Editorial: Westward ho!
From ANIMAL PEOPLE, July 1996:
You may have noticed that this edition of ANIMAL PEOPLE is dated simply
“July.” Traditionally we’ve published a combined July/August edition, but we’ve varied the
routine this year to facilitate our forthcoming relocation, from a 160-year-old rambling
farmhouse almost on top of the New York/Vermont border to a compact home/office in
Clinton, Washington. Because our new location won’t be ready until we’d normally be
starting in on our September edition, and because moving 22 cats, three dogs, and a whole
newspaper cross-country and setting up again will of necessity take several weeks, we’ll be
issuing an August/September combined edition from here, to be mailed in late July, just
before we hit the road. While the post office delivers it, we’ll roll west in a convoy of rented
trucks, the traveling menagerie in an air-conditioned van with double doors to prevent
escapes, and the office in a separate van because cats, dogs, files, and computers barely
get along even without the stress of travel. (It’s not the animals who object––it’s the equipment.)
By the time you’ve received the August/September edition, we hope, we’ll be
unpacking and able to answer your calls, faxes, and e-mailed information requests.
By the time our October edition comes out, in mid-September, we’ll be back on
our usual schedule.
Please note that our address will change, effective July 25, to POB 960, Clinton,
WA 98236. We’ll publish our new telephone and fax numbers in our August/September
edition, and hope to have a new World Wide Web site all our own by then, too, in place of
the one we formerly shared.
Our e-mail address will remain >>ANMLPEOPLE@aol.com<<––and that now
handles by far the highest volume of editorial correspondence.
We anticipate more speculation about the effect of relocation on our perspective
than actual change. While understanding of animal-related problems is integrally related to
knowing habitat, and knowing habitat requires developing familiarity with place, animalrelated
news often proceeds from conflict involving the human animal’s lack of specific
adaptation to any particular place, combined with the unique human ability to transform
nearly any place to suit its own vision. Whether we’re watching minke, fin, and beluga
whales in the Gulf of St. Lawrence, for example, or orcas and grey whales off Vancouver
Island, we can be sure that those animals, far though they range, have occupied essentially
the same ecological niche for much longer than humans have existed; but our precise niche
––if we ever have one––is largely self-made, or at least created by institutions in which we
participate (not necessarily by choice). The story of human relations with animals is the
story of seeking habitat, wresting it from other species and/or building it, including by
domesticating and using other animals, because nature has not neatly defined a place for us.
We are as much as 97% identical to bonobos, chimpanzees, and gorillas, yet none of them
can thrive anywhere unlike their place of origin. Humans are anywhere, everywhere, confined
chiefly by our own territorial markings in the form of laws and political boundaries.
We also, through electronic communications, have ever greater ability to be virtually
anywhere, albeit not literally there, at any time we choose. In any given day, ANIMAL
PEOPLE receives breaking news from all the continents, talks to people in up to a
dozen states, and yet may never leave the office.
We are now in the Adirondacks, where some neighbors have occupied the same
house and done much the same work, generation after generation, since before the
American Revolution, much as generations of chipmunks have occupied their stone walls.
Yet this has not attuned our neighbors any more to empathy with the native animals than the
chipmunks are attuned to understanding them.
We shall soon be in the Pacific Northwest, where hardly anyone was born within a
hundred or even a thousand miles of his/her present abode, but where a far higher percentage
of the population seems to seek knowledge of nature for a purpose other than shooting
or trapping a piece of it.
Perhaps it is our degree of understanding that we are from somewhere else which
impels us to seek understanding, as well, of wherever we find ourselves, and who else we
share it with.