are so incredible. Indigenous have such a connection to nature and our mother, but the connection and oneness to horses is beyond words. It is funny about the Dancing with Wolves movie. When I talk to some non-native folk about it they get so excited about how Native Americans love that movie because it is close to Native reality, but when I talk to my Native friends it is the opposite. This is a prime example of the disconnect this article writes about. Non natives forcing bridles in the mouths of horses so that they can feel closer to nature and freedom of the ride, and Indigenous who ride “Indian style” removing fences and stalls so that both the rider and the horse can experience that freedom

    • Hi Val, thanks for sharing your perspective here. Horses are certainly magnificent creatures. Interesting observation about “Dances with Wolves”–I have heard other problems with the authenticity of this movie. For instance, the Indian woman/heroine would never have gone around with her hair loose in that culture, since her husband would have braided it for her.
      I love your words, “removing fences and stalls (and bridles) so that both the rider and the horse can experience freedom”.

      • I love that movie. But yes, it is far from native. It does come close though.

        • I know some native elders who would disagree with you that it “comes close”– can you also see how movies like this might play into non-Indian fantasies that stereotype native peoples?

  58. Controlling the natural world for our benefit is, in my opinion, predominant in our culture. We see it in food production, land management, and our domestic lives through the animals we call our pets. The control of domestic animals, more specifically, dogs, in my county is appalling. I realize that there needs to be some sort of order to be maintained but I think it can be minimized by an appreciation for the animal. Similar to the Indians in the article, if respect for an animal is given it will choose whether to stay or go. There is a chronic need to domesticate or tie up animals to keep them from travelling or out of their harm’s way. The environmental wisdom worldview should be the main focus for humans since we have a huge impact on every component surrounding us. Controlling nature only benefits one, the controller. Tying up a dog to protect it from others or themselves just creates an angry animal. I choose to walk my four dogs in open areas away from roads or people but I occasionally come upon people with dogs on leashes. It is always an interesting study in canine behavior, as the leashed dog has been manipulated by their human, this leads to the dog feeling the disadvantage and, in turn, displays aggression. I always tell the owner that my dogs are friendly and sometimes they let them off the leash and introductions begin. I find it interesting that my dogs often try to approach a leashed dog but if they are barking wildly they just walk away and go about their business. I like the fact that my dogs seem secure in themselves that they don’t need to get caught up in another dogs issues. I attribute this to the fact that they are fed, loved, walked and exist in world where they can be themselves. My family has domesticated our animals and “brought them into the family.” This reminds me of the classic poem, If you love something, Set it free… If it comes back, it’s yours, If it doesn’t, it never was yours….

    • Control is certainly a central aspect of a dualistic and competitive worldview in which someone is supposed to land on the top so that someone else can land on the bottom, Renea. The human/animal divide fits right in here.
      Your use of the word “order” in domestication is interesting. There is the order of humans committing atrocities in authoritarian contexts–who claim they were only following “orders”. But then there are ecosystems that have come into ordered being over millions of years.
      So perhaps the question is, what kind of “order” we wish to establish: the dominating one or the partnership one.
      Your statement about dogs on leashes gives me a chance to address another topic: the question of our responsibility for the effects of our domestic animals on other lives.
      First of all, many dogs don’t seem to mind leashes. I have seen dogs bring their leashes to owners or carry their own leashes in their mouths as they go.
      I think it is a matter of how they are used–and I do know that off leash “dog parks” in Eugene give animals a chance to establish relationships with one another they might not otherwise have. However, I am concerned with those who run dogs in wild or natural areas (as I confess I myself used to do some decades back), as dogs do things like chase deer and smaller animals and flush birds– and disrupt the systems that are getting along fine without domestic dogs introduced into them. I also once met a woman who refused to either leash her dog or pick up after it in the schoolyard where she regularly walked it, insisting that dog feces were “natural” things for playing children to encounter.
      My sense is that unless a dog is under absolute voice command, it shouldn’t be lose in any wilderness. For that matter, cats should not be prowling urban neighborhoods without a bib ( designed by a vet to inhibit them from hunting. And certainly they shouldn’t be loose while birds are feeding in your yard.
      We need not only to consider the freedom of our pets, but the ways in which domesticated animals harm habitat or other species. At the same time that we haven’t any right to carry out the terrible abuse with which some domestic and farm animals are inflicted, we don’t have a right to prioritize our animals over other species’ lives.

    • I see your point about animals having a choice but I would have to disagree on setting my dog free. I have an adopted dobie that has some personality issues and she loves to run fast. When I say fast if she got away there is no way to catch up to her. If we let her go off of the leash she would get hit by a car and die or starve to death. I just could not see a good reason to let her choose her destiny here. Furthermore, living I live in a city and walking an unleashed dog is frowned upon.

      People who get dogs to tie them up outside 24 hours a day make me sad, no animal deserves that.

      • Good points, Tiffany. I think what we might do instead is refine our idea of “domestication” so that it is not about dominating other lives but learning from them. That would also imply that we respect more than human habitat in the wild as well.

  59. I have friends with horse. They breed, train and sell them. I have helped breed horses and have never heard of the nightmare. I thought it was a bad dream. Well it makes scene now. One thing I did notice was some of the older mares wouldn’t take to some of the studs but they would to others, even though the breeding was done artificially. This makes me wonder about their roll in social interaction of herds. How they can tell who is right and who isn’t just by having them stand next to each other.

    • Mares have quite a leadership roles within their herds.

    • Your thought on the importance of social interaction in the herd is interesting because I think that animals are much more social then we realize or give them credit for. I’m sure that the social structure in most herds or groups of animals is very complicated and important to the survival of the population. I think that these social bonds don’t just disappear just because humans breed animals or keep the animals in enclosures.

    • I think about his too! We read an essay about how we make the animals breed in captivity and how these copulations are public. How invasive?? I totally think that this is weird and when it fails, I don’t feel surprised. Love making is love making, and I don’t think that all animals feel comfortable “doing it” in front of everybody. Recently they showed this news story of a Koala in a Florida Zoo who is being forced to mate with a lady Koala in a neighboring zoo. How can we be sure that this lady likes the man, and more importantly…they set up a valentines day date for the two, with a table and a eucalytus leave. How rude and childish! Sheesh. I think people forget that animals used to live in the wild, and for goodness sakes…give em some privacy!

      • Thoughtful points, Shana– we do tend to think we have a right to observe everything about the animals we keep. I’m not sure we can project our need for sexual privacy on other creatures– though I think we might give them more choice in their coupling, as you indicate.
        I have heard numerous stories indicating the lengths to which cats and dogs–and horses–will go to give birth privately.

  60. Can they tell just like any other living thing can what is right or wrong by standing next to one another? Or is it lust? Mares do have a good leadership role within their herd. They control a lot of what goes on.

    • Can you say a bit more about knowing what is “right or wrong” by “standing next to one another”– are we included in this type of sensitivity. And “right or wrong” is a pretty large category defined differently by– likely– everyone who uses the terms. Can you narrow this down a bit?

  61. The story about the mare is touching. It seemed like both of you shared a mutual respect for one another, which is something that we need to consider when shopping for meat at the grocery store.

    I have been leaning towards vegetarianism for awhile now. I feel sick knowing that the meat I am eating is coming from an animal that has suffered its whole life. To keep chickens in cages with their beaks and feet clipped and injecting them with “food” is utterly disgusting. Not only is keeping animals under these conditions inhumane it’s also creating health hazards like E. coli and salmonella.

    I don’t want to jump off topic too much, but sometimes environmentalists are their own worst enemy. The group PETA shows graphic pictures of slaughtered animals at circuses and other inappropriate events which cause people to avoid the subject completely since it was presented to them in such an extreme way. I like meat, it is tasty, but our method of obtaining meat is tasteless in most instances. Sure, I try to by organic it’s available, but unless I go to the farm how am I to know what type of life that animal lived.

    • I agree that sometimes gruesome realities are too much for people to want to face, Tiffany. On the other end of things, there are now sustainably and humanely raised labeling of animals… more expensive meat, but it wouldn’t hurt us to eat less meat and more humanely raised.
      Thanks for your post.

    • Like you, Tiffany, I lean further and further into a vegetarian diet and vegan lifestyle all the time. I haven’t had a bite of mammal in over 20 years. I also have found, that though I used to be a keeper at a zoo,( a very well-managed one) I find the idea of keeping animals for our viewing pleasure to be uncomfortable at best and am moving strongly toward feeling it is reprehensible.

  62. Prof. Holden, your statement about mares socializing the herd is so spot on! While raising Morgans for many years, I observed how the mares taught their foals how to be proper horses, and how they mediated squabbles while loose in a pasture. This aided me greatly when I had to hand- raise a foal who was rejected by his mother. I realized I would not only have to get nourishment into this foal, but socialize him as well. We had to make sure he didn’t get too pushy with feeding time, and would take away his meal sometimes before he finished. As he grew, he seemed to identify humans as the same as horses, so one had to be fair but forceful, like a mare would, to make sure he respected boundaries of behavior. He was also one of the easiest horses to gentle for riding and driving. as he thought it was all great fun.
    I think when we really get to know an animal, we find they have many of the same sensibilities that we do and should be afforded the same respect.

    • Thanks for sharing your personal experience with hand raising this foal, Reb. It seems to me that foals are also taught to deal with humans in a mannerly fashion by their mothers if they trust you.
      They are amazing creatures indeed that we have much to learn from.

  63. I had a very similar horse experience growing up riding a mare who threw any man who tried to show her what was up, and another as an adult riding a stubborn old stallion name Socrates, whose tough grace and demand for proper request for services, always rewarded the obliging with a good ride. I also identified with the student whose grandmother’s wonderful garden food she enjoyed and through which she learned to intersubjectively interact with nature. Through interacting with horses, much animal wisdom can be gleaned.

    • There is much for us to learn from these graceful fellow creatures with their distinct personalities. I think I was fortunate to learn a different lesson from horses about my physical power than the gender rules of this society otherwise taught–and I suspect you were too.

  64. I also remember the movie “Dancing with Wolves” and I thought it a bit strange that the Native Americans in this movie wore bridals. The concept seemed foreign. Anyhow, this essay reminded me of a cartoon that my kids watched called, “Spirit”. It is a movie about a horse named Spirit, who begins his life in the freedom of life, roaming the countryside in his tribal family, when all the sudden one day a Native American comes and takes him captive. The Native American never fences the horse up, but he does attempt to ride him. The next three months of Spirit’s adolescence revolve around him building up trust towards humans. All this dissolves upon an invasion of White Settlers who sack the tribal village of the Native Americans and capture all their livestock too. Spirit lives in captivity for the next 5 years or so, until well into adulthood. The end of the story comes about with the Native American man you had attempted to ride Spirit (never successfully) coming across the same horse after it had broke free from imprisonment, and rescuing him to safety. A happy ending, and a good lesson for my girls that a “Hero” can be an animal too. Spirit was the main character of the whole movie, and simply showing his personified feelings of heartbreak, imprisonment, abandonment, love, hate, fear, and happiness, is a lesson that I would want my children to have for animals and plants. I believe in the heightened consciences of other beings other than humans. The rest of life besides us does not seem “dead” to me, but to continue the type of pervasive ideology that labels “us” alive, and “everything else” dead. Is a dangerous one indeed. I was also happy to see that in this fictional cartoon movie, the Native American did not try and dominate the free will of the wild horse. Instead, he understood that the horse had “a life of his own” and worked around and with the animal. This was more conducive for the man in the long run, as Spirit saves his life. I think this ending is very indicative of what reciprocity truly means. The man could’ve dominated the animal and caged him up, but this imprisonment would only be of the horses physical body… never of his mind, and when the man faced certain peril, you can almost bet 100% that horse was not there for a rescue. Treat others the way you want to be treated, and the rest is history.

    • Nice metaphor about heroes and our choices (and their results) with respect to more than human lives, Shana. It would be great if told our children stories that took them back, as did many local native tales, to the time when animals and humans spoke the same language– which might still happen if we listen closely enough.
      I think we also need the wild to teach us such lessons: those creatures who belong to themselves rather than to us and the habitats we re-arrange for our own convenience.
      Thanks for your comment.

  65. I will never understand why we as a society feel as though something will be ‘better’ if it is controlled ,dominated and manipulated for our benefit–as if power over another being adds to its natural beauty by us tinkering with it. However, as it was already stated in the article, the natural grace and beauty of other beings (both plant and animal) is enhanced ten-fold by simply tending to its needs. With the advancement of modern medicine, the idea of manipulating human genes for the ‘betterment’ of humankind, has become quite a controversial topic; as had the abundant use of antibiotics. Why is it such a controversial topic with humans but not with other beings? I think if we hit at the heart of why we as humans feel others are fundamentally inferior to us and thus able to be manipulated, we would be able to help change that pattern of thinking. I think people would then be open to listening about other cultures’ coexistence with the natural world and see that it is actually a realistic way to live.

