No Animal is an Island

I was lucky enough to read Beyond Words: What Animals Think and Feel by Carl Safina in galleys, a few months before publication.  Carl and I had been introduced via email by a mutual friend, Pete DeSimone of Starr Ranch Sanctuary, and we had corresponded about owls and whales.  A snowy owl had been visiting Carl's beach on eastern Long Island, and knowing my interest in owls in general, snowies in particular, he sent me photos and reports about the visitor. His book The View From Lazy Point had long been a favorite of mine.  He makes science personal, writing about the beach he loves, the species he's studied, the world travels he's taken to observe animals in varied habitat.  I like that he doesn't hide his love for the oceans and his commitment to the environment.

His new book Beyond Words, is brilliant, gets truly and deeply into the mind and emotions of animals--the inner lives of elephants, wolves, and killer whales.  He talks about families, love, loyalty, betrayals, intense grief of different animal populations.  He discusses endangered species, in some cases the erosion of protections, the reality of humans hunting for sport and trophies and monetary gain.  The sections on elephants, what happens when humans poach them for ivory, delineate with such compassion the devastation and grief felt by the family members left behind.

His work with killer whales--a name he prefers to orca, deriving as it does from the Latin  Orcinus Orca and referring in an inescapably demonizing way to Orcus, god of the underworld--took him to San Juan Island  and Haro Strait.  He discusses two populations--transients, who hunt mammals, such as sea lions--and residents, who eat fish, mainly salmon.  With Ken Bascomb he listens to the whales via hydrophones, chirps and whistles and clicks.  He differentiates their echo-sounding sonar from communications.  They form strong family units and stay together for decades, for life.  They kill for food, and it's brutal to watch the transients go after seals or California Gray Whales.  But killer whales are social beings, very curious, and love to play; they seek attention from other killer whales and from people they encounter.  Carl quotes an observer who said they "look through their otherness at you."

I took this in July 2014: killer whales off San Juan Island
I took this in July 2014: killer whales off San Juan Island

He writes about the tragedy of killer whales being netted, taken captive for aquarium exhibits--what it's like for a mother whale to see her baby captured, unable to stop what's happening.  And how the baby whale feels, ripped from a mother and the voices of her family, "going from the limitless ocean to the confinement of a concrete teacup, the terror and confusion..."

Overfishing and chemical run-off contribute to a combination salmon shortage and toxic load that is endangering killer whales.  They can live forty to fifty years, but the population isn't reproducing.  Recovery of the salmon fishery doesn't look likely, and the Pacific Northwest's logging industry isn't about to stop using river-killing fertilizer and flame retardants that get into the food chain, into the plankton eaten by the fish eaten by the seals eaten by the whales.

IMG_3889
IMG_3889

After reading Beyond Words I felt so happy to give it a quote.  Carl came into New York to record the book for audio, and we finally met.  He's a kindred spirit.  Now that we're friends, do you think I can ask him to write something on cats?

I want to know what mine think and feel.  I keep them inside partly for their own protection and also to keep them from following their natural instincts to hunt birds and mice, but they are still wild things, with distinct personalities, and eyes full of soul.  When Maggie died a few years ago, I watched Mae-Mae and Maisie grieve.  The two survivors returned again and again to the spot where they'd last seen Maggie, before I buried her.  They meowed, and it sounded like keening.  I would have given anything to be able to read their minds, to understand their feelings.

Carl's book helps me to know that such understanding is possible.  Translation may be harder, but I keep trying.  I share my house with these creatures, and we all share the planet with a whole lot more, and I am grateful for all of them, and for this book.

Species are connected to each other, and we to them.  When we forget that, we forget our humanity.

As I write this, social media is full of new about the death of Cecil, a thirteen-year-old lion in Zimbabwe.  Walter J. Palmer, an American dentist, paid $55,000 to hunt him down.  Cecil was lured out of Hwange National Park, the sanctuary where he lived, and was shot with a bow and arrow.  There's a photo of Palmer grinning over the corpse.  Cecil looks majestic and dignified even in death, but they beheaded him and left his corpse to rot.  The dentist's grin makes me sad--the whole story does.  I wish I could have given him a copy of Carl's book.  Maybe Cecil would still be alive if he'd read it.

Maybe the planet will be healthier if we all do.

No Man is an Island

by John Donne

No man is an island, Entire of itself, Every man is a piece of the continent, A part of the main. If a clod be washed away by the sea, Europe is the less. As well as if a promontory were. As well as if a manor of thy friend's Or of thine own were: Any man's death diminishes me, Because I am involved in mankind, And therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; It tolls for thee.

charlie

every day at 5 pm a red-tailed hawk flies over the hillside. when twigg crawford was visiting, he named the hawk 5 o'clock charlie.  recently he requested that i post some photos of our daily visitor, so these pictures are for him (and you.)

i take photos with my iphone, no telephoto lens obviously, but there's something about seeing this hawk from a distance that brings poetry into my life every day at 5.

as you can see, charlie has found--or is in the process of finding--love.

