It was a 4 mile hike, a happy couple of hours outside between rains, and every step I took was bullishly loud on the otherwise silent mountain trail. My boots and walking stick making weird sucking, slushy noises against the muddy ground; the Velcro on my jacket practically screamed in protest as I readjusted, getting hot from the climb; even the sound of my own breathing was glaringly loud against the grey mist and weighty quiet. More so than at most times, my sense of joy at simply being someplace lovely bumped uncomfortably up against the awareness of just what an ungainly intruder a person is in quiet, wild places.
Walking outside the reach of our cell phones, computers, tablets, and engines is a healthy thing to do.
After half a mile or so I stopped to admire the biggest Banana Slug I've ever seen, a San Francisco Bay Area native shell-less terrestrial cousin of clams and oysters. Banana slugs are among the largest of the world's slugs and this greenish/yellow individual was close to ten inches of bulbous sausage, like an organ which somehow escaped from a whole body slowly and silently making a run for freedom and biological independence. I recalled that this hermaphroditic critter moves by sinuously wriggling his/her single muscular foot, riding a manufactured slime trail thick enough to protect the animal even if moving along the edge of a razorblade much less sharp twigs and stones.
If an animal can be said to glide on the ground, that's what I was seeing here. Gliding silently, effortlessly, slowly, and patiently too, I think. On the other hand, bullish, I marched off.
The second animal sighting on this hike was a rare privilege. As I rounded a sharp turn I came upon a Great Horned Owl royally perched on a boulder just off the trail, less than a dozen feet away. Animals don't necessarily always choose to follow the narrow rules we set for them, and this owl appeared not in the least embarrassed by his other-than-nocturnal appearance. He twisted his head in my direction, sizing up this ungainly loud intruder with owl-large golden eyes. Then, without demonstrating fear or hurry or even the slightest interest in the awe he was inspiring, he leaned forward, raised majestic wings and lifted silently into the sky, apparently without effort. One could use words like "rose into the air", or even "ascended." Silent.
Neither of my parents was especially interested in animals or the natural world. Remembering to water the one potted plant barely surviving on our third floor apartment's fire-escape was as close to environmental stewardship as they got. But my mother's words were entirely appropriate to this moment.
Like a bull in a china shop, we humans disturb and often actually break all that we touch as we charge about this world, oversized and overloud. We do not glide along this Earth or lift silently above it into the air. We bump and bungle along, this thinking and awkward animal who shows little ability to move with the grace of our cousins and neighbors in a world best appreciated and enjoyed in silence.
From the publisher: Ken White is the President of the Peninsula Humane Society & SPCA. For the geographically-challenged among our angling readership, that's the San Francisco Bay area. His work to protect our footed and feathered and shelled friends is only part of who he is. I met Ken in another life - the one where I spend time digging in the dirt and participating in worldwide auctions. The subject of our collective passion is American Indian Relics. I came across some beautiful pieces from the beaches of Marin County a few years ago. They were part of a large collection that included Gulf Coast artifacts I wanted for my personal frames. From the first messages on eBay, we grew to find that our views of reality, people, life, and the animals we both love were way more than compatible; we made each other laugh.
He's a very special guy, and his work with the San Francisco bay area SPCA and Humane Society puts him in that special breed of people that literally devote their lives to the world around us. The readers that know me personally know that I believe that "Activism" requires actions, not words about actions. From "Fishing Rights" activists to Animal Rights Activists to Environmental Activists to You-Name-a-Cause Activists, most of the people that talk about rights do not know very much about the rights they're whining about saving. Guys like Ken are the true activists. They act. They do things like nursing a falcon - shot with the BB's of some toy-gun activist, I am sure - back to health before letting the animal free in the wild. He had to teach the animal to eat again, it had been so badly injured. From the animals we both feed in our respective gardens to the artifacts we love to touch, share, and discuss so very much, he has blessed my life in a lot of ways. I am hoping to share more of my considerable collection of artifacts, my connections to the inside world of Amerind Relics (!) and my pure Constitutional Tea-Party political views with my new but very cool friend Ken in return for more articles of this quality :). I got him to write a short bio, which you can read here.