Wise Words from the Late Paul Shepard

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I am a Paul Shepard fan. He makes me think…and think and think and think. I’ve condensed the following “letter” from his book, The Others: How Animals Made Us Human. This was the first of his works I read, and certainly not the last:

My winter crew of rosey finches
My winter crew of rosey finches

“…We nurtured humans from a time before they were in the present form. When we first drew around them they were, like all animals, inhabitants of a modest niche. In ancient savannas we slowly teased them out of their chauvinism. In our plumage we gave them esthetics.

In our courtships we tutored them in dance. In the gestures of antlered heads, we showed them ceremony and the power of the mask. In our running hooves, we revealed the secrets of grain. As meat, we courted them from within…

We gradually became for them objects of thought, of remembering, telling, planning, and puzzling us out as the mystery of energy itself. We courted them from the outside. Dancing us, they began to see in us performances of their ideas and feelings. We became the concreteness of their own secret selves…


As something to pet and to speak to, someone to be there and to need them, to be their first lessons in “otherness,” we have shared their homes for ten thousand years.

Having been committed in this way, first as food and then as the imagery of a great variety of events and processes, from signs in dreams to symbols in metaphysics, we have accompanied humans ever since. Having made them human, we continue to do so…[But now,] They have forgotten how to learn…from us, to follow our example, to heal themselves with our tissue and organs, forgotten that just watching us can be healing.

Once we were the bridges, the exemplars of change, mediators with the future and the unseen. They still do not realize that they need us, thinking that we are simply one more comfort or curiosity. Their own numbers leave little room for us, and in this is their great misunderstanding. They are wrong about our departure, thinking it to be part of their progress instead of their emptying.

When we have gone, they will not know who they are. Supposing themselves to be the purpose of it all, purpose will elude them. Their world will fade into an endless dusk, with no whippoorwill to call the owl in the evening, and no thrush to make a dawn.—The Others”


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