 

paradise

   

i wrote a novel called what matters most, and once again i've been putting a question mark at the end of the title, asking myself the question.    i guess you'd say i'm an emotional sort, and i really want to understand what i feel. writing helps me with this.  the most wonderful things, the most painful things, all of life touches my heart, and i bring it to my desk. characters come to me, and through them i tell the stories that tear me apart and put me back together.  when i was younger i was motivated by need and desire--full-out, pedal to the metal, have to have it kind of thing.  believe me, i still have my moments, but now the feelings are tempered by, i hope, some degree of self-awareness.  that comes from writing.

my early novels told what i knew as a young woman.  as time goes on, and life hands me more experience, they reflect what i have learned--not just factually, but emotionally.  shades of marian the librarian in "the music man", sadder-but-wiser-girl that she was.  am i saying too much here?  i'm in the mood to tell you everything.

last night i took a ride along the coast with a friend.  there was moonlight on the sea.  lots of new houses had been built in the once-open space.  nature is so staggeringly beautiful, and we were saying how sometimes we don't appreciate what we've got till it's gone.  at which point i began to sing joni mitchell's big yellow taxi -- i couldn't help myself.  "they paved paradise and put up a parking lot..."  (poor friend, having to hear me sing.)

you know me well enough to know that seeing habitat destroyed and creatures killed makes me cry.  (it really does...i actually hug trees.)  but life has many metaphorical parking lots.  you can pave over relationships, too.  i know, because in the past i've done it.  such a human tendency to want resolution--i'm right, you're wrong, i'm bad, you're good.  or, maybe you're bad, i'm good.  no in between, no grey area, no room for the maybes that come with taking a more compassionate, realistic, look at life.  (see above: sadder but wiser.)

i may be falling in love--with the world as it is, not as i would have it.  to put it another way, i'm finding it easier to look at what is true than to pretend something else.  yesterday someone told me that things happen if they're supposed to--no amount of forcing or denying or hiding will change what is.   so why not practice radical acceptance, and lovingkindness for where we are right here, right now?

so what matters to me is love, family, friends, honesty, this broken paradise, moonlight on the sea and knowing it won't last forever but will come back again, gratitude for what i've been given, and the awareness that comes through living life one day at a time.

 

garden

   

joy in the garden:

white roses, blue lobelia,

agapanthus, alyssum.

hummingbirds, phoebes,

gnatcatchers.

hiding cat.

beyond the borders of my yard--

a creek, the sea,

a hillside where raptors hunt.

everywhere, no matter where i look,

the sky.

[if you love to garden, will you consider reading about ways organic gardening can benefit the environment and your health?]

 

Lunch and a Novel

Are you free for lunch?

 

I've donated "Lunch with the Author," a signed copy of The Silver Boat, and the chance to have a character named for you in my next novel, to the most wonderful event: Bid to Save the Earth: Christie's Green and Runway to Green Auction. Just click on the link to place your bid...

The auction benefits four environmental charities, including  NRDC--Natural Resources Defense Council--the amazing organization  that does so much to protect our planet...  I'm a member of NRDC and feel so proud of the work they do.

About that lunch.  I'd love to meet you at one of my favorite restaurants: the Red Cat in New York City,

 

 

 

 

or, if you'd prefer to meet in LA, Shutters on the Beach (my all time favorite beachside hotel and restaurant)

 

 

 

 

 

 

or Ivy at the Shore (shown at the top, the terrace cascading with bougainvillea.)  Bring a friend if you'd like; we can talk about books, writing, life, inspiration, wildlife, the sea, the earth, ways we can help...

Please check out the details, as well as the auction itself and other incredible items (go flying with Harrison Ford, meet Lady Gaga in Miami, sit courtside at a Knicks game with Jay-Z, attend opening night at the Metropolitan Opera in a box for eight, or take a tennis lesson with John McEnroe, among many other tempting .)

And I really hope we can have lunch!

Gliding into the new year...thanking you all.

Thank you to all my dear friends and readers for making 2010 so wonderful.I love the community that has grown up around this website, as well as on my Facebook fan page.  The comments have been so warm, touching, poetic, filled with humor and kindness.  I am moved by the way you support each other, and so grateful for the support and kindness you continue to show me by reading my novels. Being born a writer was a great gift.  I am so fortunate to be able to express deep emotion through my work; by telling stories, I make sense of my own experiences, and enjoy the thrills of leading many other lives.  Writing is how I connect.  If it weren't for my readers, the books wouldn't be alive.  They would still matter to me, but they would be words on a page.  They only come to real life through your reading them, relating to the characters, taking the journey with me.  For that and so much I am grateful to you.

2011 will bring a new novel, about which I am so excited: The Silver Boat.  It is the deepest, truest novel I've ever written--it touches many themes familiar to you, but writing it I let myself go down new and hidden paths.  I can't wait for you to read it.  My book tour will take me out on the road for the first time in several years.  I'll post the destinations under "events" on this website, as soon as I receive details.  I hope I'll be visiting your town.

In January a rare book of mine will finally be back in print: Secrets of Paris.  Of all my novels this one has been the hardest to locate; I know many fans have spent large amounts on eBay and other such places to buy the old hardcover.  In just a few weeks it will be out in trade paperback.

On Facebook I've done frequent giveaways of novels, audiobooks, and DVDs of television adaptions there.  If you are interested in finding me there, you can join in the fun.  I'm very lucky to have some creative young assistants who always seem to come up with new ideas and ways for me to give back to all of you--to thank you for being such faithful readers.  Please visit!  (Click here.)

One last thing...here at the end of the year, many readers have asked me where I make charitable donations.  You will find links to the right on this web page.  But I'll tell you more specifically.  NRDC is a great environmental group, dedicated to living in peace with the earth.  They protect many endangered species, and work on keeping the oceans clean and healthy. They do amazing work...maybe some of you remember the whale trip I took, to Laguna San Ignacio...the winter grounds for the California Gray Whale.  I traveled with a group from NRDC, whose work saved that lagoon and protected it from being destroyed.  It's a place where mother whales give birth, and where their calves spend the first months of life.  A magical, amazing place.  Even a small donation will help the whales and other creatures sharing our beautiful planet.

The other charity closest to my heart would be any national or local domestic violence organization of your choice.   Raising awareness, giving support to people affected by abuse, is very important to me and--i know, to many of you.

Thank you all for being so wonderful.  I am the luckiest writer on earth to have you as readers.  Happy, exciting, peaceful, amazing 2011 to you all!

Much love, Luanne