I see a Bee. She moves gracefully from Flower to Flower. She is busy, but her affect lacks the frenetic haste that characterizes harried human schedules. Her acute ultraviolet-sensing vision allows her to see vibrant patterns directing her to the object of her desire. As she gently probes the Flowers with her proboscis, Flower and Bee engage in an intimate relationship, forged through millennia of deep time where each co-creates and enhances the existence of the other. As the Bee completes her embrace with one Flower and flies off to the next, she is shrouded in pollen, thereby directly participating in the sexual liaisons of beings that symbolize romantic love and affection.
I wonder, in the absence of artificially constructed individualist lifestyles, and simply enthralled with the urgency of being, what does it feel like when Bee and Flower entangle? I imagine it must feel like ecstasy, a sense of fulfillment like no other, as life’s purpose is sated through union with another. Desire, allurement, embrace, and gratification – could this be love?
In the early morning hours, I catch a glimpse of a yellow Moth, languorously dozing in the cup of an Evening Primrose Flower. Drunk on the night’s rapture of nectar and coupling, the Moth epitomizes complete contentment. As a light breeze blows, they nestle up around the Flower’s pistil like a contented couple cuddling in a downy nest of blankets.
For many in the scientific community, to suggest that Insects have the capacity for love and desire commits the sin of anthropomorphizing, but perhaps this accusation points to projection. Continuing to embrace Descartes’s view that only humans possess the capacity for such emotions (Mathews, 2021; Merchant, 1980; Spretnak, 1991), the scientific community has traditionally used a yardstick, based on the nervous system of a single species, Homo sapiens, to judge the sentience of all other beings (Bekoff, 2001). Birds, Bees, Flowers, and Trees are cast as animate automatons unless they can be proven to be sufficiently human-like to be awarded some semblance (albeit still inferior to humans) of personhood. Perhaps anthropocentrism, as opposed to anthropomorphism is the real problem here.
Rather than representing the pinnacle of Earthly evolution, as Descartes and his philosophical descendants suppose, humans are simply a relatively recent evolutionary arrival on Planet Earth. Rather than springing fully formed and novel from the ether or some “invisible hand,” humans are beings comprised of slightly tweaked traits inherited from billions of years of evolutionary kin. And behind this evolutionary drive, Richard Prum (2017) surmises (after decades of studying Bird behavior) is “the taste for the beautiful…an independent and transformative evolutionary force in the history of life” (p. 28). The dispassionate concept of evolutionary adaptation via survival of the fittest plagues western scientific thought. Despite its entangled messiness, beauty drives evolution. Desire drives life (Weber, 2014).
The Autumnal Equinox this week marks six months of rewilding, and the absence of consumer goods and easy transportation has offered me some perspective on the nature of desire, longing, and fulfillment. One of my human kids had a birthday this week and wanted me to go shopping with them to offer my opinion on clothing. At REI (my favorite retail outlet outside of the year of rewilding), a purple, plaid, flannel shirt called to me with a power that mimicked, I imagine, the Flower’s allure for the Bee. Much to my surprise, desire for that shirt consumed me, along with its soft promise of warmth and coziness for the upcoming cooler months. It took almost every ounce of my willpower to walk out of the store without that shirt.
Later, at Target, I was smitten by Mrs. Meyer’s Clean Day cleaning products, as I reminisced about the delicious smells of lavender, verbena, geranium, etc. that delightfully infuse the house during their use. After almost six months of rewilding, the discovery of the consumerist succubus still in possession of my psyche was unsettling.
I also confess to having stretched the rewilding rules. Based on doctor’s orders that I need to moderate my physical activities to allow my body to heal from long COVID-19 symptoms, I drove to a Fungi workshop this past weekend. The 56-mile round trip by bicycle simply was not in the cards for me. With all the Trees I have planted this year, I have easily offset the carbon footprint of the adventure, but this offsetting doesn’t account for all the other atrocities – social, environmental, political, economic, etc. – complicit with the use of fossil fuels. At some level, I enjoyed the drive – a cheap satisfaction, but one that comes with an incalculable more-than-human cost.
I now feel sullied, aware of all the blood on my hands, that no amount of carbon offsets will wash off. Death dances intimately with life. As apex predators, human lives depend on the deaths of others, but we also have the capacity to foster new life and balance the equation. In the Anthropocene, countless lives meet their end on the altar of convenience. On foot or on my bike, I am in the world, wind on my face, smells of Flowers and exhaust, rain or sun chilling and warming, respectively. In the car, I race through existence, sheltered within a mechanical shell, spewing impacts, with limited connection to the world around me. I note the contrast between these two states of being. The car offers expediency, a necessity in western life where one must get to work on time and hurry to purchase the necessities of life that cannot be procured naturally since (tragically and ironically) most productive hours are spent laboring to procure the money needed to buy those necessities. Walking and biking, on the other hand, foster connection – foot with Earth, Air with lungs, Birdsong with ear. The convenience of the former mode of transportation sacrifices the relationality of the latter.
When I am truly in the world, my desire for speed, trinkets, and manufactured fragrance dissipates. When I am rushed, overwhelmed, busy with the mundane tasks of modern human life, a chasm opens where relationship with the world should be. In that state of mind, plaid shirts and Mrs. Meyer’s Clean Day tempt me with the mirage that they too can offer comfort, connection, and an olfactory feast for the senses; but they pale in comparison with connection with my loved ones, the smell of Air when it rains, the sight of Butterfly engaged in an erotic dance among the Flowers, and the soft touch of my furry roommates at the end of a well-spent day.
Bekoff, M. (2001). The Evolution of Animal Play, Emotions, and Social Morality: On science, theology, spirituality, personhood, and love. Zygon, 36(4), 615-655.
Mathews, F. (2021). The Ecological Self (Routledge Classics ed.): Routledge.
Merchant, C. (1980). The Death of Nature: Women, Ecology and Revolution: Harper Collins.
Prum, R. O. (2017). The evolution of beauty: How Darwin’s forgotten theory of mate choice shapes the animal world-and us: Anchor.
Spretnak, C. (1991). States of Grace: The recovery of meaning in the Postmodern age: Harper San Francisco.
Weber, A. (2014). Matter and Desire: An erotic ecology: Chelsea Green.
*Throughout this website, I will use capital letters for the names of more-than-humans to signal their personhood.