Friday, October 9, 2009
i have here a passage in a book i read recently called "the voyage of the turtle" written by a biologist named Carl Safina. it chronicles his travels around the world in search of the leatherback sea turtle, the largest and oldest of the sea turtles. i have read this portion over and over and it gives me goosebumps every time. to set it up a bit, Carl is in mexico studying sea turtles there and they have gone to a rodeo to pass some time and he is struck with these thoughts:
...on the way back to playa grande, i find myself at a bull-riding rodeo. there's food and a carnival atmosphere, a few drunks, not many tourists. i squeeze in atop the wooden wall of the ring with a bunch of locals.
the riders file into the ring with all the dusty pomp mustered by a small wild west town. a man yelling over a distorting public-address system presents them in grandiloquent hyperbole, asserting that these bull-riding hombres represent "the best spirit of humanity." They take their bows and march from the ring.
a few minutes later the chute opens and a rider bursts into the ring on the back of a bucking bull. a belt cinched tight around the most sensitive part of the bull's belly prompts the discomfited animal's bucking and kicking. after the rider dismounts or gets thrown off - usually in less than about ten seconds, either way - dozens of spectators who have jumped into the ring taunt the animal, running up behind it and throwing soft drink cups and pieces of trash and cardboard, then scampering up the walls as soon as the bull snorts in their direction. the bull is chased from the ring by a horseman, and eventually the next rider and bull burst forth.
one rider, thrown clear, lands flat on his back, his head glancing off the wooden side of the ring. stunned and sprained, he clutches the wooden slats, and must be pried and dragged away. the last we see of him is his feet, disappearing through the gate where he emerged.
meanwhile the bull trots the perimeter, scaring and scattering high alcohol hecklers. soon two people on horseback enter the ring, lasso the bull, and direct it into the corral. the taunters, who always approach from behind, do their most energetic garbage throwing after the bull is lassoed. they always retreat immediately if a bull turns toward them. only the bulls maintain their dignity. only the bull' behavior really makes sense.
people have been on earth in our present form for only about 100,000 years, and in many ways we're still ironing out kinks. these turtles we've been traveling with, they outrank us in longevity, having earned three more zeros than we. they've got one hundred million years of success on their resume, and they've learned something about how to survive in the world. and this, i think, is part of it: they have settled upon peaceful career paths, with a stable rhythm. if humans could survive another one hundred million years, i expect we would no longer find ourselves riding bulls. it's not so much that i think animals have rights; it's more that i believe humans have hearts and minds - though i've yet to see consistent, convincing proof of either. turtles may seem to lack sense, but they dont do senseless things. they're not terribly energetic, yet they do not waste energy. turtles dont have the intellect to form opinions about greed, oppression, superstition, or ideology, yet they dont inflict misery on themselves or other creatures. turtles cannot consider what might happen, yet nothing turtles do threatens any one's future. turtles dont think about their next generation, but they risk and provide all they can to ensure that there will be one. meanwhile, we profess to love our own offspring above all else, yet above all else it is they from whom we daily steal. we cannot learn to be more like turtles, but from turtles we could learn to be more human. that is the wisdom carried within one hundred million years of survival. what turtles could learn from us, i cant quite imagine.