Sharing Mothers


Preamble The Living World is of course home to tens of millions of species large and small, or trillions when you include Archaea and Bacteria in the tally. It therefore seems reasonable to suppose that humans are never truly alone in this world, nor could they ever be. Not only do we keep intimate company with the likes of face and pillow mites, not to mention bellybutton bacteria, we also play permanent host to a highly personalized gut flora and fauna.

And yet there’s still a sense, is there not, in which Homo sapiens, most of us anyhow, really do live alone in this world. Hermetically walled off from all but a few other living creatures – cats, dogs, goldfish, other humans, cock roaches, that sort of thing – we bumble through life more or less steeped in the belief that the only meaning the world could ever have revolves around the unfolding of human destiny. All the world’s a stage and such.



o what then accounts for this particular aspect of our very human exceptionalism?

Partly, I suppose, our isolation is the price we pay for our uniquely human way of understanding the world to ourselves – through the medium of stories I mean – a narrative style very different from that of all other animals in degree is not also in kind; nor is there really much we can do about it.

But partly too it’s the cost of our modern lifeways that, if urban, keep us at physical remove from the kinds of habitats inhabited by most other living things, and, if rural, ten to commodify them beyond any hope of kinship.

Pine Martin by Eskild Petersen
©Eskild Peterson

But mostly it’s a profound socially constructed sense of human exceptionalism, an entirely wrong-headed attitude of superiority that most of us imbibe from the time we’re born. Take all together, in any case, and it seems fair to say that, living among multitudes, yet we nonetheless travel alone, communicating endlessly with one another, yes, but otherwise kept at distance from the Living World That Sustains Us.

None of this, I dare say, bodes well for us – or for the Living World at large – at a time when the continued flourishing of Homo sapiens requires, among many things, rapprochement with our kindred species on Earth. How ever is such rapprochement to be managed, and where ever do we even begin? Indigenous Peoples had Kincentricity to draw upon, but of course there’s nothing similar in western culture.

Well if my own experience is any measure, this is more easily managed than most might imagine; though it does require a sense of evolutionary time. That and a fecund imagination.

It’s the Mother Question – a question I ask almost daily. If I’m engaged with a dragonfly, say, or a Canada Goose or a mouse or a moose, it goes like this: How long ago was this creature’s mother also my mother?

Next up: Learning to Care