Five questions

Clare Kines at The House and other Arctic musings tagged me and four others with an interview meme. I think this might be the first time I’ve ever participated in a blog meme. I liked that Clare made up the questions just for us, and I was flattered to be included along with four nature-bloggers I really admire: Debby Kaspari, Seabrooke Leckie, Susannah of Wanderin’ Weeta, and Pohangina Pete.

1) You seem to have an intense curiosity of the natural world. How did that curiosity come about?

I was raised on a remote mountaintop farm without television or neighbors. Everyone else in my family was a nature nerd, and I resisted as long as I could, refusing to learn the birds and so forth, but in the end I succumbed, in part because of my interest in poetry (which also began at an early age). You simply can’t write about something unless you know its name. And once you know the name, curiosity takes over and you have to learn more.

2) What would you change about your home, your neighbourhood, your corner of the world? What one thing would you change to make it a better place?

Reintroduce cougars.

3) Describe your most profound encounter in the natural world.

The one I had at dusk two hours ago, listening to two thrushes sing from opposite sides of the yard. That was it for today, at any rate.

I don’t know. I might not use the word “profound” for many if not most direct encounters with charasmatic critters. This photo my Dad took of me chattering my teeth at a porcupine back in the late 90s was the main image on my Geocities website for five years:

me with porcupine (photo by Bruce Bonta)

Though I jokingly refer to the porcupine as one of my totem animals — I share its big teeth, love of trees, preference for dark, cave-like places and penchant for solitude, not to mention at times its prickliness — I don’t regard it as a spirit guide in any meaningful way. I don’t go in for that fake-ass neo-shamanism bullshit.

I am much more interested in trying to relate to animals as persons than as avatars from some spirit world in which I don’t believe. Yes, I’ve had my share of spooky crepuscular encounters with creatures such as gray foxes, screech owls, and coyotes, but it’s the little observations in broad daylight that have given me I think my most durable impressions of non-human nature. For example, when I think of black bears, I think of digging, snuffling, log-ripping, birdsong-listening, mostly amiable, shy folks you’d have a hard time pissing off (and god help you if you did). Come to think of it, on a single morning in June 2009, I had both a spooky dawn encounter and an amusing, broad-daylight encounter with what I presume was the very same bear.

4) If you could have a conversation with any person in history who would it be, and why that person?

I’d like to talk to Zhuangzi (Chuang Tzu), the Chinese philosopher from the late Warring States period, describe our own chaotic period and all the profound environmental challenges we face, and ask him what kind of wei wu wei could possibly make a difference now. Also, I’d just like to get drunk with him.

5) What advice would you give to anyone wanting to better experience the natural world?

Learn to find, gather, and prepare some wild foods.

15 Replies to “Five questions”

    1. Hey, happy to do it, and thanks again for asking. I tried to come up with five new questions per the rules of the meme, but was too tired to think of any good ones.

  1. This was so cool. I have never in my life seen a porcupine up close and personal. But is he angry? How did you know? He didn’t look it to me. Whose teeth were clicking–yours or his–he looks like he was scared, scared of you? Anyway, thanks so much. God, I’d love the chance to see a porcupine like this. Thanks.

    1. I don’t know that non-human animals experience anger the way we do, but teeth-chattering is certainly a threat gesture for porcupines, as you can see and hear in the video. It approached within about three feet of me before turning its back — the usual defensive gesture, since that’s where the most quills are. I think it was probably just trying to get a better look at me. They’re pretty near-sighted. One bumped into my Mom on a trail last year as she was crouched down examining a spider web. (Fortunately, the contact was only nose-to-butt; no quills were involved.) I have a couple other porcupine videos, the best being this one.

  2. Wow, that was quick — and fascinating as well. My response is likely to take some time and I hope it’s as worthwhile.

    Actually, I’m particularly interested in your comment in your first response: how you can’t write about something unless you know its name. Not sure I agree entirely, but I did get annoyed with an ecology lecturer who refused to tell his students the names of what they were finding on a field trip: his argument was that he wanted them to look closely at where and how those things were living. Fine, but it sounded like “fake-ass bullshit” to me — names, it seems to me, are at the very least a kind of key, a way of accessing information. One only has to look at the significance of names in mythology (and other story-telling) to understand their importance.

    Thanks for the compliment, too. Reciprocated — cheers Dave.

    1. I think there is value to trying to relate to things without a name coming between you, but that’s an ideal that’s difficult to achieve in the best of cirumstances — probably impossible to achieve as part of a group. I’ll admit that the virtually exclusive focus on field guides and i.d.s evinced by some nature enthusiasts wears on me.

  3. What a cool meme.

    The photo of you and the porcupine is marvelous!

    And reading this today feels serendipitous, since a local black bear made an appearance at our house again for the first time in a while. Someone had knocked over our trash can last week and strewed garbage all over the lawn, and after I cleaned it up, I moved the trash can into the garage to keep it safe from what I presumed was a raccoon. Alas, either I didn’t close the door all the way, or this little guy ( is capable of opening it…

    1. That looks like a yearling to me, last year’s cub just chased off by the mother (it’s mating season). These are the ursine equivalent of teenagers. Look out! Yeah, it’s probably opening the door on its own. Bears are very good at that sort of thing.

  4. I love that picture! I know what you mean about wanting to know more about things once the names are learned. I started birding and learning about birds from simply trying to learn the names of my backyard birds to alleviate the boredom while recovering from surgery a few years ago.

    1. Oh really? Interesting.

      An uncle of mine got into in nature a few years back because, while shopping at a flea market, he saw a perfectly spherical cloud of lekking gnats hovering four feet above a table for a couple of hours. It was like a revelation to him of this vaster world about which, he suddlenly realized, he knew almost nothing. He ended up getting a butterfly guide and attempting to identify all the butterflies he saw at his suburban work site. You never know when someone’s going to be bit by the nature bug.

    1. I don’t know. Maybe a three-way tie between wild strawberries, venison, and morels. (Which is NOT to say that I’m adept at hunting/gathering any of them!)

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.