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Leaving Crow-Country: Reflections on Domestication and Suburbia

Leaving Crow-Country: Reflections on Domestication and Suburbia

I didn’t always live in hawk-country. I used to live in crow-country.

Notwithstanding that crows live everywhere, I am referring specifically to urban suburbs — the sorts of new developments that have popped up within a 15-20 mile radius of metropolitan hubs, which radiate arterials like a kind of pulsating, traffic-ridden old wagon wheel. These suburbs are filled up with matching neo-craftsmen houses, separated by six-foot fences. It is the land of mini-vans, cul-de-sacs, and crows, which seem to be the animals that flourish best in these neighborhoods.

In my neighborhood, there used to be Great Blue Herons, white-tail deer, coyotes, and the occasional raven. I used to count every single Great Blue Heron I saw, from the time I was eight or so until I counted two-hundred and twenty-four, and realized there wasn’t much point in counting past that point, since seeing two-hundred and twenty-four of anything really shows that they aren’t that rare. That was when I was around fourteen. But not too long after that, the herons became less frequent. I had seen an adolescent mountain lion in a neighbor’s yard — our particular neighborhood had been built in the 1950’s, and still had substantial woodland area, in the yards and in the local green-belts that looped behind the houses. But most of that wildness was gone by the time I was in my teens.

I used to walk to Middle School. It was a meandering walk through the older parts of the suburbs, finishing with a quarter-mile length of road that was blocked by a red and white barricade to keep the neighborhoods free from pass-through traffic. To the left of that barricade (walking towards the school) was probably five or six acres of forest, rimmed with blackberries which parents with their children would come to pick in the summer. Deer frequented that part of the neighborhood, and we’d see them almost every week.

One morning in particular I remember with surreal clarity. It was a foggy morning, and unlike most mornings, I happened to be walking alone. The darkness was cut with a faint grey ambiance from house lights and street lights, dissipated in the fog. The effect of this somehow made that morning feel more dark than if the lights had not been there at all. At the corner before the quarter-mile stretch was a street-light, and to the left of this corner, stretching back between two perpendicular lines of houses, was a kind of field. Tall grass, blackberries, and eventually, tall birches, maples, and douglas firs. And then, out of the fog beneath the street light, loping onto the pavement from the wilderness nestled in the suburbs, came a coyote. It was a mother, and she was carrying a pup in her mouth, by the scruff of its neck. The mother paused under that street light, from about twenty paces, looked at me, and then trotted off into the fog. It was perhaps the most visceral memory of my middle-school years.

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Over the course of the ten years between my first day of middle school and the end of my time at college, the barricade in that road was taken down, and ten different developments went up in that quarter-mile stretch. A portion of that woodland area, once home to blackberries and deer, was replaced by a neighborhood of four one-million-dollar homes, and this complex was audaciously named “The Grove.” Some nameless vigilante briefly became a local hero by sneaking over at night and appending a “-less” to the complex sign: “The Grove-less.” But naturally, that kind of resistance was powerless to stop the transformation of the local landscape, as vindicating as it felt in the moment. Slowly, the coyotes left. Whispers of bears, mountain lions, and bobcats emerged less and less. The deer seemed to vanish. Eventually, even most of the raccoons found new homes elsewhere. All that remained were the the rats, and the crows. The town had — almost in its entirety — become crow country.

I admit that I am nostalgic about the growing separation between man and nature, a separation that seems increasingly like a prelude to a sort of divorce. It is true that our lives and our living arrangements seem increasingly designed to keep nature at bay; if not out of hatred for its capriciousness, than out of a kind of over-awed reverence for some moral purity that humans implicitly lack. If the hidden minds that design our towns and cities aren’t trying to keep the cold and the wet at bay, it often feels as if they are trying to protect the cold and wet from grubby human fingers. With this diminished proximity to naked nature, unobstructed by panes of viewing glass, or safety features that effectively ruin the intimacy with the feeling of a chaperone’s presence, I often feel as if I am robbed of a part of my own nature. Nature films and exotic photos of faraway waterfalls increasingly feel like a kind of pornography, more extreme and more available than the reality, and yet physically, deeply unsatisfying.

But my fetish for nature is tangential to real issue here, which is not the relationship between a community and nature, but something else, something which that relationship is likely to indicate. This is the relationship between the community and the individuals who live there.