    • You have hit on an important point here, Jennifer– the ways in we justify dominating and using others for our benefit and then tell those others it is for their own good. Plantation owners during the pre-Civil War era tried to convince slaves they were doing them a favor by introducing them to civilization– thereby excusing all the slaveowners’ cruelty and harsh laws to stop slaves from fleeing those supposedly great conditions.
      Obviously dominating another life is not good for it– though it makes a great argument for the license in treating it however we wish.
      A bit of a different topic is the control of nature and the assumptions that more technology means “progress”: I would not argue that antibiotics are a bad thing–but I would argue that the more is better attitude with respect to them is getting us into trouble with resistant bacteria among other things.
      I think you have an important topic to consider that when we feel others are inferior we fail to listen to those others — human and more than human. That is why it is my sense that one way we can steer clear of this path is to assume we have something to learn from those others on our path– human and more than human.

  66. I have always believed that a garden grown with love with prosper 10x better than a garden grown without. It sounds fairy-tale like and illogical however, I would rather live my life believing things like that. I think these types of beliefs make you less cynical and you are able to love everything better. If you can love something as simple as your flowers or crops, of course you are going to love a human being, constantly engulfing them with kindess, generosity, empathy etc. Same goes for animals. Of course a perk of humans loving the earth and environment would be an increase in our ecosystem, increase in our resources, a healthier more prosperous earth, however, I also think that if humans loved the earth, their crops, their animals etc. it would develop an ora that is completely full of optimism, happiness and love. Yes, our surroundings would better if we treated Mother Nature with the same love that was demonstrated in the article above with the mares, however, it would also just benefit you as a person to live each day pouring out so much love for even the tiniest of things. My nana always had the most beautiful gardens, flowers were always blooming and looked so healthy and full, and she lived in the country out in the wilderness surrounded by rabbits and dear, animals that are blamed for ruining our plants and gardens. However, my nana and papa never set up traps for these animals, they never killed any of these animals, they would even put food out for the deer and I believe that in return the deer never ruined their garden. Similar to the yellow jacket story.

    • Thanks for your comment, Courtney. It sounds like you had quite an upbringing in your mother and father’s care for their land and gardens. I appreciate your hopeful vision of what our relationships to the natural world (and one another?) might be like if we all enacted that sense of kinship with others.

  67. As i’m reading through this article and hearing of the love and care that certain people give to nature and it’s wonderful elements I am thinking of my grandmother and her passion for gardening. She is a women of many talents and with those include avid gardening of various vegetables and tending to her self-planted flowers throughout the entire yard. I remember as children, my sister and I would always want to go in the sunshine and help grammy. She loved our company, but also truly loved her garden. She taught us the importance of caring for a plant and to never own one, if you could not give it the ingredients for life. It is true that our society is tangled up in the world of technology, that we forget to breathe in the world of nature.

    • Thanks for sharing the gift of your relationship with your grammy with us, Chamae.
      I would hope that we someday don’t need a reminder like your last statement here– in the time when technology brings us closer to rather than separates us from the natural world.

    • Chamae,

      My grandmother was the same way. In fact, my mother and mother-in-law are as well. I tend to think that as we humans get on in age, we tend to really (and finally) understand what is important in life. Your grandmother, like mine and my mother(s) seems to understand what a care for the earth and all of its living organisms can return to us. Unfortunately, the pace of life for a working, studying type like myself thrown in the mix of rapidly advancing technology, does not provide for a whole lot of time for connecting with nature.

  68. I find it very sad how people view animals more like possessions, opposed to a living being that has feelings just as humans do. Your story of the mare that was “unrideable” broke my heart, and I hope the new owner of the mare learned something that day about how animals should be treated, and maybe on a grander scheme about how we try to control the natural world like you mentioned. Furthermore, just about the relationship of how we domestication. Its something I never really thought of. Its nice to think that the indigenous people felt connected enough to their horses that they didn’t want to pin them up, because they cared about the horses well being versus losing an asset to them. I also liked your example about the masculinity of truck commercials.

    • Thanks for your comment, Michelle. I think anytime we cultivate the habit of treating other lives as possessions, there are potentially dangerous consequences (not to mention, the ignorance that comes with not really knowing a life for itself.
      Nice thoughts about domestication.

    • The same possessiveness and domination that comes with the Western way of domestication is reflected in many of the relationships we have not only with animals or other beings but with other people as well. Learning to respect boundaries and limitations and to give and receive with our natural environment helps us to better our relationships with people as well.

      • Indeed, Emily. I am sure that the lessons you learned from animals in our previous post here have allowed you to take care of yourself and get along with other humans.

  69. I am Hebrew, and in the scriptures of the sacred Torah we are taught to be stewards of the land. This does not imply ownership but rather the role of a caretaker. When G-d presents the animals to humankind he uses the word, radah, which means to sway. Your story of the mare reminds me of the word radah. You swayed the horse to you, and the horse seeing your love and respect allowed herself to be swayed. If we allow the earth that we tend to be swayed, what bounty we will reap. If we sway the animals instead of trying to bend them to our will what excellent friends we will make.

  70. “Natural life may shrug us off its back as easily as it slips houses down the hill below a clear cut—as has happened throughout the lower Umpqua River drainage” – nature is way more powerful than some of us realize. It is powerful and spectacular, and it is a shame that the world does not give nature the respect it deserves. It is like a person crashing on a friend’s house, eating all of the friend’s food, and destroying the place. Eventually, the friend is going to kick the terrible house guest out!

    • Pointed analogy of nature being like a host that will eventually kick out its ungrateful–and destructive– host, Samantha.

    • I really like your comparison of humans and unwanted tennants. On the grand scheme of things, humans could definitely be considered “pests.” I’d be interested to learn more about the viewpoints regarding the purpose of everything that earth has to offer. It seems like some people have learned to utilize and sustain the earth, while others do nothing but abuse it.

  71. The connection that you make between our dependency on machines and animals and our tendency to take their compliance for granted is extremely interesting. The control that we humor ourselves with only works when the machine or animal are cooperating. In many cases, we are eventually faced with stubborness (like from the horse you told about at the beginning of this article) but fail to see that it just isn’t natural for us to dominate nature. Life might be a lot more smooth and simple if we stopped trying to control and train nature, and instead began learning and adapting.

    • Thoughtful point in terms of the benefits of stopping our attempt to control nature and decided to work on fitting into it instead. Since we are an inevitable part of nature, the latter might be less frustrating.
      Also, I would not equate animals and machines– though both might be tools for extending our reach in the world.

  72. This essay illustrates well that domestication is not about dominance, but about connecting with other life, and making it a ‘part of our family’ or social circle.

    I really enjoyed your experience with the mare who trusted you. I’ve had a similar experience. My rebellious young mom wanted to live in good size town, buy a house, and have a large social circle of people to build a community (and she really does have an amazing knack for building community), but I, her only daughter, was introverted, liked quiet places, missed the Rocky Mountains and didn’t try very hard to get along with anyone. On my long bike rides I used to pass by a 4h club meeting house where I would sometimes see kids my age bringing goats and sheep and other small animals which caught my interest, so one day I just went in and sat in. At the end of the meeting one of the club leaders, asked me if I wanted to fill out the form, join the club, and if I had any animals. I told her that my mom was more of a cat person, but I was allergic, so we just had goldfish. She said that wasn’t a problem, she would find a place for me. After I joined, she told me that she was planning on selling her two goats and one black sheep unless someone could help to take care of them, hinting that this was my opportunity. The black sheep, Maude, was a joy and truly patient with me, but the two old lady goats, Pixy and Starlight, were stubborn. They were not about to have some pre-adolescent girl trying to boss them around. I didn’t take many bruises, headbutts, and long chases, to finally just listen to what these two broads had to say about running things around the pen. Pixy, Starlight, and Maude were my first close friends in Astoria, and, although this may seem eccentric, they really taught me important lessons in life about birth, patience, setting and respecting boundaries, and being a brave, sturdy female.

    • It does not seem eccentric at all that these animals were your teachers, Emily. There are peoples who base their sense of their own humanness on what they learn from animals: I am thinking, for instance, of Deborah Rose’s book on an indigenou people of Australia, Dingo Makes us Human. You could certainly have done worse than have natural teachers who taught you about “birth, patience, boundaries, and being a brave, sturdy female”.

  73. This essay reminded me of a movie I saw when I was a lot younger, Spirit. Its a movie about a herd of wild horses, the leader of which sacrifices himself to captivity to save the rest of his herd. The part of the movie that really relates to this essay is when the cavalry is trying to ‘break’ Spirit. To their dismay, they find that they cannot break him, even using brute force. He becomes a hero to the other horses, who also underwent the process of being broken. Finally, the men tie Spirit to a post with no food or water, and yet he still does not break, and he even manages to escape with an Indian boy and the rest of the horses. I was reminded of all of this when reading about nature never being under human control, no matter how hard we try. Especially when reading about the mad cow and the plants. I believe nature should be cared for and nurtured, as the essay said, “if we tend the land, it will shelter us.”

    • I have not seen this movie, but have heard of it, Caleb. It sounds like a great balance to some of the other things coming out on film these days!
      Thank you for being part of that community that stands on the side of tending the world that gives us life.

    • I have seen this movie too. This is a really good example of animals not wanting to be controlled. It is also a prime example of the cruel treatment some ‘owners’ use on their animals to attempt to domesticate them. I thought it was sad in the movie when they tied the horse up with no food or water but the real sad thing is that people actually do that in real life. Some people buy animals and treat them like crap just because they “can”. Sad and unfair.

      • It is sad indeed that people use such torture to “break” a horse, Courtney. This is yet another destructive result of the impulse to control other living creatures in a society in which domination is valued.

  74. Unfortunately, many of us believe that just because we purchase something, we can control it because it is “our property”. Personally, I think it is sad how people force animals to stay with them and “domesticate” them.
    Animals often ‘run away’ and I believe that is because they truely dont want to live there. This is another example of the tradegy that comes with animals not being able to speak our language. If only they could, I bet a lot of them would be saying “let me go!”

  75. While I won’t pretend to know anything about horses, this story did remind me of the last dog my family adopted from the animal shelter. He was a one year old pitbull, and while that breed’s reputation for meanness is greatly exaggerated, their reputation for stubbornness and doing what they want to do really isn’t. He wouldn’t listen to either my mom or stepfather when they tried to give him commands, and he was usually really hyper around them. However, whenever he was around me he would listen to every command I gave him, and act completely calm. Not that he wouldn’t occasionally have the urge to go roam the neighborhood outside our yard, but he always came back.

    • Thanks for adding another example to indicate that other natural creatures actual express some choice in how they do or do not respond to our “commands’, John.

    • John,
      I found a similar response in our farm pitbull who beyond all else was extremely loyal. She would respond to be depending on my voice inflictions while she helped herd the cows into their pasture. If I allowed my voice to show any panic, she would respond by being vicious to the cows in order to defend me. If I showed her a lot of love by petting, she was less likely to resist when I kept her from the chickens and never once posed a threat to my well being. I felt extremely well cared for!

  76. I contest the implication that the Western tradition of horsemanship features dominating the horse and forcing it into servitude. I observe that the current standard philosophy of horsemanship in the West is analogous to the horsemanship you attribute to indigenous peoples.
    Natural horsemanship techniques have been popularized among white, western horsemen since the 1930s and 1940s when brothers Bill and Tom Dorrance infused western cowboy culture with natural horsemanship techniques: building a willing partnership with the horse, making the wrong thing hard and the right thing easy, training via the simple release of pressure, being soft and subtle. Several generations of natural horsemen have further developed and spread the Dorrance brother’s ideas (Ray Hunt, John Lyons, Pat and Linda Parelli) and I would argue that currently, natural horsemanship philosophy is the common denominator of all equine training techniques.

    • Hi Amy, thanks for sharing counter in the Western domination approach to most things natural. Perhaps the natural creatures with whom we share our lives are able to teach us something after all!

    • Amy, absolutely. A friend of mine practices natural horsemanship, and it’s very rewarding for both the horse and the rider. I feel that the approach depicted above by the new owner applies to all animals that can be ‘owned’ by people. If you don’t listen to them, then they will never do what you want (especially if what you want is unreasonable). Also, many animals will only do such things over time. In expecting a horse to obey immediately, the new trainer was really setting himself up. Horses really are smarter than that.

      • Horses are indeed smarter than that, Susan. Thanks for a comment from one who has obviously had some experience in this department–and for sharing your insights concerning the new owner. Right on!

  77. It befuddles me that man can believe to be dominating over creatures that are more significant in weight, strength, capability, centuries old, and that have an understanding of terrain and native land that is beyond man’s perception. Much of the domination must reside in fear of loss of power as animals such as horses are a valuable commodity in our society. The greater the use of an animal (such as the cow), the fiercer the restraints of freedom and quality of life whereas if many were to follow in Dr. Holden’s example of speaking to the animal first, a collaboration can be reached.

