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   Back when I was in the full fever of "New Age" hysteria, I bought tons of books and read tons of them, too. But as I was also working as a full-time musician, I had nowhere near the time I do now, and even now I wish I had more time, but time has sped up so much in the past twenty years that it takes three hours to do something it previously took thirty minutes to do. Anyhow, I have dug up many books from that period and I'm getting caught up. The animal/spiritual ones I read with the most trepidation, however, because many of them are downright silly—humans giving animals human qualities. By far the worst one was Angel Animals: Exploring Our Spiritual Connection with Animals, which made me groan the whole way through. And so I cautiously approached this one with a sense of foreboding. That was needless, however, because it is the exact polar opposite of the other one. Written by Unitarian Universalist minister Gary Kowalski, he has let animals be animals, and from his personal observations and the observations of others, he has explored the ways animals are so very similar to humans in their expressions of mind, emotions, and spirit. And the result is an extraordinary and amazing book, not filled with sugary sentimentalism, but an expression of animals as sacred beings. Himself a vegetarian and animals rights activist, or at least advocate, he is a beautiful example of a true Christian—one who has broken away from the nonsense that we humans are superior beings, and the animals merely here for human exploitations. This book is filled with information that, especially in the age of Google, must be further explored. And that I did! I included lots of links, so I hope you do some exploration, too.
   Let's start with Gary himself. His Wikipedia page is short and sweet, but filled with important information and good external links at the bottom. He is no doubt a person I would like and greatly respect. He was born in 1953, two years before me. Originally from the East, he left Burlington, Vermont in 2010 and now lives in Santa Fe where he served a 12-month interim ministry for the Unitarian Universalist congregation there. Now retired, he is a volunteer firefighter/emergency medical responder. He has written many books on animals—this one contains a Foreword from John Robbins, author of the best-selling and ground-breaking book Diet for a New America (for people to live healthy without eating animals). I think I may own it. Kowalski also disputes the idea that the founding fathers here were devout Christians, (and so has Dan Brown), and has written about that, too. Here is the site for Kowalski's books, and there are lots of intriguing titles that I would like to own. Here is Kowalski's blog, called Revolutionary Spirits (after the name of his book about the founding fathers). And last, here are some great reviews by the good readers at Goodreads on this particular book.
   And now on to the book. I took lots of notes and did additional research, so will include as much as I can without making this review a book in itself. It consists of the usual introductory materials, followed by ten short chapters, each preceded by a comment or quote and a photo of a beautiful animal, taken by Art Wolfe. Each chapter uses at least one particular animal to exemplify its point. Here are all ten chapters with a bit about each. In the Introduction, Kowalski discusses, "What is spirituality?" and each chapter attempts to answer that question. His conclusions are much broader than those of typical humans.
Mortals All: Are Animals Aware of Death?
   The main character in this one is the well-known female lowland gorilla named Koko, who mastered a vocabulary of over 1,000 words in Ameslan (American Sign Language) and understood over 2,000 spoken English words. Michael Crichton loosely based his novel, Congo, on her. In this story, she told her teacher Dr. Francine Patterson, at the California Gorilla Foundation, that she wanted a kitten for her birthday. She was given one, whom she named All Ball and treated it with love and tenderness. But one day it escaped the foundation and was killed by a car. This was Koko's reaction:

When Koko was told about the accident, she at first acted as if she didn't hear or understand. Then a few minutes later she started to cry with high-pitched sobs. "Sad/frown" and "Sleep/cat" were her responses when the kitten was mentioned later. For nearly a week after the loss Koko cried when the subject of cats came up.

   Koko was born in 1971 at the San Francisco Zoo and just recently died, in 2018. If you think the above paragraph is sad, you will not be able to hold back tears when you read this quote from the ABC News article about her death. It is the reaction from her friend Ndume, a male gorilla.

"He's sad," she said. "When he came to see her, he brought some blankets. He brought a chair, he brought his favorite barrel and he arranged her blankets so they were off of her and around her. And then he sat on his barrel and he could see that I was sad, and he signed, 'Know.' 'I know.' Basically, he was telling me he knew what happened. And he also signed, 'cry,' which, of course, is what we're doing."