At first, it may seem like a strange connection, but the association is reliable. And why shouldn’t it be? We have a wild, natural element in our own nature, and the dichotomy between the “wilderness” and that area dominated by man is not necessarily true. The dichotomy between wilderness and civilization can be found within man himself. But it is the way in which civilization treats man that is of interest, and it is the neighborhoods and communities that have been most thoroughly “civilized,” in accordance with the ideals of contemporary suburbia, that I describe as Crow Country.

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Crow country is dominated by crows because nothing else can thrive there… except for the rats of course. But rats thrive everywhere, and aside from the pejorative title “rat-country” sounding too harsh even for this land that has come to disgust me, the fact is that even the crows are out-competed in the wilds of hawk-country. Rats are only discernible in crow country by the gradual removal of everything else. They were always there. I know: for two years, I worked in the attics and crawlspaces of crow-country, getting rid of rats.

Why do crows thrive in crow-country? One does not need to be an expert in birds to see certain qualities in crows that distinguish them from almost all other animals. They are highly intelligent, and tend to work in groups, called “murders,” which function more like packs or teams than as traditional avian flocks. They can have a sense of humor, seem to occasionally enjoy starting trouble, and can be exceptionally vindictive. But because they are so common, and generally do not cause damage, they are not considered a pest, and no one controls them. This makes the suburbs — where everything else is regulated and controlled (or in the case of the rats, attempted control) — a free and open country for the piratical black birds.

It seems curious, when one considers this fact, that humans are among the most regulated animals in crow-country. Home-Owner’s Associations might dictate the colors of paint one is allowed to use on one’s house, or the length and species of grass one is allowed to plant. Building codes and permits severely limit the degree and manner one is allowed to modify one’s own dwelling place, and if such a modification is permitted, it is so thoroughly taxed that one gets the sense that the home-owner is never allowed to benefit from his own home’s renovation more than the state. But it isn’t exactly the state, is it? This is closer, but in some circumstances, even the state is treated in the same manner as the grass, or the people expected to mow it. What benefits from all of this regulation and enforcement — regulation which exempts crows — is something else.

When we look at the people who design the neighborhoods that I have come to call crow-country — the streets, the houses, and indeed, the jobs and economic infrastructure which are a part of the puzzle, in which the suburbs are only a piece — all fit together as if they were a part of some greater design. No one person created this design. Indeed, the individual designers of the parts themselves fit into this greater design. Everything fits into an ever-increasing, ever-reaching, holistic, universal design. Everything, that is, except crows… though not for lack of trying.

Interestingly enough, it is this fact that makes crow-country into crow-country. There is no place for crows within the greater system, and so crows have the greatest freedom, and thrive the most completely in the areas where this greater, all-encompassing system has become most rigorously realized.

Naturally, there are many other species who do not have a place in the system, but because they are a threat or a nuisance, they are destroyed. The coyotes suffer this fate, as do the bears and mountain lions, albeit in a more humanely-toned manner. But these are in many ways less interesting than the fates of species for whom this over-arching design has designated a place. We might contrast the case of the coyote with that of the domestic dog, for example.

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The domestic dog is a creature that has been re-designed, shaped in the image of the system within which it has a place. This means that exempting military and police dogs, they are relatively harmless, and are designed more or less for human comfort. Yet curiously, most people still find wolves — the ancestor of the domesticated dog — to be somehow more beautiful and awe-inspiring than the dumb, tail-wagging golden retriever… let alone something like the Yorkshire terrier, or the entirely useless pug. And yet this beauty in the wolf is in some sense inextricable with the wildness and unregulated spirit. These may even be identical… or at least, the source of the beauty of the wolf seems incompatible with the constraints within which the domestic dog has been shaped.

This is not to say that domestic dogs have no admirable spirit whatsoever; the existence of this beautiful, natural quality exists on a continuum, and that dogs have less of this transcendent spirit than the wolf is not to say that the dog has no spirit at all. Nor do I mean to imply that the wolf has constraints itself. Food, the weather, the impositions of the pack, all shape the wolf into what it is. It is constraints that give it form, color, and essence. But there is a difference in the nature of the constraints which shape the domestic dog and those that shape its predecessor, the wolf. It is from this difference in the nature of constraints that the difference in beauty and elegance between the wolf and the corgi. It is only through neoteny that the domesticated dogs are saved from pure absurdity and the disgust we feel towards the hopelessly dependent and helpless. They are “cute,” and so their otherwise dependent nature is tolerable. Indeed, among the so-called “companion breeds,” those animals that were not sufficiently cute were culled from the breeding pool, having no other functional use to humans, or to the overarching design of the society which was, simultaneously, beginning to domesticate humans.