    • Well humans utilize their mind to dominate other animals. Humans are by no means stronger, larger, or heavier than the animals that they attempt to dominate and tame. What I find interesting in the failure to dominate is that man forgets what the purpose, if any, there is to work with animals to do a particular task. Horses in the past were used as transportation or work tasks. I have yet to find a reason other than entertainment to train or dominate some of the creatures from the sea like whales or wild animals like lions. Maybe part of conservation should be that we only attempt to change behaviors within animals that have a purpose of some sort to better both our lives and the animals lives. Then again, how would we know if the animal’s life is better in captivity?

      • Our “Quotes from African Elders”, as well as the lecture notes for our lesson on animals give some other reasons to “train”– or form partnerships with creature of the sea or lions, Jon. Though they were not animals in captivity and thus consisted of the second type of “domesticity” here.
        I think industrial society has a very bad habit of changing something as “bettering” it– we need to define this more closely, as your comment indicates.

    • Thoughtful perspective, Priti. Yet again the dominator does not do himself a favor with this stance.

  78. How inspiring to hear of a story like the one described above. The horse who was kind and obedient to those who he knew loved him. Horses are amazing animals and most of us certainly take it for granted. It breaks my heart to see horses put to sleep after a horse racing career. The whole horse racing circuit is certainly exciting to watch but one wonders what the effect on the horses is.

    • Not just the horse racing circuit but also the dog racing circuit treat their charges this way. Luckily there are many rescues for greyhounds whereas I have never heard of a rescue for racing horses. They need to be started or if racing horse rescues exist they need more PR.

      • I think the dog racing circuit has a particular problem– that is the basis of greyhound adoption programs. The horse racing circuit has more problems with racing horses far too young for their development age.

    • Hi Jen, horses are amazing, and I wasn’t aware of the practice of putting horses to sleep after a racing career.
      The horse in this essay was herself a past racer. And for the twenty years or so my family was involved in racing, I never saw or heard of any horse put to sleep after their career.
      Of course, we just had a horse or two and were hardly at the center of racing– there could have been lots going on I did not know about.

  79. What a wonderful essay. To show the parralels between someone treating their charges as individuals and working with that individual as opposed to treating them as possesions and the results that they recieved is amazing. I call all domestic animals as charges for we are to care for them and treat them as we would our children, taking into account their individual personalities, their instinctual behaviors, and their wants and needs. We are nature’s caretakers not nature’s gods to treat it as we wish and bend it to our will.

    • I agree that the story is a wonderful story of how a kinship between animal and human had to be formed before the animal would show respect to the human. I think sometimes we as human’s place too much value on our role as caretaker. Some animals probably say as if, “We can care for ourselves thank you very much.” This is a great story of where the trust of both the animal and human come together. The animal trusts that the human will not harm them and the human trusts that the animal will allow it to be ridden.

    • Thanks for sharing your personal perspective, Tamara. I am not quite sure we have this much power– just a view from my own perspective.

  80. This article reminds me of a program I saw once, about a man who had been brought up in a family that raised horses, and as a child watched his father ‘break’ horses over and over again. As he grew, he decided there was a better way, and put all his energy into trying to learn how horses communicated. As a result, he was able to alter his own behavior to communicate on some level with the horses he was attempting to ride, and it was amazing. (I want to say he was referred to as the ‘Horse Whisperer’, but I imagine more than one person goes by that nickname, and I don’t want to misidentify whoever this was) Watching his movements and the way the horses responded to him was like watching a dance – it was truly remarkable, and only furthered my belief that such communication was possible with all sorts of animals, if only we took the time to learn. I am not surprised at all that indigenous people had no need to fence their horses or use bridles/saddles to ride – they understood how to communicate. Maybe that’s why it’s been said that at one time animals could talk; they still can, we just don’t listen.

    • Hi Kim, the Horse Whisperer is a very well known book based upon a true story (though the Robert Redfield film is based on a book based on the true story…).
      Learning to communicate with any living “others” (human and otherwise) is always a profound learning of something we had never expected (we wouldn’t be communicating with others if we already knew would the conversation would consist of).

  81. I never knew that’s where the name nightmare came from. That is very interesting to see that point of view. I find it fascinating that whenever a nightmare comes up it is usually about a person wanting to control another animal. Also, how Indigenous people are very confident about their oneness with the land and creatures. How they feel if they let a horse go and it doesn’t come back it was never ment to be. But if it does come back then they know the horse has made its choice.

  82. The part where you mentioned how the horse rode well with you on it not because you were a good ride, but because of the horses decision making. It really made me open my eyes because I viewed it just like the man, that you were in control of it.

  83. I find that this worldview of human domination often leads to why people can not tame wild animals such as the mare you mentioned in the essay. The horse probably did not want someone to ride them anymore than if the horse was to ride the original trainer that could not get the mare to jump. The wild animal saw the saddle as a restraint on its own life and it was not until the mare built trust and gave up a bit of its freedom for that trust that the mare could be trained.

    • Thoughtful, though I don’t think you are entirely right about the mare giving up her freedom — or at least she was not the only one. In a partnership, both parties have to do a little to meet one another half way. And riding her, I also gave up freedom to do whatever I wished on her back.

  84. I really enjoyed reading this particular essay. I grew up with horses as a child and I can fully understand why the horse did not respond to the trainer. Dominating an animal is something humans believe, animals are NOT born or raised on the idea that humans own them.

  85. I found it interesting that they would literally have dreams about the horses. I wonder if this was some kind of subconscious way of telling them that what they were doing was not the right way to establish a relationship with the horse. I can’t say that I know much about horses but if those dreams were coming nightly then I would be much concerned for my mental state.

    • I think you have a great point Javier. This is kind of weird but earlier today I had a song in my head that I believe the Grasshopper from Disney’s Cinderella sang. You, know… “A dream is a wish… your heart makes.” Anyways, both of these examples are, what I believe to be, a testament as to how linked our dreams are to our psyche and conscience. I know that when I am stressed, I have anxiety dreams. I think that our dreams have a direct connection to our mental state – whether we can consciously make that connection or not.

      If the men were having bad dreams about the wild horses that they had captured for their own purposes, then I absolutely think that it is a sign that they subconsciously knew that what they did was wrong. Even if they truly thought they had the right to capture these animals simply because they could, I believe there must have been an innate and instinctual feeling that the horses were not meant to be contained and bred at their “whim.” Even if we do not feel or seem to be connected to nature, our subconscious and souls have a tie to it that we might not always be able to consciously sense.

      • Interesting point, Amanda. The ways in which urban gardens create community in areas formerly bereft of any natural – or human–sharing is another thing that exhibits the way in which nature may still touch us with our better selves. I find this a hopeful point.

  86. I have seen the way in which man can expect nature and animals to be a slave to him and his wants, merely because he has a physical power over them. In Pennsylvania, particularly, people hunt for sport. I have tried to reason with people and talk to them about why they think they have the right to hunt, (I was vegetarian). It seems to me that there is nothing that one can say or do to someone who feels as though all animals are at the mercy of humans. I suppose it may be a cultural thing that is taught to people by their friends and family growing up. At the end of any conversation I have with this kind of person, nothing has been resolved and we simply agree to disagree. Many hunters have told me that because we are “superior” to animals, we have the right to kill them – even though this is not based on a head to head challenge, but with a deadly weapon than be used from afar. They kill animals because they can. It seems to me to be quite primitive and arrogant to think that just because we have the ability to physically conquer another organism, we should.
    As I said before, I believe this kind of belief system to be cultural and familiar – what is taught to a person, for the most part. Everyone has free will to think and believe what they want but I have seen how people that are close to one another typically take the same attitude in terms of how they regard and respect nature and animals. Some people and their families don’t like having pets – some have many. Some American subcultures, (typically more rural), like to hunt for sport, while some are against it. Many of the the people I have met in areas of Vermont are vegan/vegetarian and co-habitate with animals as kindred spirits. Not everyone will have the same attitude about what our relationship with animals and the natural world should be, but it WOULD be nicer if the more callous people would take a softer approach and respect the lives we share the earth with.

    • I too dislike hunting for sport. I do not think that people realize killing off animals for game is destroying the natural balance in the circle of life. That is, the animals that are killed off for ‘our’ enjoyment were meant to be for another predator to feed, and this is why wild cats and bears are attacking humans more and more, because they are hungry and have no other prey to stalk.
      I wish all people cared for the life this planet has, that animals would not be abused, that logging would stop. I wish people would take time out of their day and be thankful for what Earth has given all; that even though trees and animals cannot speak our language, they can feel pain and fear and what is happening to our planet is killing off everything we take for granted.

    • Killing another life simply, as you put, “because we can” seems to me expressive of the worst potential in human nature. I appreciate your personal integrity in having conversations about values with these hunters.
      I am just wondering what would happen to your conversation if you stressed the points of honor here. Since they seem taken with asserting their domination over other lives, you might just ask them what honor they find in this (not in a derogatory way, but as one really interested in the answer)–and then you might share what you find honor in in your own life (not in a way that says you feel morally superior, but in one who is authentically sharing). I am not sure this would be worthwhile or the conversation would go anywhere from there– but it might be interesting to see if you can find something in common with these (I presume) men.
      Such commonality is, after all, the basis of all communication–and there is also a point, I know, when further attempts at communication may be a waste of time.

  87. The notion of “domesticating” an animal bothers me on so many levels. We have domesticated cats and dogs now. They are grossly overpopulated and cannot fend for themselves because of human intervention in their evolution. The wholly depend on us for survival, yet we dump them at high kill shelters or look at them as a temporary pleasure — a toy. When they are no longer kittens or puppies and we see they are a creature that needs love, boundaries, development, we rid ourselves of them in the cruelest ways. Animal torturers dominate the weaker species, executing them in horrific ways (a key trait in many serial killers and rapists).

    We did this, though. This is humankind’s responsibility. These animals shouldn’t have to pay for what humans did to them. The United States alone executes 3-4 MILLION cats and dogs annually (a note to those who buy or bought their dogs from breeders, an estimated 25% of those dogs are purebreds; get your purebred dogs from a shelter or rescue, I implore you — don’t breed or buy while shelter pets die).

    We have to care for these animals for eternity after turning them into the dependent little creatures they are. We shouldn’t look at domesticated animals as “pets” per se, although that is a hard noun to get away from. We should look at them as life-long companies. As you noted, Dr. Holden, “domestication in its root means to bring something into our home with us: to make it a part of our family” — make a homeless animal a part of your family. It is our responsibility, as the successors to those who created this problem, to take care of it.

    I say all of this as I sit here with four sleeping pets scattered about my apartment. Two cats, one found in a mailbox at three weeks old, lay by my side on the sofa. My two dogs are curled up in a little tiny bed (the bed meant for the chihuahua, but that my blue heeler-mix insists on trying to fit into). These four little fuzzy lovers fill my soul with happiness and laughter. They nourish my heart when I have bad days and I look at each one of them as I would a child. They each have individual little souls and personalities. They each simply want love, fun, and life. We, as a species, need to be caring for the animals our kind have domesticated including making them a part of our families (and spaying/neutering above and beyond all). Caring for the earth and its inhabitants is caring for ourselves, too. Why is that so hard for so much of our species to understand and adopt into their lifestyles?

    • It is tragic that some of us abuse our human power by abusing other creatures. I agree with you in the kind of “domestication” that says we can turn animals into objects for our own uses. What about the root of the word “domesticate” that means to bring into our household and make part of our family. I see this as a better alternative to the idea of domestication that indicates we have put its wild nature under our own control.
      Seems to me that with animals like your cats and dogs, we are domesticating one another– there is botanical work that indicates plants domesticated humans (got them to work for them) as much as humans domesticated them. What more powerful gift than “nourishing our hearts” as your fellow creatures do for you?

  88. My father before his death, tried many times to break a horse he had, but the animal wouldn’t have it. She refused to jump streams or go in the direction my dad generally wanted to go. My mother on the other hand had a very easy time with the Appaloosa. The horse would jump streams and go where ever my mother wanted. Unfortunately, after my dad died, all of the wonderful animals we had were sold. I don’t think my mother understood the relationship I may have had with animals, but what I didn’t understand was the responsibility she would have had in caring for them.

    Your example of how the Indians could ride without bridles or saddles is not uncommon when people have a relationship with animals that goes below the surface. There are many stories of animals saving human lives, of zoo keepers having special relationships with the animals under there care, and more.

    We should all be so lucky to have a grandmother like Susan Riley’s to impart a sensitivity for the natural world.

    • Indeed, Dwayne– or so fortunate to have an animal teacher as this mare was to me.
      Given the partnership (including as shaman or spirit animals) that many indigenous peoples and others have had with animals, I very must like an alternative idea of domestication– that might mean bringing these creatures into our family rather than domestication as control or taking the wildness out of another life.
      Thanks for your comment. It is interesting how, in this culture, sensitivity or lack thereof to other creatures is divided along lines of our cultural definitions of masculinity and femininity– which you have noted elsewhere on this forum that you do not fall into.

      • I hold both sides of my personality and psychology in great esteem – the masculine and the feminine. However, I am much more in touch with the feminine aspects of gentleness, nurturing, and compassion. I see no reason whatsoever to treat animals, plants, the land or each other in any other way.

