Friday, March 19, 2010

The Oldest Story Ever Told – zoo day

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Here is the oldest story ever told: the miraculous birth.  It predates us, although I didn’t know it. I always thought it a human story, a Christian story, a Christmas story.  Baby Jesus in his crib, with a reverent procession of visitors both sublime and banal, from heavenly angels to donkey and cow, from three wise men to simple shepherds.  All, regardless of status, changed the course of their day to bear witness to the miracle.

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And here it is yet again. Look at the picture. Do you see the expressions of reverence and awe on their faces; in their bodies?  These are sheep, Barbary sheep. They live in the Metropolitan Toronto Zoo. Through the course of the day, they wander, they bleat, they shit and they eat.  They wander through their enclosure leaping up the rocks and curling up in the sun. Sometimes they jostle for status, or huddle for comfort, but this is not an ordinary day. Twins just born, the placenta still quivers, a perfect circle of red and pink.  The mother exhausted, brings herself to stand on shaky feet.  The lambs struggle up to take the teat, the first action of their new lives.

Change, and the potential for change, has entered their predictable lives. Because once born, everything changes, in the pack, the flock, the family, the social group.  There is potential in a newborn babe, not just innocence, because we never know what the adult will be. Saint, sinner, bully, mentor, days or years it will take to realize the result, but the potential is here, at the moment of birth where it all begins.  And we all know, and even the sheep know it, and mark the moment in this brief but moving ritual of greeting.

And all the sheep bear witness. Animals they may be, but their actions bear the unmistakable stamp of ritual. So this, I will say is the oldest story ever told, because even the animals tell it, to this day.

PS. I’m not making this up.  Really, really, I saw this happen. The sheep all turning as one to greet the newest members of the flock.  I learned more from that moment than I could in any book. I learned, more than ever, to appreciate the depths of another species mind. Not to mention, more fodder to my speculations on the origins of religion.

PPS. This took me two weeks to write down! I just couldn’t get my head around what I was trying to say. Here goes---POST IT!

7 comments:

Quiltbug said...

What a beautiful story, well told. I have always marvelled at the animals and their intelligence. It is one of the reasons I became a vegetarian. Can you tell us more about your speculations on the origin of religion or that something better left to private conversations?

Audrey

Michelle (artscapes) said...

Last comment sounded wrong - this probably isn't much better! LOL!

What an amazing observation... Thanks for sharing that. I never felt that we were in any way different from other animals. Most of what we do from day to day is the same. Perhaps religion is the articulation and recognition of the awesome creative power we are connected to and our unique method of communicating it.

kaslkaos said...

Thanks Quiltbug, and yes, I can answer. With such discussion, I'm sure to offend someone, but I think religion comes from our feelings of 'awe', strong emotions that are difficult to understand. Things we fear, things we love, things that bring intense change. Animals feel these emotions, and act upon them. We feel them, find words for them, label them, make up stories about them, and then fight over the accuracy of those stories. Hmmm... may steal this for another blog post.
Thanks Michelle. & if you had trouble, then you probably also understand why I had trouble writing the post! I wrote it three times, & once on paper. I'm heading into murky waters. Your summation sounds quite beautiful.

Chrissy said...

I enjoyed this post and the thought behind it.
Religion is a very emotive subject for many and for myself, my thoughts are very diffciult to articulate. When you look at the animals, they are just experiencing the beauty of the moment, we could take a leaf out of their book I think and be better for it.

Jennifer Rose said...

I have nothing to add lol just wanted to say I loved seeing those sheep hop around and would spend a lot of time watching them :)

(oh and your thoughts on religion pretty much match mine. and it does sounds like a good blog post)

kaslkaos said...

Chrissy, thanks for chiming in. Yes, religion or spirituality is difficult to talk about (is that why we are artists?) Sometimes I feel art is a form of worship, for me, secular worship, but worship all the same. Animals are always in the moment. They have no need of musing to know how to live.
Hey Jennifer, yah, I know. I probably made you jealous talking about the zoo again too. You should see the wolves in their new hilltop enclosure.
Sorry both of you, for leaving my reply so late.

Jennifer Rose said...

yes, very jealous again lol I will def. have to go there if we ever go back to Ontario to visit (kind of hard now I guess with the dog tho)

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