What are the natures of these two kinds of constraints? And are they really so different from each other? It is tempting to observe that both could be described as “systems,” the ecological being organic, while the civilizational is inorganic. But this would be ad hoc categorization, and missing the substantive difference in the relationship between, on the one hand, the ecosystem and its inhabitants, and on the other, civilization and its inhabitants. This difference can be seen in a simplifying and specializing tendency among systems which are designed, as opposed to those which emerge through a negotiation of forces in competition. An ecosystem gives rise to complex organisms, organisms which fit into a niche, but which, due to their own responsibility for their success, often fulfill this niche in complicated or mysterious manners; which become more completely themselves in a manner which they alone can identify, because they alone create.

I anthropomorphize when I say “create,” of course. The wolf does not compose its way of life in some thought-through plan. But their lone responsibility for themselves makes them, in a sense, their own creators.

By contrast, the domesticated dog is the responsibility of somebody else, and is created by someone else. This exchange of responsibility results in a changed nature of the domesticated dog, once a wolf, but metamorphosed into something else. It is this change that interests me, and it is in crow-country — where crows both signify and defy this change for themselves — where the metamorphosis can be seen most completely among humans.

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Like cows bred for milk, or goats for wool, or dogs for “companionship,” humans in crow-country are domesticated. But as the preceding analogies imply, domestication is not a uniform process. Domestication has a direction, one that is specific to a particular end. For cows, the end is milk (or meat). For goats, the end is wool (or meat). For dogs, the end is “companionship,” or various kinds of work… or, in South-East Asia, meat.

If crow-country shows us the domestication of the human animal, to what end is a human domesticated?

A hint might be seen by looking at the trajectory and continuum on which crow-country lies. Stretching back to the 1940’s or even earlier, we can see that freedom has been greatly reduced, and while we tend to credit changing ideology with this decrease, more serious contemplation reveals that the greater source of this decrease is the result of an increased technical ability to monitor and control behavior.

Given the constraints of nature itself, such constraints on freedom that arise from technology may not actually be a bad thing. We all like freedom, for the same reason that we hate confined spaces (claustrophobia is only an extreme version of an ordinary aversion). But given the choice between constraints, there is no prima facie reason to assume something is “bad” just because it is artificial. Are the constraints of civilization so terrible? Failure, after all, is not as dire a circumstance there as in nature, where painful death usually awaits those who do not conform properly. Technology may have some psychological downsides, but it is widely held that the upsides outweigh the downsides by wide margins. But I think this is a bad inference, drawn from trying to peer through muddy water. This overarching designed system, after all, is complicated.

When you look at what people are willing to sacrifice their health, even their lives for, there is a startling consistency in our desire for acceptance, respect, beauty, and love over safety and security. This is not of the system… nor is it considered good or even tolerable. It doesn’t fit into the design, because looking at these desires on the scale of millions of people, it is clear that not all of them can reliably have all of these all the time. Even in principle. First, some of these values are relative. Unlike Lake Wobegon, reality does not allow everyone to be beautiful, because human beauty is relative. Put ten people in a room together and rank them by attractiveness, and they will not all be tens. It is highly unlikely that they will even all be fives, which would at least be an equal distribution of the average. The rarity is what makes these things valuable.

But secondly — and perhaps even more importantly — things like love and respect arise from genuine need. If you live in a bubble-wrapped world with triply-redundant safety nets and fool-proof fail-safes, you no longer need other people, and the deepest depths of love and friendships will unreachable. The camaraderie of soldiers under fire requires the necessity of the man next to you to have your six, if you are ever to truly understand that kind of relationship. And when asked, it is for this relationship that soldiers most regularly report their willingness to fight — and, if necessary, die: not for country, not for cause, but for the man next to him. These greatly-valued experiences necessarily arise from contexts of risk and uncertainty. By contrast, the top-down, planned, crow-country world seeks to end all risk and uncertainty.

Except, of course, for the crows. That’s why it’s their country.