    • I strongly believe that animals have a “sixth sense” they can sense when some one is good and when some one is bad. I believe that it is important for humans to have a relationship with their animal, for if there is no relationship, there is no mutual understanding of what is desired of one another, thus causing conflict that could end badly.
      I recently watched “Water for Elephants” and in it there is an elephant that needed to me trained for the circus. When the animal was told a command by the ring leader, it did not obey because it sensed he was a bad man (aside from the fact that it did not understand english commands), yet when the circus veterinarian, a man that loved and cared for all animals, approached the elephant sensed his compassion and obeyed.

      • Is this a fictional film (shows how much I am up on such things) with a lesson or a documentary?
        I am not sure if animals know whether one is “good” or “bad”– those terms seem too human and culturally gauged to me– but I do think they can perceive if another is a danger to them, or is trying to communicate with them– sometimes. I would not relay on this all the time with creatures with whom one has not developed an intimate relationship.

  89. This essay just emphasis points from all of our reading so far. We must respect the land and its animals and they will in turn protect us, feed us, clothe us, shelter us and heal us. Like the essay states, if we try to break or control something for our personal use, it will only come back to bite us in the butt. Like the mare example in this essay, the salmon depletion in the 1800’s, the mass extinction of many species from overharvest, the threats of global warming caused by pollutants from our technologies and world-wide famine from gluttony and over population. Like the Indian man who worked so hard for a horse and treated the horse as an equal, if we work hard for the earth and treat it as an equal it will come back to us; otherwise it will lead its own path and own life, away from ours. I think there is a very important point made early on in this essay. “Domestication does not merely shape our consciousness. It is about the relationship between human consciousness and other natural life.” We must domesticate and adapt ourselves to ever-changing situations.

  90. I was touched by this piece, and a little sad for the loss of the mare, because I have known different manners of horse people: those who treated their equine companions as friends and those who considered them as tools for winning competitions.

    One of my co-workers and best friends in high school joined and abruptly quit the equestrian team during our junior year because of how the other females treated their horses. She said they were too mean to them for her to want to be around the girls, and that she would rather learn on her own than in that kind of a ‘team’ environment. I appreciated her decision then, but even more so after I came in contact with more breeders, managers and owners. The respect and consideration exampled here is something that many of us can learn from and hopefully at times emulate.

    • its sad that people can take things we love to do and make turn it into a bad thing. I am happy to hear that there are people out there who do not put up with things they deem wrong and that she still pursued her passion.

  91. My girlfriend’s family had a Beagle. No matter what they did this dog would runaway every chance it got. He would disappear and would only come back home when it was exhausted and starving or was caught by the dog catcher. My girlfriend’s father was going to get rid of the dog if it ran away again. My girlfriend was upset. So we asked the vet if there was anything that could be done to stop the dog from running away so much. My vet suggested that the dog was lacking exercise and would stop running away so much if it was given regular exercise. We started walking the dog 3 miles daily. The dog stopped running away. I think that people look at animals as property and do not realize that they have wants and needs as well.

    • This is an interesting story and is certainly heading down the correct path. Once again, this touches on the concept of truly domesticating your animals and plants, not just owning them. Dogs should be treated as an actual part of the family, not some piece of property. Good work walking the dog and finding a positive solution to the issue!

    • David is quite right in the fact that many view plants and animals as property of an inanimate nature rather than living beings. Walking the dog and giving him exercise seems like the obvious cure, but one many sadly wouldn’t think of first. No offense to you of course, but I’m sure it was a moment of enlightenment to see how well the dog responded. As dogs are of course a part of nature, they can’t be easily controlled either even though we may consider them ‘domesticated’.

    • This makes me think of those little lap dogs that people dress up and carry around. It’s funny how we have bread animals with docile traits that we like in order to have more control over them. I’m glad that walking the dog more was the solution. I use to have a husky that loved to run. We had to walk her several miles every day or else she would get very restless also. I think that a lot of times people don’t think about the needs of animals that they own. They think of them as something that they wanted for companionship, but don’t think about the responsibilities and things they will have to change in their lives to meet the needs of their pets. I’m glad the answer to this solution wasn’t a shock collar for an invisible fence.

      • It is true that most offenses of dogs living among humans in urban areas are the result of lack of training or care by humans rather than the responsibility of the dogs themselves.

  92. Respect, kindness, understanding, 2 way communication. These are all themes we need to address. These ideas of cooperation with animals and plants, agriculture and livestock, are gaining scientific backing. This is good, because with all the sickness tied up with our current practices and our insistence to use science as our primary tool, with technology, we need science to prove ideas that Natives (along with a few non-Natives) have known for centuries.

    • I think you are right that respect, kindness, and understanding might well be applied to other creatures as well as other humans, Amy. I do think some scientists use these values in their dealings with the natural world.

      • I understand that individuals in science have respect and kindness, but I don’t think it’s part of the scientific method. And, many of the individuals who are doing research and working hard to preserve species, the health of the environment and cultivate understanding and knowledge for the public consumption, practice methods that are invasive and torturous, I think. Tagging and gathering data can be very painful and terrifying to creatures (being tranquilized, having stomach pumped, having a device stapled to the body…). To me, that is not kind or respectful. I used to kayak at the Elk Horn Slough where I would see young harbor seals with fist-sized metal boxes attached to their heads with antenna sinking out. I don’t know what they were researching, I just know it’s wrong.

    • To me it boils down not so much that things like cooperation need scientific backing–but that scientists (and their society) who have such values as you list produce a broader and more solid type of science.

  93. This essay was full of goodness that I really enjoyed reading. The story about the mare at the beginning and how it could do anything if asked right and not just expected to because of money was such a wonderful thing. I also agree that when humans mess with nature, cow milking or plants growing, by using technological advancements, it can sometimes go completely wrong. This could mean the introduction of new invasive species or new contagious diseases. I also think the concept of domesticating plants and animals to be a part of the family is a great idea. The story of your student’s grandma was an excellent example of this.

  94. We humans incorrectly think that to be safe and happy we must be in ‘control’, that this ‘control’ provides the sense of security we seek. How have we missed the point that a mutual relationship provides the same level of security? We have become a cynical and distrustful lot and points to the types of relationships we’ve denigrated toward today. We need more cooperation and less fighting for control among the environment and animals, both human and otherwise.

    Technology is meant to make life easier for us, to enable us to accomplish things that would be otherwise impossible. But, while technology was meant to help, some view “helping” as causing harm to others, whether its humans, or plants or animals. This technology truly is a nightmare, and it seems we’ve been having more nightmares lately than dreams.

    • At least we humans in this day and age and culture feel we must be in control in order to be, as you indicate, “safe and happy”– but I also want to ask why we don’t feel safe and happy already– and one thing I would come down to is the meetings between corporate execs several decades ago in which they decided that they could sell more products to an unhappy populace and began to gear their ads to inducting insecurity. (See Stuart Ewen’s books on this history).

  95. I have another mother who is something of a saint to me. Although she didn’t birth me she will tell everyone she knows that I am just as much her child as her own flesh and blood are. For a time, she was even married to my dad although we both have to admit in hindsight, that was doomed to fail. Anyway, like Susan Riley’s grandmother, my step-mother Naomi knew a thing or two about life. When I met Naomi as a troubled teenager she didn’t manhandle me like every other adult had. What she did was turn over her back yard to me and taught me how to grow things. She could tell in an instant if I was upset about something and she would tell me, “Justin, go stick your hands in the dirt outside and work on those flowers over there. The Earth has a way of working with us on our problems. Talk it out with those plants and you’ll feel better.” And talk I did! Morning, noon, and night. That garden came to feel like an extention of my own body. I can honestly say now looking back that her philosophy shaped my life and tempered and diffused the chaos that was in my life. Any her yard? My God, how that little patch of dirt in Arizona overflowed with the most beautiful plants you had ever seen.

    Seasons of life have come and gone but the lessons learned in that garden by a wise and caring woman helped shape me to be the kind of husband and father I am today. Thanks Naomi! Love you!

    • Thanks for sharing a few of the gifts Naomi passed on to you, Justin. I am touched by your comment– can you relate what part of this essay might have inspired this response? Are you connecting the healing that flows from having our hands in the earth with the ways in which more than human life might teach and heal us?

    • What a wonderful story you shared with us, Justin. Your story about the garden reminds me of a documentary I once watched called “How to Cook Your Life.” Zen Master Edward Espe Brown shares how cooking works on us as individuals. When we cook with food that is given to us by the earth, we cannot force and manipulate it without it having profound effects on us and others. When we dominate the food, it causes frustration and disappointment within us. Our thoughts about cooking can be observed in how we treat ourselves and others. When we see the food as having spirit, we treat it with compassion and partner with it to produce something extraordinary. When we don’t have respect for it, it does not cooperate. In the same way, your garden worked on you and partnered with you to produce something beautiful. What a blessing to have someone such as Naomi in your life!

      • A pointed analogy about cooking and domination, Staci. And it parallels the idea that we can only “tame” (process) food by taking the life out of it– that is, making it relatively pointless to consume, at least from a nutritional viewpoint.
        What a wonderful idea to cook (and eat!) with this in mind!

    • I had foster kids living with me for several years. Both were born addicted to drugs and had severe mental difficulties to overcome. My foster son had fetal alcohol syndrome as well and struggled to relate and express his feelings and emotions. Often, when he had done something wrong his “discipline” was to go to his room, taking one or both dogs, and talk to the dogs about his feelings and what happened. Of course the dogs loved the attention and snuggling on the bed. Over time I could see a big break though, and when he struggled to tell me things he would get the dog and lay on the floor with the dog and then could tell the dog what was going on, while I listened.

      You were taught to talk to the plants and it helped. My foster son talked to the dogs and that helped him. I think having a connection that cannot judge us is very important.

      • How wonderful that you gave your foster son this occasion to learn to handle and communicate his feelings. I think there is a inspiring model here in the way that more than human lives can heal inherited human abuse–and there are solid reasons why many cultures saw us as becoming human by learning from more than human lives.

  96. I never knew where the term nightmares came from, that’s really interesting. One of my cousins loved horses growing up; she would ride all the time. When she got older she wanted to go into training horses. When she started taking classes on training she couldn’t handle how cruel the process was to train a horse, she just couldn’t do that to a horse. They would break their spirit down to get them to follow what you said. She ended up quitting and never became a horse trainer. In the essay I liked how the writer road the horse with such ease by not fighting it but by letter her body move with the horses, they moved together as one.
    I really loved the line “One Indian man explained that if the horse came back after he turned it loose, that was great-and if it didn’t- well, it had a life of its own.” Such a different thinking than how we act now. It reminds me of my dog that passed away a little over a year ago. She was a Siberian husky and loved to run. We kept her in our fenced backyard when we went to work, but sometimes she would get out. We would get a call from someone who found her, but more often than not we would return home from work to find her sitting by the front door. I often worried about her getting hit by a car, or being taken by someone, but I knew at the end of the day if she could she would return home. We had a respect for each other, I was her friend not her owner.

    • I am sorry that your sister was not able to pursue her dream of training horses– there are some arenas in which her methods and feelings might have been accepted, but there is still too much of the domination approach.
      I think that more than human animals become our teachers when we allow them to, though I should also say I have seen irresponsible owners let their dogs run in a wildlife refuge and chase deer and birds. Not the dogs’ fault but their humans.

    • I too really liked the sentence: “One Indian man explained that if the horse came back after he turned it loose, that was great-and if it didn’t- well, it had a life of its own.” For me it conveyed an image of true friendship and happiness. To wake up every morning and look out the window to see if the horse came back for another adventure or ride would make me so happy. And I would consider the horse the truest of friends. I love the image.

      I am sorry to hear about your husky passing a way but enjoyed your story of friendship. It always fills me with great amazement that animals know how to get back to their home often so effortlessly. I seem to get lost all the time!

      • I want to share my condolences about the husky– thanks for sharing this with your classmate here, Michelle. Rupert Sheldrake has a fascinating book called, Dogs Who Know when their Owners are Coming Home– the section on confirmed incidences of pets finding their way back to their people under seemingly impossible circumstances is pretty amazing.

  97. I have a great love of history and mythology and knowing where everything came from because everything even the tree outside in my front yard has a story to be told. I had never come across where the term nightmare came from and found that quite interesting. Like much of mythology the place where many terms come from might have to do with something entirely different than what the term is used for. I have always found that the better you treat the things around you the better they will treat you, whether that be animals, plants, or even people themselves. When I first started reading this, the part about the horses brought back a old memory. When I was in sixth grade I went with a friend out to her fathers for a week. His home was on his bosses property because his job was to care for the property and the animals on it. It was a farm. Now, I have quite a love for animals, especially horses and there just so happen to be three horses on this property. I was beside myself with excitement but her father was quick to tell us to leave the Arabian alone because she was ill tempered and didn’t like anyone. Well being only around twelve the first thing I did was go and try and find the Arabian. Oh, she was beautiful. She was a warm reddish brown all over with a black tail and mane. When I first approached her she seemed very unsure of me and stomped her front hooves a bit, so I went and got an apple to try and gain her trust. I’m not sure if it was that I was a child or that I didn’t try and make her do anything but we became the best of friends. My friends father said he had never seen her take to anyone and she always tried to bite everyone. She not only let me brush her but bath her. She also constantly would kneel down and nudge me with her head like she was trying to get me to get on her back. She was a magnificent horse to say the least. Like the essay said maybe she just needed someone to stop and listen and care for her instead of try and own and dominate her.

