How to be a Good Creature
What animals have to teach us about otherness.
In a time when people seem to fear that which is different, animals have the power to open our minds and hearts. “Knowing someone who belongs to another species can enlarge your soul in surprising ways,” says Sy Montgomery in her book How to be a Good Creature
. Her memoir describes her encounters with thirteen animals—from an octopus to an emu to her girlhood terrier.
Deep in the South American jungle, Montgomery describes the experience of Earth’s largest tarantula (weighing half a pound!) crawling across her hand [note that Montgomery was under the supervision of a scientist at the time, and that the venom of this species is relatively harmless to humans]:
She extended first one black hairy leg, then another, and another after another, until she was standing on my hand. The hooked tarsi at the tips of her feet felt vaguely prickly on my skin, like those of the Japanese beetles I have enjoyed holding since I was little. She stood for a moment while I admired her. She was a jet-haired beauty who looked like she had just had a fancy pedicure, the ends of her feet tipped in a bright, girly pink.
And then something magical happened. Holding her in my hand, I could literally feel a connection with this creature. No longer did I see her as a really big spider; now I saw her as a small animal. Of course she was both. “Animals” include not only mammals but also birds and reptiles, amphibians and insects, fish and spiders, and many more. But perhaps because the tarantula was furry, like a chipmunk, and big enough to handle, now I saw her and her spider kin in a new light. She was a unique individual, and in my hand, she was in my care. A wave of tenderness swept over me as I watched her walk, softly, slowly, and deliberately, across my skin.
The world, I realized, brimmed even fuller with life than I had suspected, rich with the souls of tiny creatures who may love their lives as much as we love ours.
Dear writers, tell us about one of your own encounters with a non-human animal. What happened? What did you learn from this creature? What did the experience teach you about interacting with the “other”? For inspiration, check out work by Community Ambassadors BeTheChange18
[Thanks to Brainpickings
for the inspiration for this prompt.]