So our preference for the benefits of technology seems to arise from an understandable failure to connect the benefits of technology with the costs in human experience… experiences which, when seen in a more direct manner, people repeatedly demonstrate a willingness to undergo hardship, asceticism, risk, suffering, and even the chance of death for the chance to acquire.

And technology does necessarily cause these problems. Well, technology of a certain kind anyhow. I will get into the morass of differentiation a bit later. Its obvious uses for surveillance aside, as well as the safeguards mentioned above, technology connects us with other people in a way which allows for easier manipulation and control through the logic of power-law distributions. As more people get on a platform — say, Twitter, for example — more power is left in the hands of fewer and fewer people. What can be said, what can be seen, who gets to be heard, etc., all that gets decided by a handful of people. And while the proliferation of platforms sounds like a theoretical solution to this problem, the opposite always happens in reality. A tipping point is reached, and the vast majority of users will go to one place. That’s where everyone else is, after all.

These are some of the experienced effects of human domestication, but it sheds little light on the purpose. For what — and for whom — are we domesticated, those of us in crow-country?

Some people believe it is for the benefit of one group — a race, or a class. Some believe it is the logic of the monetary system itself, a kind of unleashed machine with a mind of its own. But I think the most parsimonious explanation is simply unity, a kind of inclination towards integration which has evolved into a kind of self-perpetuating ethos. When science-fiction prophets speak of the “singularity,” they may be putting their finger on the final conclusion of this ethos of unity. The ethos of unity shuns conflict of all kind. More presciently, however, it cannot tolerate risk, uncertainty, or unpredictability. If such things are unavoidable, then unity seeks a kind of mathematical model to understand and predict the distributions, to write algorithms and graphs in order to banish all uncertainty and unpredictability.

Crow-country is is the region within which the ethos of unity has subsumed the natural ethos of man, where a logic of risk-calculus and the logistics of planning take an almost aesthetic precedence over human interests. This transition is difficult to see because human interests must be measured (we are told — why?), and by converting human experience into matrices and numbers, the ethos of unity can disguise itself as human interest itself. And indeed, humans do thrive in crow-country, albeit in the manner of sheep thriving under the care of the shepherd.

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But I suspect most people don’t find the comparison to sheep flattering. This unease is redeeming; we don’t know if sheep feel the same. My intuition is that they are too stupid to care. An unnerving thought: perhaps they were not always this stupid. Perhaps their domesticated condition bred this careless stupidity into them. It’s bad enough to think about with sheep, but what evidence we have seems to indicate that our hunter-gatherer ancestors were more intelligent than their agrarian descendants, and these agrarian descendants had more responsibility and risk than the present-day industrial laborer, or the post-industrial desk occupant. We have greater access to information, but diminished reasons to synthesize that information, or to add to it ourselves. Such individualism is more likely to be punished, and in any case, it isn’t necessary. Couple this with the banal platitudes meant to keep up corporate morale, and it is difficult to shrug off the feeling that in crow-country, humans are being made into sheep; the hominid equivalent of our domesticated canines.

I don’t think that technology itself is the problem. Heidegger didn’t distinguish between kinds of technology, which substantially weakened his argument against it. Kaczynski at least tried, though his distinction between industrial and non-industrial technology breaks down because he defined industrial technology in terms of geographic interdependence. A car is industrial, he reasoned, because it cannot be made in one place, but requires a network of parts manufacturers and logistics operations which cannot coexist in one place. This spreading out is a component of what he saw as the psychological disempowerment of the individual which must necessarily follow from industrial operations. But we can see this spreading out even in the Bronze-Age, where tin from Spain and Whales was smelted with copper from Romania and Ukraine to make Bronze for — among others — the Greeks. To escape “industrial technology” as defined would require reverting back to our days in trees.

I will go further. The inspiration to write this essay came while driving my “new” 1994 Ford Ranger. I was preparing to change the transmission fluid, which requires the fluid itself to be somewhat warm. So I took the truck for a drive along some country roads I had never been down before. Passing through a field, a red-tail hawk broke from its fence-post perch and paced me for a quarter mile or so, about 15 feet from my open window. Everything about this experience was the opposite of what Kaczynski and Heidegger feared, and a great part of my own glorious sense of power in that moment came from the sense of control I had over the machine now being raced by a raptor. The technology was integral to this sense of boundless satisfaction.

What has changed with technology in the last several decades is not its geographic interconnection, but its use in human activities. Historical technology was used to augment human power in some capacity. But modern technology seems different in its pursuit of the experience of power, divorced from the reality of power.