    • Thanks for sharing your personal story, Adina. Arabians tend to be very skittish as a breed–and can react strongly to being mishandled. There is much we have to learn from our more than human kin!

  98. While I have never had horses, I have always had labrador retrievers. My black lab was a guide dog drop out, in other words, he was perfectly trained but not very well behaved and was not chosen to lead a blind person through life (and instead he got to live with me). My yellow lab I picked up on Sauvie Island as a puppy. While my black lab had endured extensive training to be someones eyes and keep them safe, my yellow lab had grown up sleeping on the couch and greeting people at the door. My black lab had been trained to sit and wait at every stop light until it was safe to cross the street and would drag me up onto the sidewalk if I started to walk into the street. At the same time, my yellow lab would pull ahead and play tug of war with the leash. At the end of the day, both dogs found a cozy spot to snooze and dream of sheep, but I couldn’t help but notice how distinctly different they were from one another based on their training, roles and responsibilities. Either one of them may be capable of flying off the wall and eating socks, or not begging at the table, but instead sitting perfectly still, they assumed completely different roles. While there are some days that I wish my yellow lab could just sit still for one minute and not drool at the table, and that my black lab could be a little more care free, both show that domestication can come in many different forms, but just be careful what you wish for.

    • Delightful comparisons between these creatures– and not only their training, but the way it seems to be expressed in their personalities. They have obviously found the home where they belong with you!

    • I think it’s great that your dogs are so obviously happy with you! I’m sure that their personalities come into play, as well as their training. After reading your descriptions of them, I hope that you don’t take both of them for walks at the same time. I can see you reaching a crosswalk and having both dogs react completely differently. You’d be pulled off the sidewalk by one dog and pushed back by the other!

  99. One of the things that struck me about this article was the description of your interaction with the mare, whose job it was to socialize others in their wild herds. I completely agree that it is foolish to assume that any creature is at our service just because we purchase them, just as it is foolish to believe that we can train them to be more than thousands of years of developed instincts and nature. What a ridiculous notion that we can dominate/conquer nature to project our vision of what it should be! This got me thinking about instances when we have attempted this, with various amounts of success; dogs, pet dogs specifically, offer an immediate example of this. While we have ‘domesticated’ dogs, bred them to become “part of the family”, there are many who treat dogs like a lesser second cousin you talk to between TV shows and walk only on sunny days. I volunteered at an animal shelter (until I realized that I couldn’t adopt all of them) and have adopted many dogs and cats throughout the years. While you can train animals (all of my animals, cats and dogs, are leash trained and do tricks), they are still animals with minds and hearts of their own.
    I was also really struck by Susan’s comment, for her Grandmother sounds a lot like mine! We tease my Tutu (my Grandmother) that her yellow roses will take over the world! They were planted from a small cutting of her mother’s funeral wreath. Every year, we cut them back hard, but by every summer the bush is at least 6 feet tall! I inherited my love of gardening from her. I think that it is an amazing opportunity to care for the Earth and connect with it!

    • I very much like the way you put this: that we think we can (in our foolhardiness) “train/domesticate” other creatures to “protect our vision of what it should be”. Certainly, demanding of other lives of any species that they fulfill our vision is a dangerous condition ripe for abuse (just as a parent tries to “train” a child to follow the parent’s vision or a man tries to get a woman to do the same– one of the reasons underlying the fact that one in three women are abused in the US today, I think). Whenever we relate to others according to our vision of what they should be, that relationship is undermined–and if we also have physical power over that other, the potential for violence and abuse is tragic.
      You inherited quite a gift from your grandmother in the love of gardening!

  100. I enjoyed reading about this mare and her resistance to being “manhandled.” Despite being a “domesticated” animal, she is still a living, breathing, thinking creature who deserves kindness and respect. She’s not a toy, nor a machine, and she should not be treated that way.

    A few days ago, I watched an episode of the TV show, Nova, that explored the intelligence of animals. One of the researchers has shown that if you hide a treat under one of two (or more) cups and point to the correct cup while being watched by the subject animal, not all animals will get the hint that there’s something under that cup. They noticed that chimps and bonobos will ignore the human’s pointing, while domesticated dogs pay very close attention to it. The chimps and bonobos, despite being very close to us genetically, don’t really seem to care about doing what we expect of them. The dogs, on the other hand, seem to look to us as important to them, and they find the hidden treats much more often than did the primates.

    Later in the show, they introduced a border collie that had a huge collection of stuffed toys. His owner, a psychologist, had labeled each and every toy with a name, and he taught the dog those names whenever he brought home a new toy. There were over 1,000 toys! The host of the show, Dr. Neil deGrasse Tyson, randomly selected a group of toys and asked the dog to retrieve the toys from behind a couch. The dog selected the proper toy each and every time. A new toy was brought in and added to the pile of toys behind the couch; this new toy did not have a name and was not shown to the dog beforehand. Dr. deGrasse Tyson asked the dog to retrieve a few of his familiar toys, then he requested that the dog bring him the new toy. The dog was confused and took a long time studying the toys behind the couch, even coming back to Dr. deGrasse Tyson to be reminded of the name. After more study, the dog picked up the new toy and brought it to Dr. deGrasse Tyson. The dog correctly figured out that since he didn’t recognize the new name, and he didn’t recognize the new toy, that the new name and the new toy must go together. It’s amazing how little we know about how animals think!

    Animals are treated in many different ways in our society. Many are treated as beloved pets, while others are treated as nothing more than meat waiting to be slaughtered. I think our world would be a much better place if we treated all of them with more compassion and respect.

    • Thanks for sharing the story of the utterly remarkable intelligence of this dog, Roxanne! There is much intelligence in our fellow creatures that we ourselves could learn from in the capacity to listen to others.

  101. I feel like it should be obvious that relationships are better if they are based on respect rather than dominance and fear, that no being likes to be manhandled, but it’s not, especially with animals. I tell myself it comes from ignorance, but that doesn’t make me feel better when I see the way some people treat their pets. And every time I read Black Beauty with my nieces and nephews it breaks my heart.

    No one truly owns another being, although some religious doctrines assume dominion over all non-human creatures. People and animals stay if they are respected and treated well or because they are trapped and fearful. The Nez Perce were able to leave loose the horses they rode because they treated those horses as they treated the land. The Nez Perce were not owners, but borrowers – temporarily allowed use if so graced.

    Cooperation between indigenous peoples and the environment is a natural part of life. In the Western world we are still trying to harness the world for human use. We make short-sighted decisions (or in the present season avoid decisions altogether because we might lose an election), many based on money or a need for immediate satisfaction.

    I hope we continue to have people like Barbara McClintock who go against Western trends and that someday there are enough that they become the majority.

    • Good point about the nature of relationships. I guess we can conclude that those who are looking for control are not very concerned about the quality of the relationships with whatever it is they wish to control.
      I am heartened by work like McClintock’s–and I see more of it, if for no other reason, that it makes good science.

    • Have you ever watched animal planet? It makes me sad every time I see an animal mistreated. I definitely agree with you when you say the dominance and fear lead to ignorance that is harmful to our world. We must create a partnership and be willing to learn from others. There has to be a dual relationship. Where we can share our wisdom of technology and people native to this country can share their relationship with nature.

      • How does this connect with your “its science” (and we are stuck with it?) response on animal experimentation in your comment on the “Mice in the Sink”?
        Is there a way we might think more about the ethics AND some of our current scientific projects.
        And actually, consumer pressure against certain types of animal experimentation on cosmetic products got a number of them to create alternatives–and to develop standards for “cruelty free” products, so we are not quite constrained only to do things the way we currently do.

  102. I was very interested by the story of the “nightmare”. I had no idea that the term had originated with this story. This story is a great example that all nature is not meant to be domesticated. This is true in both animals and plants.

    Today, many plants are becoming domesticated. They are being genetically modified to become more profitable to those selling the seeds and product. The use of these seeds is another attempt for humans to control nature. Unfortunately, we are unaware of the natural ramifications that the use these seeds might present. By domesticating and using these seeds we are introducing a potentially hazardous situation. I think it would be better to stick the plain old natural version of the seeds and plants.

    • Would you say that there is some form of domestication (that is, bringing into our family households) that IS acceptable as opposed to the kind based on controlling other lives?

      • I would say that bringing plants into our households and incorporating them into our lives is acceptable. However, I find it unacceptable to grow and use genetically modified plants. I feel that it would be beneficial to better understand the potential ramifications of them before supporting such a product.

        • I am certainly with you on the issue of genetically engineered plants– the essay here on why genetically engineered plants can’t feed the world touches on some of the problems with this technology.

  103. As you talk about the horse who listened to you because you understood that it was not you that made the horse tame but the horse who had the ability to be tame, reminds me of a dog that I had to leave at home when I left town. While I understand that a horse and a dog cannot be compared in a perfect distinction, the idea can. This dog has been long treated like he was a “pit bull” he was supposed to be an aggressive dog who hated every stranger that walked in the door. But it was my belief that this dog only acted the way he did toward the owners that taught him this. Your example of the horse and his owners manhandling him, I think demonstrates the same idea of mine with this dog. He is indeed a pit-bull but since he has came to live with me (in my hometown) he has since became a different dog. I do not believe though, that it is my doing. It is the dog knowing and understanding that he is safe and therefore does not have to be on constant guard… which might be the same feelings of the story of that horse in your blog.

  104. I completely agree that animals act upon and respond to their feelings just as humans do. I certainly act different in situations in which I am frightened and uneasy then I do when I feel safe. I too become a different person in these vastly different situations.

  105. This article explains how to ride a horse “Indian style” with no bridle or reins. I grew up riding like this. My mother once said “anyone can ride with a saddle and reins but a good rider reads the horse.” I’ve never forgotten this, and can remember my brother and me taking off at a full run through the orchards and fields holding onto nothing by the mane. As I got older I lost this confidence and wanted the convenience and trust of being able to control my horse. I don’t ride now, but when I lived in Oregon I had three horses and a donkey, all rescues. My mustang came to me at 3 years of age and had never been worked with. It took me 7 months (I wasn’t really trying) to form a bond with him that later allowed me to train him. Together we would play in the driveway, no ropes, halters or containment at all. If he wanted, he could have run to another county. The day I rode him through the back of my property and up into the mountains was awe inspiring, since I knew this was an animal that trusted me, and I trusted him. At no time did I need to “force” anything upon him, as he went willingly. One time while snowy and icy, I slipped breaking several ribs and sliding under him. He stood perfectly still and allowed me to pull myself up, steadying myself by holding onto him, and then carefully walked me to the gravel area without ice. I was in bad shape and struggling to breathe. Without tethering him he stood by me until a friend arrived to help me, then calmly walked back into his pasture and waited for the gait to be closed. The following winter I had someone cut my fence and spook all my horses (donkey included) to the far side of the mountain. Thankfully I had a friend who knew how to track through frozen ground. After four hours and five miles, I found my mustang who found me. His reaction was as if he had gotten lost and couldn’t find his way home, and showered me with affection. With four animals, two being “difficult,” I struggled to try and catch, contain and lead them all home. I said a prayer and whispered my usual words to my mustang, and we all went home, the wild one and donkey in the lead with me following with the old mare and retired race horse. For me, this is an example of building trust and collaboration and seeing the benefits are far greater than any domination could have ever produced.

  106. (new)

    I have never lived on a farm or had farm animals, all though one day I would love to have chickens, a horse and maybe a cow or goat, but I have always had cats. I love my cats and my friends always refer to me as the one who will become the “crazy old lady with a bunch of cats”. I laugh at this as it doesn’t bother me. I consider my cats as part of the family, they are as much my children as my children are. I have a soft spot for animals, always have especially those which we have “domesticated”. I hate seeing them mistreated, abused, neglected and unloved. We have brought them into our lives to be our companions yet so many feel they can discard them at a whim if it doesn’t suit them or their new lifestyle. My feline friends are always there for me with a purr and snuggle with no judgements! Just love.
    I think the idea of domestication has gotten twisted to suit the capitalistic view of ownership and wealth. I like the indigenous idea better, they have a life of their own too. We are just partners sharing our lives in this world.

  107. This is a story that is all too familiar. The idea of using something other than what it is meant for, like with the horses, or pushing it to be something that it is not. We do not understand animals completely and tend to take a dominating role in their training. We want animals as pets and we want them to do whatever it is that we ask from them. We can train them, to behave better or worse, and have the ability to earn their trust. But it is how we reciprocate the relationship that ultimately matters.