   Apparently Koko loved kittens because she had many through her years. Here is one from the Washington Post. She was also a friend of Robin Williams and mourned his death, too. I would like to post about twenty more articles on her, but all you have to do is Google her and lots and lots of beautiful pictures will be there for your amazement. How awesome can it get? And how could anyone not love, or worse—the unspeakable—kill—such a beautiful, magnificent creature? Koko lived a life of immense love, and for that we must all be grateful.
   Anyways, after the incident with All Ball, Koko's friends questioned her about her perceptions of death. Her answers implied a being that was incredibly sentient. Kowalski goes on to tell a story of elephants who mourned. Indeed, anyone who loves and lives with animals cannot help but realize they have feelings just as deep as ours. And even deeper than many humans now, as we see much of humanity devolving into something transhuman. The deepest pain I presently feel on this planet, is the suffering, both accidental and purposely, ranging from slaughter to downright torture, of the Earth's most precious innocents.

Koko passes away.

Gods, Goblins, and Little Green Men: Do Animals Have a Sense of the Mysterious?
   This one is a bit more lighthearted, as Kowalski discusses non-physical phenomena—yes, ghosts, and even dreaming. Do animals have a sense of it all? Most surely they do, and I can vouch for that, as the alien presence here really became overwhelming—but that is another story I will perhaps share some day in my articles. What I do know is that I had dogs freak out, seeing something that I could not, over a period of many years of pure terror. Once I became aware of them, I, little by little also learned how to get rid of them. Kowalski says, "Or we may speculate that the unconscious is a channel that taps into a different plane of reality," and I may add, that can be used in beneficial ways, as I have learned to do. Kowalski asks, "Do animals have a sense of the mysterious?"

In the substratum of the mind, animals and humans share memories of a time when the world was alive and magical, where the voices of departed ancestors mingle with the whispering leaves and blowing winds. And perhaps we share some sense of the preternatural, the uneasy suspicion that "there are more things in heaven and earth" than meet the eye or are revealed to the senses."

   I believe we are about to experience that in a grand way.
Hearts of Song: Why Do Birds Sing?
   Of course I found this chapter very interesting because I adore birds, and just recently did a review on a book about birds. All of my nature book reviews are available on the Book Reviews link above—go to Non-Fiction Index. Kowalski makes a couple points I had not thought about, one being that birds can mistakenly learn the "wrong song," and that bird species, like people, have local dialects. That I did know, because in listening to bird song recordings, many of them just do not sound quite right. I thought it was my imagination, but I guess not. And as far as the "wrong song," keep in mind that the mockingbird can imitate up to two-hundred other bird songs. Songs are not inborn, but passed down from parents.
   It is in this chapter that he also mourns the dying off of so many birds, and that was back in 1991. Now, it is long past catastrophic levels.
Art for Art's Sake: Why Do Animals Draw?
   Much of this chapter is devoted to animals' innate desire to express themselves through art. The main player here is Siri, a female Asian elephant who lives at Rosamond Gifford Zoo in Syracuse, New York. She paints, quite well, in fact. In fact her artworks even fooled the famous abstract artist, Willem de Kooning and his wife, when they were sent examples of her paintings. Here are two articles, the first, as Siri celebrated her fiftieth birthday. And the second is a gallery of elephant art, which is amazing! However, there is a big problem here that I discovered as I researched this subject. Siri delighted in her own creations, and painted because she enjoyed it. Once people learned that an elephant could paint, people, being the greedy creatures that they are, began to stress the elephants out, "training" them to paint human-type pictures, for the entertainment of a paying public. OK, I have serious issues with the exploitation thing, no matter what.
   Anyways, in this chapter, Kowalski asks the question about minds, and if elephants have one, (it seems they do, huh?). He also wonders if computers can ever have a mind. Well, that is a serious ethical issue we have going on right now, thirty years after this book was written. Carl Sagan discussed it in The Dragons of Eden: Speculations on the Evolution of Human Intelligence, back in the seventies and Dan Brown wrote a novel about it called Origin.
Evolutionary Ethics: Do Animals Know Right from Wrong?
   My answer would be (depending on the animal), YES, they certainly do. Dogs especially show serious guilt when they do something bad. Cats may know, but they really couldn't care less, and turtles don't have a clue. However, in this chapter, Kowalski also discusses animals that care for another animal when it is injured. He tells of a young monkey being attacked by an eagle, hanging on to a branch and crying out for help. Soon there were so many other monkeys that had come to the rescue, pulling out the eagle's feathers, that it lost interest in the monkey and just tried to escape.
   In this chapter, Charles Darwin plays a part. I certainly have mixed feelings about him, and as time goes by, we are seeing more of his theories quashed. In fact, his whole evolution thing may just have serious flaws. But Kowalski goes further than animals here, and on to racism, such as tribal peoples that many "civilized" people see as "savages." We shall see how true that is, also. He says:

