Climate, wind, season, hour are not of another nature than the things, animals, or people that populate them, follow them, sleep and awaken within them… animal-stalks-at-five-o’clock.
(Deleuze & Guattari 2003a: 263 quoted in Dodds 2011, Psychoanalysis and Ecology at the Edge of Chaos; Complexity Theory, Deleuze|Guattari and Psychoanalysis for a Climate in Crisis, 147)
After a ten-plus hour flight with several hours of delays, a slow and hazardous cab ride through a snow and ice storm, over slick roads and through dense fog – two teenagers, myself, and three geriatric cats arrived at an empty house on the western face of a mountain in northern New Mexico on Christmas Eve, at two in the morning. We climbed up the steep icy driveway that no vehicle could scale, each dragging a carry on and a pet carrier through the pitch black night. The cats instinctively stopped their many hours of constant complaining as soon as they caught the scent of coyote, mountain lion and bobcat in the air. This was our introduction to the high desert, a new reality, one where the weather, the ground, the sky and the wildlife were all more powerful than we were.
A few days later the chihuahua and the beagle would arrive by car with my husband. A suburban car, a sensible station wagon, one that would make no sense at all on the muddy, icy winding dirt roads in the hills. We would turn it in within the week, struggling with our conflicting desires for a car with minimal emissions and maximum all-wheel drive.
It took several weeks of sleeping in our winter coats and wearing extra socks before we learned how keep the wood burning stove pumping out necessary heat. Start the fire with quick burning pinyon and then after the first few hours when it burns really good and hot, start adding in the slower burning apple wood. Keep it stocked, don’t ever let the embers burn out. A few extra apple logs before bed and it will almost make it through the night.
We were city folk after all, living and working our whole adult lives in and around New York City. We had moved impulsively.
I dream of a desperate injured squirrel that came clawing and dragging itself – very fast – out of a friend’s house in Española, into the court yard. We run to open the doors for it and hold the dogs back – the beagle particularly- so it wouldn’t be further injured and could hopefully escape, to live or die where it belonged.
Women and men who become with other life-forms are among the anomalies of horror cinema. Inhuman entities possess human bodies. Bodies without souls have non-human life of their own, and spirits without former bodies become ethereal… (Powell 2006: 64 quoted in Dobbs 2011: 129)
The “life-long” chemotherapy I’d taken for two and a half years for a supposedly chronic and incurable cancer was suddenly stopped – my blood, bone-marrow and MRI scans all showed no evidence of disease – a remission we had understood was impossible was declared. Over the next few months as my strength returned – I itched to move, impatient to shed an old a skin quite literally as my skin and hair texture began to change as a the medicine left my system.
I dream about a zoo I am surprised to discover that I own, filled with powerful, restless caged animals. “I have thousands of animals!” I realized.
As Deleuze and Guattari (203a: 29) write, ‘Freud tried to approach crowd phenomena from the point of view of the unconscious… he did not see that the unconscious itself was fundamentally a crowd’ ( Dodds 2011: 144)
The kids were up for an adventure –and so I flew out and found a house and a school in October and by the end of December we were packed and had left thirty years of our old life behind.
I spent January unpacking the house, getting the kids settled in their new high school, and when I could, venturing out on foot to investigate our new “neighborhood” of adobe homes scattered here and there in the middle of the high desert wild. I was, at first, frightened carrying a large stick with me to use both as a cane and a defensive weapon as I walked our effete city-dogs on the empty dirt roads and trails.
Deleuze and Guattari’s approach of “becoming-animal” distinguishes ‘Oedipal’ animals (pets, domesticated animals) from “State” or mythic animals –and from ‘nomadic’ wild or pack animals. (Dodds 2011; 134)
I dream my husband brings home an old traumatized mule to live with us in our new house. This sweet old mule is somehow a gift that is suppose to to make up for all the entertaining and company we had to foreclose on during “the troubles”. The mule, rescued, battered, hairless in places, skin scarred, stained or tattooed from being painted for festivals- was so affectionate. The mule will spend her senior years with us. I brought her into the house to stay warm. And then the mule herself led me to discover an ignored, forgotten back yard when she noticed and was excited- wagging her mule tail- to see some song-birds and a small kitten through the sliding doors. It was clear that the mule would be an integral part of our new lives in New Mexico
I am nature-starved after thirty five years in the city, but this landscape is totally “other.” I feel vulnerable, but I want to come to know this place. There are large stretches of land on my walks with no cell service. I have a slight limp from cancer-damaged nerves, and I wonder if I look like prey, if the chihuahua is the amuse bouche. I don’t want to get lost among the foothills and unmarked trails, and I don’t know how to live among coyotes and mountain lions.
