The Dawn Of Understanding: Three Years Later Essay, Research Paper
Throughout my life, the same scene in the television screen registered in different ways. The camera zooms in for the last shot of a lone hyena wheezing his way out of life. He may be dying of heat exhaustion or thirst or hunger, but his small eyes roll side to side slowly and then….just…..stop. Equally significant and striking is the close-up of the very violent death of a baby seal as a hyena simultaneously shakes him into submission and breaks his spine. The camera is always held steady; no one is shocked or upset yet the sense that something important has happened is always instilled in me.
When I was younger I would cry during the sad moment in movies when someone died. The person or animal had a name and an identity which gave them a level of reality. My fascination for animals existed even then and I often followed with my eyes and imagination the lives of the documented animal. I turned away from the brashness of the lion tearing into the zebra because I turned away from all violence but I was too disgusted to feel any real compassion. Perhaps reality was harder to absorb than fiction. Perhaps these scenes weren’t real to me because what I had seen of death in my own experience always involved sorrow and the cameramen felt none, the sun felt none and the narrator felt none.
Later in my life I realized the zebra or coyote or prairie dog that was being forced to succumb to dehydration or starvation was real. I don’t think that I had ever, consciously seen anything die before; watched the same close-up many times before but never really seen anything die. Insects perhaps; never a person, never a baby lemur, never a cat, never anything except within the confines of fiction. What my mind had seen as I sat there was the product of lighting and actors and a voice but unlike real fiction, this did not seem real. As I have lived in a city for most of my life and never truly experienced what wildlife was like, this was it; the cameras lent my alienated consciousness a sense of the reality experienced by the other inhabitants of this earth: the four legged (and sometimes two-legged) ones. I was being carried on the shoulders of Richard Nassau and Michael Drencher as they journeyed to the desserts of Africa and mountains of Peru. Watching animals die was not the most significant part of my sessions with Richard; but my perception of this moment changed and continues to change and my interpretation of this moment prompt an understanding of the natural and the difference between it and I. This realization developed my great interest in nature photography and cinematography.
It dawned on me recently, as it always eventually dawns on everyone that the green object the squinting man had attached to his belt was water and the small animal that lay just a few feet away could be saved by it. Instead he commented on the animals’ guttural sounds and identified them as calls for his mother. Yet no one rushed to help the small animal and I didn’t understand why. There it was: the close-up. And then a commercial break. That scene and the many I saw afterwards depressed and upset me; perhaps the harshness but beauty of wildlife reminded me of my own. I knew I saw what the would occur without the presence of the camera lens but still insisted to myself that he someone who professed so much passion for animals could save one.
What is the difference between animals and myself; between their world and mine? My one year of biology does not equip me to answer the question but those many close-ups and my reaction to it has inspired the question I very recently have begun to answer. I remember learning about evolution and Darwinism. Like with everything new, once I learned it, the illustration of the term “survival of the fittest” appeared ubiquitously in what I read and saw; it served to explain or complicate books I re-read and movies I saw again. The concept was probably the most important thing I learned from Biology and it served to clarify what I saw, what Richard understood.
Human beings are outside of the laws of evolution and that is the difference. The size of our brain and the establishment of our civilization(s) is the effect of the new law we follow. The act of providing medical care for the sick, the sacred idea of preservation of life and comfort are actually outside the natural order. Richard Nassau and everyone who chooses to film the natural world takes an oath not to interrupt or disturb that cycle and balance. Humans–especially city dwellers–have been conditioned to adhere to humanism. Three years after the Biology Final I understand the question I missed.
I laugh sometimes when I see in the middle of winter a small dog trotting by its owner in a coat more expensive than mine. And yet, my cat watches TV with me, he eats ice cream, meows when he needs food and sleeps on my bed. That is simply how he has always lived because that is what I have taught him. Isn’t a cat who watches TV as inadequate as a dog who wears a coat? The city dweller’s experience with animals is to attempt to change them into versions of ourselves and we interpret for the once great hunter whether he should have chicken or fish for dinner.
Life hasn’t become any less precious, I haven’t stopped hating the close-up, and I don’t believe we should begin to fulfill evolution. However, I think I understand more the thing that I am fighting for. The crime environmentalists try to remedy is the removal of the conditions animals need to survive in their own habitat, or the removal of the habitat itself. The acceptance that there is a difference in the nature of animals and ourselves one the two shouldn’t intermingle.