Although by nature I am a rational man, someone who likes to see proof and evidence of unlikely claims, I also take great pleasure in reading and writing metaphors and other figures of speech. There are times that a metaphor can illuminate a sight or any other experience in a manner that is illogical and not susceptible of easy explanations.
We live in a world populated with beings very unlike us and we can’t help but wonder what life and perception might be like for other species. In order to remain sane we pretend, with some success, that the perceptions of other humans resemble our own private experiences, but when it comes to plants, fungi, and animals, not to mention minerals, we are entering the hazy world of fantasy and guesswork when we try to imagine the life of, say, a wasp or an oak tree.
This is where the Pathetic Fallacy can be of use, though many decry the very existence and persistence of that mode of thinking.
I proudly admit that I revel in the Pathetic Fallacy, while simultaneously realizing that it is merely a mental game. Since we can’t ever really know for certain the details of the experiences of members of other species, why not anthropomorphize now and then?
An example from the Chihuahuan Desert here in Southeast Arizona is the use of the term “pup” for a young Agave plant struggling for a share of sunlight amidst the thorny and prickly underbrush which grows spottily between the shrub oaks and manzanitas on the dry mountain slopes. Why “pup”? Perhaps because young Agaves often grow right next to the doomed parent plant, just as a puppy doesn’t stray far from its mother.
A young Agave has a paradoxically cute appearance. The viciously long and poison-tipped thorns on the tip of each leaf contrast with the diminutive size of the young plant. It seems that we are trying to use a mammalian nickname for these young desert-dwellers in order to make them seem less alien and malign.
We are accustomed to plants and animals with life cycles similar to ours: infancy, youth, and maturity followed inevitably by senescence and death. Agaves, like the periodical cicadas with their thirteen- and seventeen-year cycles, can seem disturbingly unnatural. A decade or more of youthful accumulation of energy followed by a reproductive blow-out episode, and ending in lifeless years of slow desert decay.
The Chihuahuan desert landscape is dotted with the erect stalks of dead agaves. Some of the stalks are four inches in diameter and thirty feet tall, and they take several years to decay to the point of falling over. At the base of a dead agave stalk is a nest of decaying leaves. In effect the plant becomes its own tombstone.
Some pup photos, which I managed to obtain without being pierced even once!
The other day was typically pleasant, sunny, and dry. I walked up the canyon with Sage the collie. I looked across the canyon at the opposite slope, which I had never visited before. The prospect looked inviting, as distant vistas often do. The dog and I descended the treacherous gravelly slope and ascended the opposite slope, wending our way through clumps of gnarled oaks and stopping now and then to appreciate the small-mouthed manzanita blooms.
We came to a tributary canyon and I decided to head down that new (to me) canyon to the road, a meandering route home. I noticed Sage nosing around a disturbed area in the rocky bottom of the canyon, which only channels water just after a thunderstorm. I walked over to investigate and saw tattered black fur and bones strewn around what looked like a dug hole filled with stones:
After some reflection and examination of the bones I determined that I had found the grave of somebody’s pet dog. Some animal, perhaps a coyote or javelina, had partially excavated the grave in a search for shreds of rotted meat.
After returning home I looked for images of a dog’s pelvis on Google’s image search facility. The pelvis in the photo below is exactly like the pelvises in the photos I found.