Horror can be understood as an exploration of many of our deepest anxieties such as persecutory anxiety – annihilation, fragmentation, destruction, dismemberment, engulfment, retaliation, biting/clawing, poisoning… (Dodds 2011: 116)
I study the satellite view on Google Maps so I can learn which narrow dirt roads connect and where the dead ends are. I watch videos about how to “haze” any aggressive predator we encounter by making myself large and making loud sounds. I order cans of compressed air that make a loud SSSSSHHHHHHT sound.
At dusk I hear the coyotes howling, insane laughter like the witches of Macbeth around their cauldron. The sound makes something inside me feel wild myself, or fills me with a yearning to be. I try to mimic the noise at night under the stars but I am too self-conscious and “civilized” to release such a feral sound.
“… the fragile boundary between nature and civilization, animal and human… the lure of the uncanny; the desire of the human to return to its primitive origins…” Creed (2005: 137) quoted in Dodds (2011: 125)
The white-people who colonize this space tell us “That is the sound when they have made a kill” but the people who live in the Pueblo communities that we have met who are proficient in hunting and tracking, and farming and foraging on this land tell me that is ridiculous. The calls are a joyful greeting when members of the pack reconvene as a big group after spending the day alone or in smaller sub-groups. The sound felt more like laughter than murder to me, and I am glad to have my intuition validated.
I dream of Extinction Rebellion- convincing some former client (not a client I recognize) to take climate change seriously- and I start a small sustainable house & garden with her and her son. She seem to have also built a bunker – but I hope it is a root cellar – food storage seems a good and prudent idea to me. We go to an Extinction Rebellion meeting- and no one stops talking. I want to make use of my writing and psychological skills. But activists keep launching into speeches at me and no one listens to my thoughts or strategies. I sense my ideas are unconventional and have a low expectation of being heard. My dream client is effective with them – the group listens to her and her speech about her feelings of persecution. The client has armed the small house we built and is preparing for Armageddon, for doomsday and is organizing against her fellow man. My goal is not a defensive one. I do not want to live in a fortress. I want to stay open to the natural, animal and the human world at once, whether we are living or dying, good or bad. I decide Extinction Rebellion is not for me
City mice and cockroaches are not an issue here, as they were in New York. Here we have pack-rats – who gather up bits and pieces of anything and everything and make nests in any small space they can – collecting anything shiny, anything soft, any grass or straw any nut or berry or seed and “pack” them tight into their nesting space wedged under any loose shingle or crack or hole. I am initially upset and disturbed that we have to deal with “rodents” until I look them up online. Their eyes are bright and their ears are round and large – not like city rats at all. I think of them like squirrels and determine to accept them as part of our household in the high desert. When the cat brings me a dead one, I scoop up the corpse and toss it into the brush for the ravens or bobcats to eat. And I congratulate the cat. I tell her she is a fierce warrior with an impressive killing bite and I give her a piece of cheese in exchange for her labor.
This is unlike me, in my former city life. I was a mouse-a-phobe, and once made my husband disrupt a session and leave a patient to come home because the cat had caught a mouse and had trapped me upstairs with my little children – bringing us its writhing body in its death throes any time we tried to come down, the three of us screaming and crying with horror at the cat’s murderousness and the rodent-gore.
As well as terrifying sights and sounds, we perceive affective textures of a repellant nature, such as the wet stickiness of human blood or the slimy trail of the monster. (Powell, 2006:142 quoted in Dodds, 2011: 132)
Last night I had dreams I can’t remember but woke up thinking about how fear is a reminder of our embodiment, that we live in a fragile, breakable finite body. Other emotions may give us feelings of expansiveness but fear reminds us that we are not omniscient or omnipotent. We live in mortal bodies, and our loved ones do too.
I learn about rattle snakes and their brumation cycles and seasons. I hire a dog behaviorist to help me teach our hopeless infantilized dogs how to stay alive. I throw a rubber snake in front of them and if they go near I give a can of pennies a loud shake and bark NO! at them. The chihuahua, knows that he is out of his league and stops peeing or pooping entirely from dusk to dawn. Back east he would beg for two or three trips “out” between dinner and bed. But now he prefers to hold it. We are frustrated at first with the change, concerned he will find a secret pee spot in the house but once it is clear that this isn’t going to ruin our rugs we accept it as a Sullivanian security operation.