At various times, race, skin color, and other superficial qualities have been used to deny the rights of others and exclude them from our affection and concern. And just as nineteenth-century Europeans justified colonialism with the rationalization that "primitives" and "savages" were mentally and morally inferior, we continue to justify exploitation of the animal world in the same way. By denying that animals possess a moral sense we tell ourselves that human beings are of a fundamentally higher order. We can therefore colonize and enslave with impunity those who are lower.

   He ends this chapter with this excellent paragraph:

We are kin to, and must be kind to, all creation. Overcoming speciesism—the illusion of human superiority—will be the next step in our moral and spiritual evolution.

   And I personally believe that is just around the corner, and if we do not change our attitude towards all creation, WE will be the ones to go. As we are seeing now.
Partners for Life: Do Animals Experience Love
   Well, of course they do, would be my first reaction. Animals return our love and they love each other, too. But here Kowalski speaks also of "romantic love," and there are some animals that mate for life. He speaks of Austrian author Konrad Lorenz in his book King Solomon's Ring and his study of jackdaws, a type of crow found in Europe, and parts of Asia and Africa. Kowalski speaks of the lifetime unity of couples outliving those of many humans. (This is true for wild geese, too.) He says they fall "head over heels" in love, but they do not rush to the bedroom. He says there is usually a full year between "betrothal" and "wedding." Wow! And here is what Lorenz says:

This militant love is fascinating to behold. Constantly in an attitude of maximum self-display, and hardly ever separated by more than a yard, the two make their way through life. They seem tremendously proud of each other as they pace ponderously side by side. . . . And it really is touching to see how affectionate these two wild creatures are with each other. Every delicacy that the male finds is given to his bride and she accepts it with the plaintive begging gestures and note otherwise typical of baby birds. In fact, the love-whispers of the couple consist chiefly of infantile sounds reserved by adult jackdaws for these occasions. Again, how strangely human!

Western Jackdaw

   Kowalski goes on to explain how birds experience typical emotions connected with human love, such as jealousy, and when one partner dies, the other mourns. But what I found humorous was his statement about species and gender identity, and that sometimes sparrows do not recognize their particular species from a similar one, or when a female bird has similar plumage as the male, there is confusion as to its gender in the attraction of a mate.
   I think that happens now in the human species, too . . . .
The Play's the Thing: Why Do Whooping Cranes Dance?
   In this chapter, Kowalski explores the intricate lives of whooping cranes, and their joy of dancing and playing. Often their play has no other purpose than fun, and those of us who live with and around animals recognize this truth.
   It also includes the story of one who was raised by humans and did not realize that she was a crane. Therefore, George Archibald, the director of the crane center at the International Crane Foundation at Baraboo, Wisconsin, had to act as a surrogate "date" in order to get Tex sexually interested. Despite Tony's, (her intended mate) dances, she clearly wasn't interested because he was a crane and she thought she was a human. So instead, George "shacked up" with her, spending a great deal of time talking and making friends. She was artificially inseminated with Tony's and his brother Angus's sperm. The egg was infertile and in next year's egg the chick died in the shell. The following year, George decided to go all out.

For six weeks in 1982 he camped out with the bird, taking on the role of devoted suitor. He helped Tex gather grasses for a nest. When Tex was tired, they rested together. Most important, George danced, running and leaping, spinning and turning pirouettes, and spreading his arms like wings. To his delight, Tex joined in the dancing. At last Tex laid her long-awaited egg, and a month later two new whooping cranes were born.