This divorce is not a necessary phenomenon, of course. Perhaps the value of power is in its experience, and all that power in itself has going for it is that it is a very convincing portrayal of the experience of power. But where perception alone is concerned, this circularity collapses in on itself, because — at least for now — it is difficult to hide the appearance-generating apparatus. As David Foster Wallace observed, we may lose ourselves in a television show, but at the end of the day, we are at some point reminded that it is all on TV… somewhere else. It is all an illusion, one that we are complicit in. Deluding ourselves. This knowledge is not conducive to the experience of power.

Contra Kaczynski, my experience of power over my Ford Ranger is not like this self-delusion. It is a different kind of relationship with technology, one in which I am an agent, and the technology is a tool. Where the generation of appearances is concerned, one cannot shrug the feeling that in some sense, you have become the tool, and the technology — or some faceless mind behind the technology — is the agent.

Video games are perhaps the most obvious example of this kind of opioid technology, but they are not the only one. Indeed, they are not even the most pervasive kind. Personally, I find the ubiquity of noise to be the worst variety, not in its acute effects (pornography may take the cake there), but in the totality of power that it robs from people. Almost everywhere, there is music playing. I am a huge fan of music, and have written about some good — and bad — songs in detail. But music isn’t kept on by everyone, all the time, for the sake of appreciation. It’s kept on as a kind of distraction, as something to keep away an “uncomfortable silence.” For music-lovers, this in itself should be horrifying, as it dilutes the beauty of experiencing music with another purpose… a purpose which seems to have also effected the kinds of music that gets produced and popularized today.

Apologists for this kind of pandering technology argue that it makes life more pleasant. What’s not to like about smiling baristas? (artificial smiles are a social technology). Doesn’t muzak make shopping a little bit more enjoyable? And really, what’s the harm in a little video gaming (or pornography) every once in a while?

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This kind of utilitarian argument seems to make sense on paper, until we account for the feeling of being manipulated, and the neglected character virtues that are lost in a life built on convenience. There is no school of philosophy or psychology I am aware of which holds that a life of pandering convenience builds virtue, and although some schools of philosophy neglect the moral value of virtue — namely, utilitarianism and Kantian transcendentalism, as well as some schools of divine command theory — the value of virtue is self-evident for those who have felt inspired by it in others or proud of it in themselves. Yet the prevailing default in the unity-ethos that directs the construction of our ever-more-interlocking world completely neglects virtue as “subjective” or “relative,” and even actively embraces an ethic of manipulation, in the Cass Sunstein “nudge’ school of thought. All for our own good, of course.

By contrast, one might observe that the crows who thrive in crow-country are not pandered to or accounted for by the prevailing system in any way. It’s not that it isn’t necessary; it is actually better for them that way.

I think it’s better for humans too.

But humans cannot escape this in crow-country. It has been too deeply converged, too invested in the ethos of unity, of domestication, of utilitarian distraction and the personal purposelessness of living life as a pawn in someone else’s chess game. Crow-country is space for creating — perhaps even breeding — a new kind of human; of making hominid corgis out of beautiful human wolves. I sometimes wonder how far along that path I have already gone, if it has begun. I can certainly see this in others. Has my blood been changed from that of my great-great-grandfather, the worldly sailor and adventurer from the Shetland Isles who went on to become an American judge? It is a strange thing to contemplate, and something that, if I think about it too long, can overwhelm me with feelings of loss and sadness.

But there is still the pulse of something older and stronger and more beautiful in me; I know this because I desperately craved to escape from crow-country. It was why I joined the military, and took up truck-driving, rather than stay any longer than necessary in the suburbs where I once lived, and worked the jobs that accompanied that whole, all-encompassing, suburban lifestyle. Ultimately, it was why I moved Eastward, out into hawk-country.

I first became acquainted with hawk-country on road-trips in my childhood. My mother harbored a healthy suspicion of the spiritual character of upper-middle-class suburbia, and so she took every opportunity to take us kids elsewhere. Sometimes to Europe; mostly, on low-budget road-trips through the American South-West. Bryce, Zion, Yellowstone, Yosemite, Grand Canyon, Sequoia, Redwoods, Crater Lake, these were our destinations. But often, it was the lesser-known places that were more memorable: Mesa Verde, Joshua Tree, Petrified Forest, Custer State Park, and Craters of the Moon.