…Becoming-animal is closely linked to becoming-death. (Dodds 2011: 129)
The beagle comes alive in a world of extraordinary smells. She is a nose with a dog attached, and she quickly finds every prairie dog compound and every hole filled with burrowing owls. She cannot be trusted off-leash because although she loves us, her loyalty to a scent-trail overpowers all else. One afternoon she pulls into a bush and startles a beautiful Coopers hawk – who is annoyed that his lunch has been disrupted and sits on a fence post five feet from me – and glares into my eyes for a good five minutes, while the dogs sit frozen and staring and completely silent. When I see the hawk turn to eye the bush and see if the rodent or bunny corpse he was feasting on was still there, I pull the dogs away and let the annoyed hawk go back his meal.
Deleuze and Guattari’s ‘becoming animal” is no a matter of imitation, metaphor, analogy, or even identification, but a new way of being-becoming where heterogeneous elements recombine into new assemblages. (Dodds 2011: 135)
I learn about scorpion infestations and scorpion dangers – the redder they are, the more poisonous they are and their stings can be toxic to dogs. We learn that we should leave the giant fire ant hills along the driveway and the arroyo (the dry river bed which is essentially our “yard”) because they keep not only scorpions but millipede invasions at bay.
I learn the names of the plants, and what parts of the yucca, the prickly pear and the cholla you can eat.
One morning I hear some strange sounds and walk outside and look at the sky: a flock of sandhill cranes circle overhead, calling to each other, their feathers shimmering like the gilded wings of angels in the morning sun.
The mule deer have huge ears like rabbits, and they “sproing” instead of run, but they rarely “sproing” away from me or the dogs. At most they simply meander along, and always it seems one or two hang back and tilt their heads and stare back as curious about me as I am about them.
I watch the ravens who fly though the updrafts like jokester acrobats – flipping over on to their backs and dive bombing and twisting into loop-de-loops. I observe three ravens call to each other and strategically drive a red-tailed hawk from the territory they wished to claim. The ravens are the animals I feel most “acquisitive” about. I want one to claim me, to befriend it. I want one to trust me enough to eat a dog treat out of my hand.
Back East I used to visit a crow several times a month at a rehab center who loved women with grey hair, and who would race to the edge of his cage when I would arrive and shout: “Hello Hello Hello!” and beg me to rub his shiny black beak. I know his contained life at the rehab center was a tragedy. But making contact with him made something feel alive in me that wasn’t alive in any other transaction or relationship.
So when I see these wild, smart, strategic, corvids and watch them soaring overhead – I want one to choose me as an ally and also for it to remain wholly wild. I toss dog treats along the path when we notice each other and they call to warn the rest of the “ unkindness of ravens” about my approach. I hope they will start to think of me as friend rather than a danger. I’d like to be accepted as a member of the flock, and although I know this is ridiculous fairy tale trope I still yearn for it.
The need for the concept of a mixed pack… a loose pack, an unpacked pack that reflects the diversity of pack phenomena, and includes wolves banished from their pack, dog-wolf hybrids, lone hunters that become pack-like only during mating season… (Genosko 1993: 617, quoted in Dodds 2011: 145)
And perhaps even occasionally the loose pack might enfold a stray werewolf, or a squirrel-mule-coyote-raven-woman, or the odd infant human adopted and raised by wolves, into the the pack
I wonder if I want to be a therapist anymore. I often want to talk about things that most my clients are not interested in. I want to talk about death and acceptance and climate breakdown and loss and grief and to have compassion for ourselves even as we struggle to comprehend our own destructiveness. I think of how species over-grow and damage a particular ecosystem if they find themselves tossed by wind or water into environments where they have no predators and abundant prey. Are we any more conscious, as a hive, as a collective, than a colony of beavers who flood and “destroy” a prairie and transform it into a swamp, or a swarm of locust who kill all the plants and all of the other species that require those plants to survive, or an infestation of stink bugs accidentally transported by some bird or mammal into a space where they cannot stop growing and consuming? We imagine we are conscious as a species, the “most conscious” species – but I don’t see much evidence of that. A swarm of the fire ants is social and complex, capable of remarkable feats of engineering, with differentiated roles and jobs and social strata. They are also aggressive and murderous.