    My dog was extremely abused as a puppy and it has taken years for him to build up a trust between us. I think it is unnatural to believe that I know how my dog feels, but they have incredibly strong behaviors that show personalities. The best thing for my dog is to be with other animals. He seems to enjoy dog parks where he can literally just be himself, and not have to “sit, lay down, or stay.” This might be the only time my dog is actually allowed to be just a dog and not a pet. It took a while but the reciprocity he shows in exchange for being fed twice a day, with three hour long walks is that of protection. He shows this protection to me, my boyfriend and our daughter. He guards our house when we leave and guards us when he is allowed to come with. Some of that may be his breed but we treat him with more respect and affection than anyone else would be able to give him.

    I truly believe that relationships between humans and animals must have a reciprocal method. We gain so much from their companionship and we should be able to give that back to them.

    • Thanks for sharing the story (and healing) of your formerly abused dog, Jamie. Obviously he has found the place he belongs now–and it’s great he has a time and place to be “just a dog”– I’ll bet it’s fun to watch too!

  108. With this statement, “why should we call our bad dreams nightmares?”, and the story to follow I am reminded of a children’s book by Lois Lowry entitled Gossamer. The premise regards a small spirit who comes into the house at night and with a gossamer’s touch she collects memories by touching things around the house and then giving the memories back to the people sleeping – the spirit is the one who offers you a dream. However, a spirit can turn into a Sinisteed, a nightmare, a black demon-like horse with, I believe, horns and it blows fire, which is how it gets into the house by stampeding through the walls and leaving a scorching residue where it burned a hole. The idea is that a spirit who becomes too consumed with human memories and the emotions that come with those memories will turn into the Sinisteed. As all Lois Lowry books are, it is a brilliant story. To answer your above question, I believe she would say we call our bad dreams nightmares because of the steeds that come powering through the night consumed by the memories that inflict pain. Not so much different than Robert Graves’ story.

    • I had not heard of this (I take it?) writer of children’s books.
      I will keep an eye out for them– what age group? Not that much different from Grave’s–and I do want to stress that this idea of “nightmare” was not Grave’s “story”, but his recording of a bit of folklore– that is, oral tradition commonly circulated in the British Isles. This story belonged to the community rather than an individual author– which makes it all the more telling in arising from our culture and our “domestication”.

    • I love Lois Lowry and have been meaning to read Number the Stars with my daughter for some time. Thanks for inspiring me to read Gossamer as well.

  109. This makes me think that perhaps the word domestication has been confused for domination. It is nice to see the real meaning as being bringing something into our home and making it part of our family. This article also makes me think of some of the now popular shows for animal training. People are asking for advice on how to train their animals, dogs and cats in particular, and many times in the shows there is an educational piece that explains the animals behavior and that when the people learn how to work with the behavior with an understanding behind it they are able to have a much better relationship with their animals. I really like the idea of learning to domesticate with integrity.

  110. Coincidentally, I happened to watch a documentary with my daughter over the weekend called “Buck.” Buck was one of three men who influenced the author of The Horse Whisperer. He became an adviser to Robert Redford during the filming of the movie and also appeared as his stunt double. As a young boy, Buck was abused by his father and says he found safety and companionship with horses. What has long been referred to as “breaking” a horse, he calls “colt starting.” I think this documentary exemplifies what it means for humans to have kinship with animals. Buck talks about cultivating awareness both in the horse and the human so that there is no need for control or intimidation. He says that every move you make with a horse is made up of a perfect position of balance that takes no energy from the horse. When a rider is sensitive and vulnerable, there is openness to the subtle changes in the horse. That is when the energy that moves the horse is about the mental and emotional connections rather than the physical manipulations by the rider. I thought of what you wrote about being able to let the reins slack as your horse read your body. I imagine what that dance must have looked like, the moving of energy back and forth between you and your horse. When you are sharing energy with another being rather than stealing it by being controlling or intimidating, there’s no need for that being to protect itself. I hope the man in your story eventually understood that the mare was only mirroring his own inability to be worthy of trust. Even in domesticating animals, there is an opportunity for us to do so in a dignified, respectful, manner in which we become partners that rely on one another.

  111. The story of the horse reminded me of the powerful forces in nature and how we can learn from them. I did some personal therapy with horses that had to do with my victimization from men. On the horse, which was larger and more powerful than I, trust had to be formed between us. I was not allowed to use reins as I was not suppose to control the horse but coexist with it and not be fearful of it’s strength. The horse I rode was so gentle with me. I allowed myself to let go and feel her power and I gained strength in my ability to release the control I felt I needed. The connection between myself and the horse was intended to teach me that I could trust again. The nonjudgemental and cooperative way in which we interacted, gave me strength to believe in myself and the ability to trust men again. This is a link to a program similar to what I did in and the help for those that suffer from PTSD.


    • Thanks for sharing this with us, Mary Ellen. What a gift this horse gave you– for me, I also felt the sense of physical power in partnering with a 2000 pound creature– in a very different way than in controlling or manipulating.

  112. This was an amazing article that spoke to my heart. The excerpt about the orchard farmer who spoke to his trees and how the orchard was a living soul and recollection of experience is amazing. It made me remember a church I used to drive by that had an enormous tree on its property. The tree had to have been more than 200 years old. Every time I saw that tree I thought of what it had seen and witnessed. What events had brushed it’s bark, what storms tore its leaves, who leaned against it, kissed under it, cried beneath its branches. It was a living story. One day I drove by and it had been cut down because it was in the way of a new construction process. I was overcome with sadness that in such a short space of time, probably a few hours, a 200 year old life had been taken. How could we possibly understand the magnitude of that action. Our lifespan is so short in terms of that tree and without a second thought decades of survival had been cut off violently. I have often wondered what new building or road was so vital that this tree “had to go”. Where is the tree’s eulogy?

    • What a lovely depiction of the experience of this tree over time, Lindsay. Such grand old trees have much to teach us about being present in our own lives. It is sad indeed that it “had to go”– our lifespan is indeed so short compared to that of a 200 year old tree–and it seems we could use a bit of such perspective as we make choices that exhibit the wisdom of our past and responsibility to those who will follow us.

  113. I have an old bulldog who is very stubborn and set in her ways. When she doesn’t want to do something it is very difficult to get her to do it. My husband deals with her stubborness with domination, standing over her with a stern loud voice telling her what she needs to do. Needless to say this has NEVER worked. I admit she can frustrate me as well but I notice EVERY time I respectfully and positively ask her to follow a direction she does it with ease and pleasure. It may take a little time but in the end we both end up happy. My husband usually doesn’t even try to get her to listen to him any more, he just asks me to get her to follow directions. The great lesson I have learned is that animals are identical to people in this way. When a child feels respect and love, they are more likely to want to do what is right for the right reasons not based off of fear but from a mutual respect and love.

    • Delightful example of the lesson this dog taught, Jessica! And I think there is some credit due your husband in the authority he has relinquished to you in dealing with her.
      Thanks for sharing this here.

    • I liked your story Jessica. Animals are actually good listeners in their own way. Sometimes I think they know what we are feeling better than we do ourselves. If I am worried or concentrating on something difficult I will often find that a cat has crawled into my lap. They don’t know the why of our emotions, but they can still understand that we are feeling them. Perhaps that is more important than the why.

      • It sounds like your cats are great study aids for you, Lindsay! Empathy with our feelings does indeed seem more important than any rational description of why we are feeling them.

      • My cat does this too! Something I learned recently about cats and their “purr” is that when they are injured, they will purr to help heal their injury – the vibration encourages knitting together of muscle fibers, greater blood flow, etc. I always think that when I’m having a bad day, and my cat comes and lays on me and purrs, he is trying to heal me! With my cat, I have a Maine Coon (didn’t know that when I adopted him from the shelter as a kitten), that is a LOT of cat purring on you (he’s about 23 pounds now and the Vet says he has a bit of growing to do still)!

      • Anna,

        I love your story! I think pets definitely know when we need some healing.

  114. This was a wonderful story about the relationship between man and nature. As I read this I began to recollect childhood memories of my grandmothers garden, a favorite pet, and the tree I planted at age 6. I spent a lot of time outside and learned at a young age to welcome all changes in weather, temperature and best made plans. This created a mutual respect between myself and my encounters with animals and the outdoors. It makes perfect sense that in order to thrive together on this planet, there must be balance and respect between humans and nature. How can we not feel a strong sense of gratitude and amazement in the perfect creation of life? Life continues even in the worst conditions and will never cease to amaze me.

    • An obviously heartfelt response, Janae. Thanks for sharing it. How does your stance control with the idea of control in this article? How does anything in the essay support your personal values?

  115. One of the things that struck me about this article was the description of your interaction with the mare, whose job it was to socialize others in their wild herds. I completely agree that it is foolish to assume that any creature is at our service just because we purchase them, just as it is foolish to believe that we can train them to be more than thousands of years of developed instincts and nature. What a ridiculous notion that we can dominate/conquer nature to project our vision of what it should be! This got me thinking about instances when we have attempted this, with various amounts of success; dogs, pet dogs specifically, offer an immediate example of this. While we have ‘domesticated’ dogs, bred them to become “part of the family”, there are many who treat dogs like a lesser second cousin you talk to between TV shows and walk only on sunny days. I volunteered at an animal shelter (until I realized that I couldn’t adopt all of them) and have adopted many dogs and cats throughout the years. While you can train animals (all of my animals, cats and dogs, are leash trained and do tricks), they are still animals with minds and hearts of their own.
    I was also really struck by Susan’s comment, for her Grandmother sounds a lot like mine! We tease my Tutu (my Grandmother) that her yellow roses will take over the world! They were planted from a small cutting of her mother’s funeral wreath. Every year, we cut them back hard, but by every summer the bush is at least 6 feet tall! I inherited my love of gardening from her. I think that it is an amazing opportunity to care for the Earth and connect with it!

    • I very much like the way you put this: that we think we can (in our foolhardiness) “train/domesticate” other creatures to “protect our vision of what it should be”. Certainly, demanding of other lives of any species that they fulfill our vision is a dangerous condition ripe for abuse (just as a parent tries to “train” a child to follow the parent’s vision or a man tries to get a woman to do the same– one of the reasons underlying the fact that one in three women are abused in the US today, I think). Whenever we relate to others according to our vision of what they should be, that relationship is undermined–and if we also have physical power over that other, the potential for violence and abuse is tragic.
      You inherited quite a gift from your grandmother in the love of gardening!

  116. Susan Riley’s endearing memory of her grandmother reminds me of my grandmother as well. My grandmother planted marigolds around the perimeter of the garden she said it kept insects away. Grandma planted marigolds everywhere though. She also was the person that introduced me to the drop of honey in the honeysuckle flower and the yellow flower buds in the clover. And for years I did not quite understand when she told me water is more precious than diamonds and gold. As a child we do not always understand these moments. However, these particular moments were never to leave me as I wanted to understand. She obviously did not want to burden a child with the horrors being done to nature. She knew though, she could at least instill a love for nature into a child. She was an environmentalist in her own right and once told me ‘if I only knew than what I know now.’ I think of that phrase often and it is so true, because the older I get the closer to my earth family I become and I catch myself thinking back to … if I only knew than what I know now. Yes, it is a burden for a child, but a labor of love from our elders.
    As for the western worldview of trying to dominate everything it has been going on a long time. Where this soulless worldview came from only a higher consciousness knows. To some degree we have to stop thinking about it and try to teach by example.

    • Your grandmother’s presence and her teachings were obviously an irreplaceable gift in your life, Debora.

    • Thank you for sharing the story Debora. It sounds as if your grandmother was beautiful person who truely understood the importance of nature and its importanct to us. As our own worldviews change and develop, I too hope that leading by example, talking to others drops little seeds of caring into their minds and they too begin to make changes.

  117. Where I work, at the Chicago Botanic Garden, we recently had an exhibition called Treewhispers. It was discs of recycled paper strung together and each disc had a tree story on it; the story of a tree that has made a difference in your life or has shaped your life in some way, shape or form. This essay reminded me of this exhibition. Throughout the course of the exhibition, I read through most of the tree stories hanging in the hall, in English and in Spanish, from children to elderly adults. It was amazing! It showed the impact trees have on our lives and one of the taglines of the exhibition was “Everyone has a tree story.” So true! Like this essay, that exhibition promoted the idea that trees, and other natural life forms, can provide humans with valid and important lessons about life itself.

    I enjoyed reading about how native peoples “kept” horses, by recognizing their wildness and embracing that. By not keeping them behind fences or using bridles. They were still wild, free beings and the native peoples respected that.

    • What a wonderful exhibit that must have been at the Chicago Botanical Garden, Jillian. I hope someone kept/recorded all those tree stories.
      And as for your last observation, this seems to be something trees can teach us: we can plant and nurture them, but we can’t order them to do our bidding.

    • Reading about how native peoples shared a reciprocity with horses was new to me too. I had watched ‘Dances with Wolves’ many times, but it never occurred to me that the native Indians would ride them without some type of bridle gizmo. It just goes to show that the native Indians could communicate by touch, voice or by slight body movements in asking the horse to do what it wanted. Amazing, yet so normal!

