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Monday, January 13, 2014

To Break or Not to Break

During the long snowy period, one of my chores was to bring in logs every day to burn in the fireplace. The smoke billowing out of my chimney demanded a wood sacrifice.

While the fire was going, I used it to burn unwanted papers and boxes that I had around the house. There is a pleasure in seeing things burn. There is a thrill in destroying, annihilating and taking out of existence. This is a kind of destructive energy which is at the very heart of life.

Taking a piece of wood from the woodpile and turning it into fire is the ultimate destructive act. But it is strangely also a reaffirmation of life.

The difference between a civilized and an uncivilized person is in the things we destroy. Good people destroy things belonging to them. Bad people destroy things belonging to others without asking permission. But all life is ultimately destruction of one thing for the sake of another. That's what eating and digesting and burning fuel are all about.

After the thaw, Bow enjoyed some free time in the outer pen.

Leo tried to engage him in play, but Bow was mostly contemplative. I, on the other hand, was still preoccupied with burning things. Once the snow was not covering all the ground, I discovered big sticks and wanted to turn them into smaller sticks. Some were harder to break than others. And it suddenly occurred to me yesterday that maybe Bow could help. He is so very strong! And he takes such pleasure in breaking things. So I brought out a stick for him to break.

Bow would not break the stick! I had spent so many years trying to teach him not to break things, that now when I wanted him to break something, he would not do it!

There is a danger in building up inhibitions against destructive behavior. I have been thinking about that this morning. We teach our children not to pee on the floor, and then years later when we take them camping and tell them it's okay to use the great outdoors as their toilet, they don't believe us. We teach our children not to hit and not to hurt others, and then one day when they need to defend themselves, they may not know how. We teach people not to kill, when really we ought to teach the difference between killing and murder. Because without killing there could be no life.

Years ago, the interns used to argue with me that every time Bow was destroying something, he was being creative. This was not true. He was just giving way to the pleasure of destruction. But there is nothing wrong with giving way to mindless pleasure every once in a while, if it serves a purpose.

Bow and I need to work on that distinction. Maybe we will practice some more with other pieces of wood.


  1. Hi Aya. Been following Bow for years. Just curious if you have ever considered building a larger enclosure so he can run around in the yard a bit. I would think that as he matures, that he might become bored in a small pen, not to mention the lack of exercise. I do hope he stays with you forever though and has a fulfilling life.

    1. Hi, Scott. In fact, I had plans of turning five of my ten acres into an island for Bow to roam in. The big hold up is a lack of funding.

      The idea that if he did have free run of the back yard, the yard would remain the same, however, is a bit idealistic. Bow would likely denude and kill all the trees in the yard that he has access to, and even in a five acre island, he would probably have a big impact on the vegetation, so that the lush island we gave him would not be the island he would keep. Think Easter Island.

      To live a natural life as hunter gatherers, both humans and chimps need thousands of acres per person. It is only because our life is so unnatural that we are able -- all of us-- to live cooped up as we do in tiny apartments and houses. The pen system is actually quite big, compared to the cells most civilized humans occupy most of the day. One does get used to it. I'm in here all the time, too.

      But that does not mean I do not hope for better things for Bow. I also want him to have a mate.