It seems to me an ego-inflation to imagine that we are any more capable as a world-wide species of controlling ourselves than any other over grown species on this planet. How different are we humans, from a swarm, or from this virus – its arrival too soon, too violent, to traumatic to even begin to write about – that consumes its host and leaves behind a stack corpses? Or the beetles that destroy an entire species of trees, the very trees it needs to survive? Swarms can be destroyed by external threats, or by their own pathologies. All the birds are capable of flying in the wrong direction.
Astronomers and those who speculate about life on other planets sometimes postulate that the reason we have never been contacted by other “intelligent” life forms is that they have all succumbed to their own consuming and destructive technologies. What if the destructive aspects of our technologies always outstrip the collective ability to comprehend them? What if it is tragic and also natural and not so unusual for a species to be wiped out by disease, or plague, or to unconsciously fuck itself and its environment up? We are surely not the only species to harm or even eliminate other species, or to be eliminated or to eliminate ourselves. Viruses consume and spread and destroy their habitats, until the living systems they depend upon collapse out from under them, and then they recede, or sometimes extinguish themselves entirely.
To collapse in paralyzing guilt feels to me to be as grandiose a response to the destructive capacity of humanity as it is to imagine we have been granted dominion and control over the world and all it’s species. We are, I suspect, just as- and no more – conscious than our fellow species-peers, but far more overgrown.
I begin to try to visualize a new way of working, although I can’t quite imagine how I will piece it together. I imagine a stew of thanatological work, palliative care, and ecopsychology. I imagine sitting in relationship to the world and the animals and humanity and staying in relationship to all of it whether it lives or dies.
I dream I am walking my dogs on an empty dirt road in my neighborhood. There are large bushes on one side. The dogs are far ahead of me, when out of tbe bushes, the profile of an African lion (not a mountain lion as would be expected) with a glorious mane, emerges. He is supernatural and glorious and terrifying. The dogs don’t see him, and the lion doesn’t see me. I freeze, totally silent so the dogs will keep going, and hopefully escape while also hoping that the lion doesn’t turn and notice me. The lion is simultaneously benevolent and terrorizing, as ambivalent and numinous and arbitrary as a Greek or Hindu god or a Voudou loa. It all depends on what he decides about you.
Later in the morning I am reading an interesting poet/theologian and this sentences strikes me: “Like a wild animal- a lion, an eagle, a wolf, a bear- Yahweh stalks the creation. Also, the One Presence manifests in lightening, thunder, wind, rain, earthquake, and fire” – (Martin Bell, Distant Fire)
I begin to study the use of plant medicine to work through end of life anxiety. I take a distance learning class for my continuing education requirements in Ecopsychoanalyis. I imagine one day teaching classes or leading large workshops outdoors that help people breathe into their death anxiety and bereavement and climate guilt and grief and love the whole mess anyway, but I can’t imagine anyone willing to sign up.
In the unconscious the experience of death is common, and occurs ‘in life and for life, in every passage of becoming’. Intensive emotions tap into and control the unconscious experience of death. Death is enveloped by every intense feeling and is ‘what never ceases and never finishes happening in every becoming’ As every intensity if finite, and finally extinguished, so ‘every becoming itself becomes a becoming-death!’ (Deleuze & Guattari 2000: 330, quoted by Powell 2006: 52, quoted by Dodds 2011:129)
I don’t want to disrupt those who have the energies for the heroic battle against the unconsciousness of our species, or who want to fight the harms that we inflict upon the planet. I hope they can win. I hope they will. I hope as much of the life on this earth can enjoy this extraordinary reality for as long as possible. I wish the exact same thing for myself. But I have learned in the past several years, that it is easier to embrace and address the realities of life and death squarely when we are not driven by terror or paralyzed by guilt. And there will be so many and so much that will be lost. So much that will come to an end and will deserve a steady accepting, loving gaze to bear witness to the end of their individual stories, or the end of the whole story, and help them not to be afraid.
I dream of my friend Jason, who killed himself a year and a half ago. He takes me to the top of an unfathomably tall mountain. We sit at the edge of earth’s atmosphere on the brink of outer space and he shows me sunset after sunset after sunset. Thousands of sunsets. Each one is excruciatingly beautiful, setting the entire sky ablaze. After what seems like hours of this he turns to me and he says: “Do you see? Endings are the most important part.”