  118. I really enjoyed this essay. There is much truth to the quote about tending the land and how it will shelter us, and how it will teach us the vital processess of life. By sitting back, observing, and caring for the land we can learn so much about it and our own humanity. The land is a magnificent teacher that we should be using to guide our own lives. I think if people only took time to foster this understanding and to create understanding for all living things we could make a better world for all of us. Creating this connection to nature will go very far in creating a a world that is healthier, and happier, for all those in it.

    • Travis, what you say is so true. However, western society has to be re-trained beginning with our children that the natural resources are equal to them and deserve respect. That flora and fauna have intelligence and that they suffer just as humans do. Having this instilled in the children will bring about a new generation of sustainability where stuff is no longer the source of their fulfillment. To have this consciousness, the new generation will look at stuff and think about every process from removal off the earth, to the oil it took to transport it and make it, to the pollution, and to ‘does this really fulfill and sustain me?’ Environmentalism needs to begin at the elementary level I think.

      • Certainly it is important to educate our children to the moral issues regarding their relationship to the natural world– and I think we cannot neglect adults with power to change things quickly as well.
        We are all in this together, all generations of humans as well as all species of plants and animals on our living earth.

    • A powerful and hopeful vision here, Travis. The ways in which the land we care for in turn teachers, heals and shelters us is a profound example of the reciprocal relationships of all life.

  119. It is very interesting to learn the origin of “nightmare.” I also really appreciated the story about your horse. Thanks. You tie all of these various elements together wonderfully here.

    I like your idea of domestication, not as domination but as kinship and integration. Using this concept for human relations to the natural world allows the line to be toed between a finely manicured lawn and an overgrown wilderness. By encouraging the natural tendency of the wild we are able bring out the best in it and us, while creating a place for humanity to exist. This idea reminds me of stories I have heard concerning Native American’s “tending” of the wild, as well as Fukuoka’s “do nothing farming” method.

    • Thank you for the feedback–and the thoughtful reading, Josh. Very nice explication of this more inclusive and kinder sense of domestication in “encouraging the natural tendencies of the wild that bring out both the best in it and us”. Thanks for sharing this link– there are also links to permaculture sites on our “links” page.

  120. Our technology must become balanced with a realistic view of ourselves as biological organisms and the earth as a changing and nearly biotic in a sense. Such as with Frankenstein’s monster and nuclear weapons, science and technology have given us unprecedented power but simply because we can do or achieve somehting does not necessitate our doing so. This new found power will have a large role in future sustanability practices bu it must be marketable, necessary, and have all ill effects clearly identified and addressed if it is to be used responsibly.

    • You have an important point, Paul– I am with you on the fact that the knowledge we need most in our development and use of technology is self knowledge.

  121. I agree that using technology to alter nature to suit us can only lead to disaster and our own eventual undoing. California has an initiative on the ballot this November regarding GMO labeling. Right now, it appears that most Californians are for such labeling; however, as you mention, corporations are strongly against it. Consumers should have the right to know exactly what it is they’re eating and that includes how those foods were “manufactured.” Not only do we not know what we’re eating but the damage done to the environment by genetic engineering is well documented; for example, unintentional contamination of organic crops and biodiversity loss. Leaving nature alone and letting it be as it was meant to be instead of trying to “break” it is the only way humans can become partners with it. We need to go back to being one with nature and try to re-connect with the other lives with whom we share this planet.

    • I’m with you one hundred per cent on the California initiative, Cheryl. I cannot think of any rational support against labeling of genetically engineered products so that consumers can choose what they buy and consume.
      I like the way you tied this issue into the one related to “breaking” (or controlling) nature expressed in this essay.

    • I feel that there is no way that an organism can be alive and leave nature alone. For example, a human is going to breathe in oxygen, and breathe out carbon dioxide. The human will consume food and excrete waste materials. These processes are going to affect nature.

      Given that, I think that humans should do a lot less damage to the environment. However, we must always remember that humans do not equally disrupt nature. An untouchable from India is going to cause a lot less damage than a middle class American. A peasant in Guatemala is also going to disrupt nature a lot less than a middle class American. Also, if you want to know an institution that really disrups nature, check out the military.

      Also, I totallly agree that people have a right to know what is in food. However, I would go further and outlaw the use of GMOs.

      • Certainly, all lives influence one another in natural systems: I find it hopeful that some humans have actually implemented more fertility and biodiversity in their actions over time (see our quote of the week). That is, human actions can actually be positive contributions to natural systems.

    • Thanks for your comments Cheryl. I agree that labeling GMO’s is very important. I also think that we have a right to know what is going into our bodies, and into our environment. My putting enough pressure on corporations I think the public can change how our food is “grown” and raised.

  122. I feel that there is no way that an organism can be alive and leave nature alone. For example, a human is going to breathe in oxygen, and breathe out carbon dioxide. The human will consume food and excrete waste materials. These processes are going to affect nature.

    Given that, I think that humans should do a lot less damage to the environment. However, we must always remember that humans do not equally disrupt nature. An untouchable from India is going to cause a lot less damage than a middle class American. A peasant in Guatemala is also going to disrupt nature a lot more than a middle class American. Also, if you want to know an institution that really disrups nature, check out the military.

    Also, I totallly agree that people have a right to know what is in food. However, I would go further and outlaw the use of GMOs.

    • I think you have the example from Guatemala backwards, yes?
      Can you make the connection between the essay and your comment more explicit?

    • When you say that military disrupts nature, are you referring to our military or all world militaries? War disrupts nature more than military.

      • Actually, I did mean the military along with warfare. For example, the U.S. military has not dropped a nuclear bomb since World War II. However, the military has produced a lot of nuclear waste since then. Also, the military has produced a lot of toxic waste in its non-nuclear endeavers.

        • I was just wondering. I have family members that serve in the military. The more I got to thinking about what you brought, the more I thought about some of the history of different wars. In the wars prior to WWII, one way that military and warfare was destructive to our natural resources is that they would use animals in the wars. Elephants were used in warfare at one and horses as well. Now, it seems that what military has come up with as far as warfare can cause a greater amount of destruction than in prior history.

        • Something to ponder for sure. With respect to your observation of differing technologies, I think the issue of drone warfare is especially problematic in the way it removes us from the emotional experience of the consequences of our actions.

        • True AND you may or may not have heard that the US military is now expressing some leadership in seeking out alternative fuels, seeing a security risk in our reliance on oil.
          Such things are not all black or white. And it is also true that war in the Mideast has done some terrible environmental damage.

    • Hi Lenore,

      I know Dr. Holden already asked this question but I was very curious about you comment that humans do not disrupt nature equally. The “peasant in Guatemala” comment was the one I was interested in further clarification. I have not done much research on that part of the world and their environmental impact. I look forward to your response.

  123. As an animal science major, I was so excited to take “Intro to Animal Science” my freshman year of college. I remember our first lecture was about animal domestication for the purpose of food and fiber. My professor described all the ways animals could benefit mankind: food, clothing, shelter, etc. I remember he kept saying “Food and Fiber, Food and Fiber, thats what they are good for, Food and Fiber!”
    I don’t see animals as just providing food and fiber. I realize that animals were domesticated to serve a purpose to humans, but it seems that a lot of people believe animals have no other purpose but to serve humans. This is a topic I debate over with friends often. I am a vegetarian and my friends are always saying to me, “Animals are on this earth for us to eat.” I try to steer clear of this feeling of entitlement, I don’t think animals are here just to be my dinner.

    The dog was domesticated first, followed by common farm animals like sheep, goats, pigs, cows, and lastly horses. I have always felt privileged to ride a horse. It is pretty amazing when you think about it, these giant animals letting us crazy humans ride on their backs and lead them into all sorts of crazy situations. I have been lucky enough to have my horse (Dexter) in my life for 9 years. I enjoyed reading the section regarding native peoples and their treatment of horses and found it very inspirational. I have ridden my horse bareback with just a halter, and I have even ridden him bareback with just a rope around his neck, but I can’t image riding him with nothing at all! The partnership the native riders had with their horses was so incredible. I hope one day I will be able to find that magical “groove” with my horse!

    • It sounds like you and Dexter have already developed a special groove, Maddy. I have always felt it a special gift when any living creature lends us their trust.
      Thanks for sharing your experience–there ARE different cultural as well as scientific approaches to domestication as well as to our relationships with animals.

    • Hi Maddy,

      After reading your post, I am even more envious of people who ride horses than I already was. It sounds like you have an amazing relationship with your horse, I imagine it is such a freeing and peaceful experience.

      As a vegetarian as well I completely agree with your desire to steer clear of the sense of entitlement that is very present in our world. Thanks for the great post!

  124. This article forced me to think about the purpose of domestication. I understand that there was a practical sense to help humans survive. As a vegetarian I love to protect animals in any way that I can, I also love to be around animals whenever the opportunity arises. The idea of domestication for current life, I can justify if the relationship is seen as “bringing them into our homes”. That what they give us is returned to them, with ethical treatment, space to roam, other animals of their species to interact with and plenty of food and love. I am so glad to now know the roots of the word domestication. It is truly a beautiful meaning.

    On another note, the idea of breaking a horse is so upsetting. Further, the fact that Americans were so astonished by an Indian person’s ability to let their horses roam free with the hope that they will return further emphasizes our history of an ownership mentality. As a feminist I am aware that there have never been perfectly equal societies in terms of males and females. However, the more I learn about the people who lived on this land before us, I wonder how being a woman would have felt? I can only hope that the respect of all living creatures translated to respect for all people, including women.

    • Domestication as either the attempt in general to control other lives through domination and the gathering them into our household as kin and family, indicate two very different perspectives on our central relationship with other creatures.
      As for their never having been equality between men and women, we will be reading about some examples in “women-centered societies”. I look forward to your responses as we look at that work.

  125. This is a beautiful piece. I’ve always wished I could see wild horses, dancing across the country-side. I think this ideais similar with many breeds of dogs as well. Dogs used to be wild too, that have slowly been bred to become domesticated. I think we have become so accustom with the idea that all dogs below on our beds and following all of our commands immediately, that we become surprised when we hear any mention of violent behavior. There are many dog breeds that have bad reputations, like the Pitbull and the Japanese Akita, and because of this many insurance companies won’t cover them. People need to realize that all animals at one point used to be wild. I have met many of these “dangerous” breeds and they are some of the sweetest dogs on the planet. However, I know that they have their own mind and instincts. If they feel like they are being threatened in anyway, they will react. Something that concerns me the most is when dog owners realize that a dog has TOO MUCH of its own mind, when its hard to train, and so hard to control. Owners, instead of working harder with the dog, using more patience and creating a bond with the animal, drops the dog on the doorstep of some shelter or just lets it loose to be picked up by the pound so they don’t have to pay any fees. To me, any pet is like family. We may have paid for them, but they have their own personality, they have likes and dislikes, they need love and attention. We create bonds with animals like we create bonds with people.

    • I love how you’ve related dog breeds to this essay. I am a huge dog lover and I used to be a little scared of dogs like the pitbull and dobermans. But in the past couple of years I’ve come to realize that its really not the dog, its the person that raises it and how they treat the animal. Pitbulls are now my favorite breed and it is very sad that insurance companies can deny you if you have a certain dog breed, we as humans made them like this.

      • Good point about where we need to allocate responsibility here, Molly. And just as a point of effectiveness, we ourselves, our own communities and our cultures are the ones we are best able to change.

    • The dog approach is a very good point especially when we look at pitbulls and how they are believed to be this aggressive breed of dog that nobody wants so they get put down. I think that what gives these breeds such bad names is because of such instances as the Michael Vick dog fighting where he arranged for dogs to fight for money. The owners of these dogs are to blame because most of these animals are amazing and gentle and if placed in the right home, would die before they let anything happen to their owners.

      • Good follow up to this point, Jason. These dogs are not at fault: we are. It is not in their “nature” to participate in dog fights, as indicated by the fact that some pit bulls actually make placid and outstanding service dogs.

  126. It is amazing to me how people forget that everthing is alive on this planet. Man is not meant to conquer all but to share it equally. There is something to be said about the treatment of plants and animals. I live on a mountain where my entire yard is covered in trees. People come to our house and think it looks like a forest, but to me it seemed weird to go into the city where there were no trees. I cherish those trees as I grew up beside them. I respect them and I always felt protected. It is funny though, because we can’t seem to grow many other types of plants in our soil, but my dad decided he was going to grow tomatoes. He did and every day he would take them from inside the house to sit outside in the sun and he would sing to them. Those tomatoes flourished. I wish people could understand that the amount of love and time you put into something generally has to do with what you get out of it in the end.

    • Hi Denise, thank you for your perspective on the natural landscape. You obviously inherited some of your care for lives in the plant kingdom as the story of your dad’s singing to his tomatoes indicates! Then you got to enjoy them as well as his relationship to them.
      Your last sentence expresses the reciprocity that is the central value of ethical systems throughout the world– and which I think we need to learn to express toward the natural world as well.

