Catherine Raven: Why We’re More Like Animals Than We Think
In Conversation with Mitchell Kaplan on The Literary Life Podcast
On today’s episode of The Literary Life, Mitchell Kaplan talks to Catherine Raven about her book, Fox and I: An Uncommon Friendship, out now from Spiegel & Grau.
From the episode:
Catherine Raven: The important thing I think that changed was my view of the importance of science, so I was living a life that was really based a lot on rational reasoning and thinking, and that really cuts a lot of important events out of your life that aren’t based on thinking.
If you think about whether you should spend emotion and time with the creature that’s very short lived, you really shouldn’t expect a fox to live more than four years in the wild. Most of the animals that will encounter outdoors your house, the little tiny robin that keeps coming by so close to your front door and she has a little tumor in the front so she’s easy to recognize from all the other ones, are you going to invest time and emotion in her? She’s going to be gone migrating. And even if they don’t migrate in Florida, the tumor is not really a good sign. So you’re thinking this isn’t rational and it makes no sense. But then if you stop thinking about it and just feel, it starts to make sense. It feels really right. What’s important about the relationship with the fox was he brought me beyond the point of changing my view of anthropomorphism, but into the idea of reverse anthropomorphism, which is really what I’m spending a lot of time thinking about.
Now, I knew from Fox that the idea that animals have certain personalities and humans have certain personalities and the traits that are human traits are only for humans, that we have some traits that are just human and animals can’t have those. I understand now that we’re wrong about that, that we really don’t understand which traits belong just to humans and that animals do have these amazing personalities. But I’m also realizing that people are a lot more like the other animals than we thought that we our culture has pulled us so far away from our human nature, our animal nature.
And the book, of course, made me think back to things like the the fawn at Panther Creek when we decided it needed to die because that was the paradigm. I knew something was wrong. I knew that that hadn’t been the way people had acted for thousands of years. It seems like it’s human instinct to see something suffering and looking at you and then you would help it. But our culture says no because it’s natural and you just let it die. I’m realizing that our culture is masking a lot of what our human nature is.
Our human nature has been building up for hundreds of thousands of years, ever since the beginning of Homo Sapiens. As a species, we have a certain human nature and that nature should be evolutionarily stable and cultures are really transient. we see cultures just changing so much in our lifetimes and we can read about cultures that are only a couple thousand years old that don’t exist anymore. So cultures are really transient and human nature isn’t. So I think it’s really important for me going forward, and I hope people that read the book they won’t just open up to understand that animals are more like us, but that we are more like animals and that we need to come together. I’ve been solving a lot of problems that way when I realized that something isn’t making sense logically. I forget about thinking logically and I just try to feel and I get in touch with what my nature is telling me and that’s where I get the right answer.
Catherine Raven is a former national park ranger at Glacier, Mount Rainier, North Cascades, Voyageurs, and Yellowstone national parks. She earned a PhD in biology from Montana State University, holds degrees in zoology and botany from the University of Montana, and is a member of American Mensa and Sigma Xi. Her natural history essays have appeared in American Scientist, Journal of American Mensa, and Montana Magazine. You can find her in Fox’s valley tugging tumbleweeds from the sloughs.