Selections from “Becoming Wild”

“Until now, culture has remained a largely hidden, unappreciated layer of wild lives. Yet for many species, culture is both crucial and fragile. Long before a population declines to numbers low enough to seem threatened with extinction, their special cultural knowledge, earned and passed down over long generations, may begin disappearing.”

“WE BECOME WHO WE are not by genes alone. Culture is also a form of inheritance. Culture stores important information not in gene pools but in minds. Pools of knowledge—skills, preferences, songs, tool use, and dialects—get relayed through generations like a torch. And culture itself changes and evolves, often bestowing adaptability more flexibly and rapidly than genetic evolution could. An individual receives genes only from their parents but can receive culture from anyone and everyone in their social group. You’re not born with culture; that’s the difference. And because culture improves survival, culture can lead where genes must follow and adapt.”

“How long and rich a morning can be if you bring yourself fully to it. Come to a decent place. Bring nothing to tempt your attention away. Immerse in the timelessness of reality. Attention paid is repaid with interest.”

“Planet Earth constantly thrums with messages being sent and received by living things. Life is vibrant, and it generates good vibrations throughout the air, the sea, and the ground. But whale sounds seem particularly enchanted. Roger Payne wrote of the first time he heard a humpback whale singing: ‘Normally you don’t hear the size of the ocean … but I heard it that night.… That’s what whales do; they give the ocean its voice, and the voice they give is ethereal and unearthly.’ Payne later told me, ‘The reaction of some people to hearing whales sing is to burst into tears; I’ve seen that a lot.'”

“Social learning is huge, because it means that a dolphin or an elephant, a parrot or chimpanzee or lion, can tap into collective skills and wisdom that accrued slowly over centuries. For a young whale: Where in miles and miles and miles of ocean should I look for food? For a young elephant: Where is drinking water when everything I know has dried up? For a young chimpanzee: Now that the fruit is gone, what do I eat? For a young elk: As everything begins freezing solid, where should I go? For a young wolf: How might we hunt and eat this creature that weighs ten times what I weigh? These are all learned skills. For many creatures, they are skills learned from experienced elders.”

“To destroy a whale is a monumental denial of life and merely one symbol of the human species’ rather recent working hatred for the world. We have named one whale ‘killer.’ But that shoe best fits the species who possesses feet to wear it.”

“All of the above sums to this: a species isn’t just one big jar of jelly beans of the same color. It’s different smaller jars with differing hues in different places. From region to region, genetics can vary. And cultural traditions can differ. Different populations might use different tools, different migration routes, different ways of calling and being understood. All populations have their answers to the question of how to live.”

“Silence is not the absence of sound. It’s the absence of noise. There are reasons to love so magic an interlude. But residing deeper than reason is the felt music of such plush silence. Dawn is the song that silence sings. In a recess of the world such as this forest, you can still hear the magic. Outside such whittled hideaways, one species fills up all of the spaces between the notes. Nonetheless I am cheered by the thought that as the eyelash of daybreak rolls endlessly across the planet, a chorus of birds and monkeys is eternally greeting a new dawn.”

“Our planet spins a weave of tragedies. Life is bearable only because the warping maladies sometimes come with wefts of little triumphs.”

About smellincoffee

Citizen, librarian, reader with a boundless wonder for the world and a curiosity about all the beings inside it.
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