    • The thing about love today is that people expect to give it and receive it right back with little effort. People forget that we rely on nature just as much as it relies on us. With out it then where would we be. We i see shows of loggers going out and cutting down these forests for homes and paper, i think more about the animals that just lost a home because somebody needs a nice wood cabin in the woods somewhere. Nobody seems to share respect for what we have anymore and they seem to only want more.

      • Or perhaps people even expect to receive love without giving anything in return at all–and are disappointed when this doesn’t happen?
        Good point about our reliance on the natural world; we surely neglect this only at our hazard.

  127. This essay reminds me of when I used to ride horses. My mother would pay for me to take lessons with a high school girl and we would go for rides every weekend. I would also have so much fun but there was this one time that she kept giving me the same horse and she would never like to listen. I never understood why, but every time I rode her she either knocked me off or ran away with me on the back. This just made me think that maybe she was born to be a wild horse than a trained one.

    I really do think that we’ve lost touch with nature and need to realize that we are merely creatures sharing the earth with others. We seem to always feel entitled to things or think that we own them. I’m starting to really think that things weren’t meant to be owned but shared and enjoyed instead.

  128. In today’s day of age technology is everything especially to the young generation. Not a day goes by that you don’t see a kid on their cell phone or texting away with someone else. Back in the past animals were a key source of transportation and use of strength. Used on farms to plow fields and for riding to get around. Now a days kids have all these fancy new phones and cars and animals are not being used as much which makes them seem almost useless other then a pet. Most families don’t consider their pets as part of the family like the Indians use to do with their horses!

  129. Animals need to be respected and valued. We as humans have no right to keep them captive and essentially use them.The Indians had it right your horse should be free and if it stays with you great if it leave then it has received a life of its own. Your animals should be seen as part of your family and be listened to and always taken into account.

    With regards to gardening and growing of food this reading this really helped put my fathers practices into perspective. My father enjoys to garden. He is said to have the green thumb in the family, but what I have noticed is that my father spends time with his plants. He is in his garden for hours. He talks to his plants and gives them all the nourishment he can. He seems to listen to his plants as well, because he always seems to know when something is wrong with his plants. He is the only one in our family that can grow a vegetable garden successfully and know I know why he values and respects his plants.

    • Thanks for sharing the connection between working with animals and with plants, Laura! I will bet what your father grew was delicious as well as lovely!

    • Laura,
      I agree that animals are important. I also recognize that at one time horses were used to farm, travel etc. If a farmer let his horse roam and it never returned, as the Indians believed. How would his livelihood change?

  130. I can’t help but think of all the things that could benefit from love, attention and nutrition. If only we treated everything with these virtues. What a different world we would live in. I’m not sure what brings people to think they “own” the animals and the Earth. It was here before us. In a matter of seniority, it is older than we are, we should treat it with respect. In a previous essay I read, I noted that we must nourish the system because we benefit from the nourishment it gives us.

    • I like your sense of reciprocal responsibility in this vision, Melissa–and the vision for a possible future that you present here along with the one in your previous comment.

    • I agree with you, my grandmother and grandfather treated all there animals and crops with love. As a result they always had a “Good Year.” They did not own it in there mind they worked hand in hand with the earth and animals. My grandparents would have agreed with you and the essay that they took care and nourished the earth and animals because the earth and animals nourished them.

  131. It has always fascinated me the relationship with nature that Native American cultures, and most indigenous cultures for that matter, have. It calls into the forefront of my mind the domination Euro-American cultures feel they have over it. When we are raised like this, it requires us to unlearn so much of what has been ingrained in our minds. It takes time and persistence to relearn different more harmonious ways of thinking about nature. When really thinking about it, we can’t ‘own’ land, or animals. We can only assert out dominance over them, or in some cases be caregivers for said land or animals.

    • Hi Aryn, thanks for posting your thoughts here. Good point about what we need to relearn after we unlearn messages from a culture based on competition and domination. Thankfully, not all members of our society are raised that way– and/or not raised entirely that way, so that there is room for the light to change to make its way in when individuals become dissatisfied with cultural limits imposed on them.

    • It is so true the way that we are brought up, really does not foster the indigenous ways. Sadly we forget about the truth, and how much harm we are truly causing to animals and our planet. We cannot own anything in this world or anyone in it, but we have convinced ourselves that we can. In this process we have lost the true value of our world.

    • You have a really powerful idea there. Our assertion of dominance is going to take a very long time to unlearn I am afraid though. So much of it is based in our Western history of patriarchy and coloialism that the natural workd is just an extension of showing the ideal white man’s power. Society is going to have to rethink most of its standards before we can truely consider and value the thoughts of other cultures.

      • The assertion of dominance is a large one to unlearn, Rachel– given its apparent benefits to the one who holds it. On the other hand, dominance is not only a failed survival tactic for the long run (see the essay, “Misusing Darwin” here– coming up in class), but a lonely response to the world. As ecofeminist Mary Ruether points out, we can only dominate that which we are separated or alienated from.

  132. The idea of needing love to cultivate our food and raise animals for our consumption I feel is a totally valid argument. I grew up in a home with raise beds of any kind of vegetable that would grow in the harsh volcanic soil of my home town summers were spent weeding and watering with my mother who could, and still does, get bigger and tastier tomatoes out of our garden than anyone else that I know, and more so than any that come out of the grocery store. It does take time though. Two or three hours of the morning is spent in her plants, making them her labor of love, and yes she talks, and sings, to her plants as she works around them. I took to this and tried to get an avocado plant to grow in my bedroom window. I grew and grew until it was four and a half feet tall and just as wide before I left for college. It has been three years and it hasn’t grown since and has lost most of the beautiful dark green leaves that it once had. While still warm, watered every day, and exposed to plenty of sunlight by my window, the plant that I treated as a pet, and even named will only put out new leaves when I am home for the summer. Animals are the same way. My best friend rescues chickens from chicken farms so that they will not be slaughtered when they stop laying eggs. After just two months of being out in her backyard and being feed only organic food all five of them began to lay again, and continue to do so until they die. The oldest she has had for four years. The labor of love is not as apparent until you consider that this particular chicken seems to enjoy having her talons painted and will then lay eggs with larger yolks, which are already bigger than in eggs that you would buy at the grocery store. Food has to be cared for if it to nourish us. The cows that are discussed in this article are also among those that dairy farmers have to cut a hole into their sides in order to pull gunk out of their stomach because they are being fed corn (watch the documentary Food Inc. for example). Cows are not designed to digest corn and so their four stomachs cannot handle the stress and humans have to intervene since it is what we are feeding them as a cost cutting measure. If we do not give our sources of food what they need in means of nourishment then we cannot expect them to continue to sustain us for much longer either. To me it just makes sense, if your food is healthy then you will be healthy too.

    • Thanks for sharing the experience of yourself and your mother with respect to growing things, Rachel. There are many things that so called “objective” thinking does not have figured out. I think you will enjoy the upcoming essay on “plants as people”– my review of a book by that title authored by a botanist.
      My goodness, I had never heard of a chicken with painted talons! Delightful story about the chickens who began to lay again!
      You have a very important reminder for us about the reciprocal nature of our world: the sources of our food need to be cared for if they are to nourish us.
      And Food, Inc. should be watched by every consumer in the US and beyond. Just don’t do so on a full stomach. A local farm that raises cattle on grass with love brings copies of this CD to the local farmer’s market for apt educational purposes. The issue of cows and corn is treated– albeit very briefly– with links to further reading on the “do not buy list” here.
      I appreciate your obvious personal care on this issue, Rachel.

  133. I cannot think of a single creature on earth who does not desire love and attention. Pets, babies, children, even grown adults all need it. The difference is humans need to be less greedy and go back to the simple phrase that you treat others the way you want to be treated. By giving others attention and love they will do the same to you.

    • I like what you said here, Hannah, and I agree that all things need love and attention–especially to grow and prosper. I think that all-too-often humans don’t think that “treat others the way you want to be treated” relates back to nature because it is not something that has feelings. However, I do think we overlook the fact that nurture comes directly from love. Whether it’s the daisies planted in the front yard, the willow tree in your grandma’s pasture or the blueberry bushes at your local farmer’s mart, we can see first hand that love and attention directly relates back to having fruitful nature. (AKA we can get more out of everything–a concept loved by human nature.)

      • Thoughtful link between nurturance and love– the broken link between nurturance and power is something that has caused substantial social and environmental injustice in modern society.
        That is, many indigenous societies survived so long by honoring all sources of nurturance (including women’s bodies and nature) and valuing nurturance in human action– whether undertaken by men or women.

    • Good point, Hannah–and with those creatures very different from ourselves, we have to work harder to understand and respond to their needs. How, for instance, might a honeybee define “love”– a yard full of flowers?
      Some other cultures use the exercise of understanding other species from a more than human point of view as a way to extend their own knowledge and choices.

  134. I’ve never thought about where the term “nightmare” comes from, but find the back story very interesting. Also, the term “horsepower” has never really been questionable to me, either. But after reading this article I realized how saddening it is–how the restraint we want to put on nature (often to benefit ourselves) is actually crippling to society as a whole. What happens when animals, that are meant to be free-roaming creatures, are “tamed” by humans? Often, revolt. (Think the Siegfried and Roy lion incident.) I feel the same applies to the entire natural world. If we continually attempt to domesticate nature, things will eventually backlash and–like I mentioned–will become a crippled society that lacks access to nature.

    • Thoughtful point, Kristina– there is always a “backlash” of the type you speak of in exploiting the natural world– which those who do not think of that world as “alive”– or having rational purposes developed over eons– or purposes of their own– ignore at their own peril.

  135. Interestingly enough, about three paragraphs or so into this essay, I opted to take a break, get some fresh air (I’ve been catching up on work all day today) and I went out back and weeded our garden, checking on the peppers that I saw yesterday (there are three!) and transplanting some of my dear seedlings of tomatoes and scallions. I needed that little bit of rejuvenation and connection to my earth. I checked on my trees that we planted in the last couple weeks, and talked to my garden friends (I always greet all my plants when I step outside) I guess I’m in good company! Maybe that’s why our garden is growing so well, and why I need that connection! I love my time there, it makes me feel whole, and like I’m doing something worth while that will soon be feeding my family, and supporting us like we do for the garden. Soon, we’ll have a chicken coop built, and will have some friends that can show their love back. Chickens are lovely creatures, with personality and quirks like the rest of us. When we can move from here, I hope to someday also have a horse but we don’t have the space or zoning right now. This was a great read. Thank you! 🙂

  136. Domestication can symbolize something good or bad. The wild fruit that has been bred and worked so that it no longer poisons those that eat it, or the pet that sits lovingly at your side on a cold winter’s night. The bond that forms between a wild animal and the person who feeds it, so that it won’t starve, or rescues it from certain death from the bullet of a hunter, or mending of a broken limb. The animal is no less wild, but for a brief time it allows the contact that will sustain its life. The horse that bonds with, then trusts, the rider that sits upon its back and the two then move fluidly as one being. The article has several wonderful points, that should be well received, but also the notion that to ride “Indian” is to ride without saddle or bridle does not ring true. Some nations did indeed ride without benefit of any tack, others did not. Much of the bridles that were used on the Plains and Eastern Woodland tribal grounds were as “war bridles” and the women had wooden and rawhide “saddles” with blankets or buffalo hides draped over them. I trained a horse I had when I was 15 to work without benefit of bridle or saddle. In the words of this article, my horse was “Indian broke,” and being that I am Indian then it would seem to make sense. The fire management plans that the Great Basin Tribes utilized to sculpt the landscape could also be called “domestication” as well as the speed with which the white settlers conquered the landscape and all that ran wild upon it. Technology, specifically GMO and other factory farming practices, like Manifest Destiny, can be likened to Pandora’s box in which the good that comes from it is overshadowed by the horrors that may befall us once the box is opened, and all of its ills spill forth onto an unsuspecting world.

    • ” specifically GMO and other factory farming practices, like Manifest Destiny, can be likened to Pandora’s box in which the good that comes from it is overshadowed by the horrors that may befall us once the box is opened, and all of its ills spill forth onto an unsuspecting world.” This is one of the best metaphors I’ve heard yet on this subject! 🙂

    • Hi Lloydene, great examples of the view of “domestication”. Thoughtful response about “riding Indian”– as you point out, this is limited to which nation one is from. And though the Coquille man who authored this remark about “riding Indian” was self-identifying as “Indian”- and there is other historical info on Coast people about riding without saddle or bridle, not ALL of the varied US native cultures had the same practices. The decorative (war) bridles you mention are very different from Western bridles meant to gain control over an animal and impose one’s will on that animal. The riding blankets you mention might certainly help keep riders (and horses) from chafing when riding long distances. As you properly indicate, it is best to give some details when using the term “bridle” (and how much more when using potentially loaded terms like labeling some human behavior as “natural”).
      Thanks for the specific cultural information here.
      The worldview that gave rise to Manifest Destiny and Monsanto’s abuses is the same one: it is important to consider such connections in developing both a critical perspective on contemporary industrial society and an alternative vision of the future.

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