   Now that is a devoted animal steward! At the time this book was written Tex was no longer living, but her chick, Gee Whiz, a "cocky and somewhat aggressive fellow" was being paired with Faith, to restore the waning whooping crane population.
The Eyes of Hope: Are Animals Conscious of Themselves?
   It is said that the eyes are the mirror of the soul, and this chapter speaks of looking into the eyes of animals (lovingly) to understand them better. I have found that dogs especially avoid eye contact, but if you work at it, they become more comfortable. Molly and I often gaze into each other's eyes. Kowalski includes a quote from Jane Goodall and her work with chimpanzees, gazing into their eyes with gentleness and without arrogance. I was fortunate to be able to hear her speak in person about twenty years ago at the E.J. Thomas Performing Arts Hall at the University of Akron.
The Reflecting Self: Would We Lose Our Own Souls in a World Without Animals?
   Whatever happens to the beasts soon happens to man," said Chief Seattle. "All things are connected." Back in 1991 when this book was written, Kowalski was speaking more in terms of soul loss, but here in 2020, we have reached the point where the entire web of life has broken down, as we are experiencing now during this pandemic. The loss of one species leads to the loss of many more, and we have now lost so many that the loss of human life is inevitable. And this is just the tip of the iceberg. The next phase will be much worse, and it will follow on the heels of the virus. So many, so many of us, especially those in Dane Wigington's activist community have been warning of this for years, and it is here, now, and there is no turning back.
Somebody, Not Something: Do Animals Have Souls?
   In this last and very powerful chapter, Kowalski tells the story of Martin Buber as a child, becoming friends with a horse on his grandfather's farm. Even at age eleven, he had great sensitivity to animals. He tells how they developed a bond, and the horse would raise its head in recognition when he appeared. But he also tells of a certain instant when, while stroking its neck, began to think of the fun he was having, rather than the beauty of the intimate relationship, and suddenly, things changed. For that one second, the horse became a "something" rather than a "somebody" and the next day, the horse remained impassive when he appeared. Wow! Kowalski says:

We have been long accustomed to regard animals as things: as objects, tools, commodities, or resources. Thus we raise and slaughter them for food; we use their furs and hides for clothing and decoration; we dissect their bodies for research; we study their anatomy with detached interest. We regard other creatures as a means to our own fulfillment. One might say that we "de-humanize" animals, but this would not be accurate, since animals are not human. Rather, we "de-sacralize" animals—rob them of their holy qualities—and in the process de-humanize ourselves. For animals cannot be relegated to the status of objects. When we treat them as if they were mere biological machines—collections of conditioned reflexes—we injure both their nature and our own.

   And the last two paragraphs of the book read thus:

Animals, like us, are living souls. They are not things. They are not objects. Neither are they human. Yet they mourn. They love. They dance. They suffer. They know the peaks and chasms of being.

Animals are expressions of the Mind-at-Large that suffuses our universe. With us, they share in the gift of consciousness and life. In a wonderful and inexpressible way, therefore, God is present in all creatures.

   As we head into the final times on this planet, my one most sorrowful thoughts is that I caused an animal pain. Though I have been an animal rights activist for over thirty years, I look back before that, and lifetimes before that, and feel remorse that I did not understand the sacredness of animals. Though I have done decades of work to clear the past from my being at all levels, perhaps it is because I see so much flagrant disregard for the beautiful creatures of this planet, that I have taken on the guilt and pain the rest of the world does not feel.
    A number of years ago, an elderly man whom I knew, made a nasty and disparaging remark to me for being a vegetarian. He went on and on about how the Bible tells us to eat animals because that's what they are there for. I said I didn't believe any of that stuff in the Bible, and he pointed his finger in my face and said, "You'll find out when you die." A few days later, he collapsed, and not too long afterwards, died. I am not meaning this hatefully or vengefully, but just making a point that we need to be ever more conscious that our closed-mindedness can be and is fatal, to the whole planet. And this particular gentleman, by the way, would have been in much better health had he followed my advice.
   And on that comment, I will end. This book is still available to purchase, and I highly recommend that everyone should read it.


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