Animal Instincts

Portals to rewilding

With deforestation, development, and the general destruction of ecosystems, biologists are calling the result of our human follies the Sixth Mass Extinction. And then the animals we keep alive in droves hardly have a life at all. Pigs are kept in crates so small they can’t turn around, and the average pet owner spends a measly 40 minutes a day with their supposed “beloved” furry family member. I’m not saying we shouldn’t provide homes for dogs and cats and beyond (thank god for the saints rescuing animals in need). But I do think we should question the human superiority complex that assumes non-human animals exist in servitude, be it for affection or food or otherwise. Amongst our wreckage there is hope in rewilding landscapes, in rewilding native species. And perhaps there is hope in rewilding ourselves. After all, we’re not just connected to the natural world, we are ourselves a part of it. We are, of course, animals. With a little rewilding, maybe we will actually begin to act as the kind, caring, dutiful animal we imagine ourselves to be.

Warning: snacks coming 2 by 2, like a little Julie’s Ark of goodness.

A haunting odyssey directed by Jerzy Skolimowski, EO awakens empathy through a silent shimmering gray protagonist: a donkey. With none of the anthropomorphizing we tend to see with non-human protagonists, EO is radically expressive and unknowable. The sensitive cinematography (it’s gorgeous) and quivering sound design (it’s gorgeous) underscore a range of characters EO encounters, from kind to monstrous, each mirroring the animal in us all. Despite a couple unnecessary turns (re: the step-mother/son relationship I can only assume meant to question the concept of morality), EO is breathtaking and distinctive. My mouth swallowed my throat at multiple points in the movie. But it was the moment EO is transported from one captive location to another, gazing out at a band of wild horses galloping across a field, that I wept.

Hushed. Sensorial. Grand.

I went into this movie with zero context, and I wish the same for you. Directed by Michael Sarnoski, it is a committed film that salutes commitment to the one(s) you love. It is bizarrely sweet, and sweetly bizarre. And I will leave it at that.

Confounding. Stirring.

Filmed during the covid-marked summer of 2020, Tom Krawczyk creates a personal, delicate portrait of his mother and the newest addition to her sequestered family: a tiny abandoned baby squirrel. The tender arc of this relationship reminds us that we have so much love to give, and that other living things have so much love to give in return. But it also reminds us that we can’t expect others to live and love the way that we do. All of us living loving things are wild. So in love, we wild and let wild.

Poignant. Sincere. Pure.

Created by Michael Arcos, Valerio’s Day Out is the real-life story of a jaguar who escapes from a New Orleans zoo, reimagined as a video diary made by Valerio himself. The twisted satire uses archival clips and unsettling editing techniques that tantalize. They also harken the real-life zoo-locked pacing lions, and gorillas given higher and higher doses of Prozac so as to finally succumb to the sexual advances of their male counterparts. I don’t know enough to have a calcified opinion, but despite the purported merits of education and conservation, I’ve never been able to stomach the zoo. I think Valerio would agree.

Experimental. Dark. Ridiculous.

Photo Book: Animals That Saw Me Vol. 1 & Vol. 2

From photographer Ed Panar, this collection seems at first blush pure whimsy. But with each new animal confrontation, the pages brim with deeper meaning. A photo book that demonstrates the power of a title, the Animals That Saw Me collection catalogues snapshot after snapshot of animals not just looking, but seeing. It is through its simplicity that one marvels at the possibility of mutual enchantment.

Amusing. Wandering. Wondrous.

In this curatorial book from Gio Castranova, delightful and sad collide and expand to create a multi-faceted project that is ultimately quite hopeful. Lost and found animal posters were collected around Los Angeles County from 2010 to 2013, and then designed into a preserved form of Folk Art history. In an effort not to defeat the (very important) purpose of these flyers, Castranova set a steadfast rule: in order to take a single poster, at least three identical posters must be observed within a given one-block area. After the release of Still Missing, the project bloomed into an Instagram account that continues to connect lost pets and their loving families around the world. Most importantly, 100% of the proceeds go to animal charities.

Playful. Heart-warming. Bittersweet.

*Here is Midweek’s own list of NY-based animal rescues & charities.

Snack: Simple Comforting Tea

I used to tell a story about me and my Grandpa, who before succumbing to alcoholism raised pigs and chickens. Who before succumbing to alcoholism was my favorite. Who before succumbing to alcoholism felt safe. But after succumbing to alcoholism my Grandpa reminded me that, in the same way we can be curious and affectionate and loyal like our non-human counterparts, we can also be selfish and scary and cruel. We are, in fact, animal in every way. So now I don’t tell that story. But also like our non-human counterparts, we die. And while usually death is scary, sometimes it is comforting. So in lieu of a waggish anecdote about farm animals and an elaborate vegan recipe, here’s a tea that encourages you to feel however it is you feel, regardless of the circumstance. Rest in neutrality, Grandpa.

Warm. Kind. Safe.

  • Fill a giant mug with basil and mint and a small knob of ginger (I use a spoon to peel) and a dollop of raw honey and a tiny nugget of salt.

  • Boil water while you look out the window.

  • Pour water into mug then look at your hands while the concoction steeps.

  • Drink, sip, gulp. Whatever you need.

P.S.

I don’t fool myself into thinking I’ve reached the apex of natural world reverence. I still eat dairy and fish; the boots I’m wearing right this second are leather; and despite a compost pick-up at the end of my block, I haven’t started yet because I’m “just too busy.” So this post is more for me than anything. But I want to be good. And I want to be better. And bites like these help me get there.

Stay wild,

<3 Julie

P.P.S. Insight from a true friend to all animals, Carolyn Harpster, who provided the info for NY-based rescues & charities:

“By following the accounts of organizations and individuals who specialize or work in the space, you can find so many opportunities to help. Can you pay for an Uber to get a cat to a vet? Can you give a dog a ride to its foster home? Can you repost available animals? You don’t necessarily need to adopt or foster to help. Ya kno?”

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