Thursday, April 14, 2011

An instinct for writing

Bert and Sam were once the top two predators in South Brooks County. Sam was fast, sleek, a black torpedo with teeth, and he could go from just loping around the fence line to full speed in less time than it takes say go. I didn’t teach Sam this. Sam arrived fully loaded and armed. Bert was already eighteen months old when Sam showed up, beaten, bloody, and starved to the point of death. They had never seen each other before, never been trained to act as a team, yet within six months of Sam arriving the two were hunting as a pack, and using skills they had never seen put to use before, and they were good. Everything I’ve truly learned about pack hunting skills I have learned from those two and I can tell you there is nothing more frightening that the efficiency with which they hunt. They have learned to use terrain, the fence, the trees, and even each other to herd prey and to guide the small mammals into each other or into the wide open spaces where Sam can put to use the one tool those two dogs have that nothing else can match, and that is Sam’s speed. It’s not much better in broken terrain because there are two dogs and usually only one prey animal. I’ve seen Bert rush into a thicket while Sam stood on the other side waiting, and receiving. I’ve seen Sam burn a trail into the ground to cut an armadillo off from getting to the fence, and when the armadillo turned it turned right into the path of an oncoming Bert. They do this without hand signals, play calling, vocals, email, or tweets.
But let’s drop it down the ladder a bit. Birds make nest that withstand an entire year of wind, rain, and weather. Bees somehow fashion a hive, build cells, find pollen, alert other bees to where it is, make honey, and they can even recognize the beekeeper by sight and not get aggressive with him. Beavers build dams that withstand flooding that concrete and steel will not. All of this, I am told and I have read, is instinct, that thing that animals have in an abundance that we have very little. Yet what exactly is it? Where is it stored? Certainly, if you damaged the brain of a dog enough you could wipe out that area of the brain where instinct might live, but that is much like destroying a cup in order to discover the properties of water.
If Bert and Sam would have been raised in an area where armadillos did not live, or if they lived in an area where armadillos were intelligent enough to stay the hell out of a fenced in yard where very clearly two large canines live, then I would have never seen them hunt, and I would have never realized how powerful instinct is when dogs do hunt. Furthermore, and this is very strange, Bert never showed the slightest aggression towards other mammals until Sam came along. Sam, on the other paw, killed the first armadillo he saw, and he did it in seconds. Bert stood back and watched the first time, but after that…
But what if we do have instincts, but we do not see the armadillos we need to chase them? What is it we do that feeds this instinct, yet merely masks what we are doing, as if we were doing the real thing, yet is a human construction, a chimera, a mechanical bunny on a racetrack for us to chase? We ask ourselves why so many people like that wretched song by Justine Barbara but why do we love music at all, of any sort by anyone? Why can it reach down deep into us, and make us happy, sad, or give us the urge to strangle teen age boys with terrible haircuts and voices like schoolgirls?
Why do we go to movies? It is learned behavior or does it speak to us in some way that our instincts need? Why would it? What sort of human behavior might watching a movie mimic? But for that matter, why would anyone, or any group of people, play video games for hours and hours and hours on end? Surely this has nothing to do with instinct, but then why do so many become addicted to this sort of behavior? Why do people do the things that people do, and why do they do it for so long? Instinct is a blanket answer in this, with no proof, but at the same time, you have to wonder if marketing does a good job because marketing itself is a tool to fashion how people react, or if marketing is build around something that exists already.
Since we’re on the subject of other people’s addictions, why not ask why I write? Certainly, if you look into humankind’s deepest roots there were no writers. It took a while for writing to be invented, and take hold, and even longer before everyone had access to it. I was over thirty before I began writing. Yet the yearning was there. The urge to write has always flowed within me. The question is why? Why write? I wrote for years before I showed anything I write to anyone and it was even longer before I posted anything in public and longer still before I was published, even on a small scale. The desire for recognition is not connected with need to write. I write because it feeds something inside of me that gets more hungry as I write. I write because I have to write or time itself distorts. I write because I am driven to it, lashed by a rain of words and winds made of sentences, and pushed along by the tide of paragraphs rising with the pages of the sun and the moon. I cannot explain to you the dogs’ hunt, the bee’s dance, the spider’s web or my writing, but I can tell you the Universe speaks in this all.

Take Care,
Mike

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