The Grand Canyon is raven-country, and not just because it is home to a healthy population of ravens. It hosts human visitors from crow-country, sporting license plates from all over the country (I saw a Hawaiian plate there). Yet the canyon itself is not crow-country. In many ways, its accommodations are designed in the image of crow-country: safety rails, tour-buses, etc. But it can never truly become crow-country. It is too natural, too ancient, too strange, and in its sheer vastness, it cannot be domesticated. That is why people come.

And yet, accomodations have been made, which is partially why people come here. In grandiosity, the Grand Canyon is only marginally more grand than many other parts of the Colorado River gorge. People flock to the National Park because it is different, yet familiar. Not crow-country, but not hawk-country either. Call it raven-country, a border between worlds where the power and beauty we crave might be glimpsed, even experienced… but without having to undergo ourselves the austerity, the exposure, the silence, which sculpted this thing before us which we visit and worship like pilgrims before a sacred shrine.

The source of this power and beauty that we love is not found in raven-country. In the two-lane highways, the dirt back-roads, the desolate plains and red-rock mountains; what is passed through when the denizens of crow-country go to visit their corvid cousins in raven-country, that is the space that gives rise to the freedom — and the virtues which we love, that can only flourish in freedom. Strength. Beauty. Power. Nobility.

This is the land of hawks.

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One of the initial and immediately noticeable benefits of hawk-country is that it is almost entirely devoid of crow-people. By crow-people, I mean those who — like crows — swarm anything powerful and magnificent and attempt to harass it and badger it until exhaustion and death. They are lethally insufferable, and seemingly proud of this fact. A product of their environment, they can only survive in crow-country, and seem to fetishize their black-winged overlords. All they see in crows is an admirable intelligence, which they also imagine in themselves. It confounds them that others could dislike the crow, given its cleverness, and they may even dismiss this dislike as a kind of envy. In reality, most people are far more envious of the magnificence of hawks and eagles, with an overt envy which never transforms into dislike, but always as a kind of awe and reverence. The general dislike of crows mirrors the dislike of crow-people. They are tiresome, noisy creatures.

But hawk-country is not a pleasant place. It is often intensely boring and, at the same, unforgiving. It is often silent, and to stay sane, you must learn to be at home in silence. Convenience stores and affordable experts are usually not near at hand, and so you must learn to be reasonably self-reliant. The simplified economy of hawk-country lacks a lot of the work built around mindless entertainment of crow-country. Music, video games, marketing, television, internet, all of these are still used, but not nearly so much as in the suburbs, where these distractions can eclipse reality itself. And there are essentially no jobs in these fields. Can you fix a car? Build a house? Fix a toilet? Drive a semi-truck? You will have work, because you are useful. Is your primary skill writing articles with titles like “7 Reasons Your Cat Hates You (Number 5 Will Surprise You!)?” Are you “a really good team-worker” with a positive attitude and a B.A. in Victorian literature? You may have issues finding work. Nothing against cats, or corporate platitudes, or Victorian literature. They’re just not valuable. Not in general, and certainly not in hawk-country.

I actually enjoy Victorian literature, but I find I have less time for it than I used to. Whereas the literature student analyzes the actions of others, hawk-country forces you to take action yourself. For myself, I find that I like myself more when I take action, and less when I simply contemplate the actions of others. Excessive analysis of other people’s actions always carries the latent back-swing of recognizing one’s own inaction, and no one likes to think of themselves as the sorts of people who don’t do anything. Perhaps this is why the liberal arts are in such decline in the academy. No one is less like a Homeric hero than your classics professor. To put it a bit more vividly, no one is less like a virile stud than a helpless porn-addict.

People tend to think of freedom as having as many options open to them as possible. But this conception of freedom neglects the way that certain choices are hard to take back, or will “hack” your decision-making ability and functionally deny your freedom to choose anything else. Drugs, gambling, addictions of all kind. Outrage in the media. This funny cat doing something ridiculous. That phone game that really, you’ll quit tomorrow, after you beat that one level. This is, of course, where totalitarians step in and declare the need to take certain choices off the table, or worse, to make choices for you. But this is not the way to be a wolf. True, it is a more honest path to corgi-hood, but the destination looks more or less the same.

Freedom lies in choosing one’s surroundings. Freedom comes from movement, and the choice of one’s constraints, on the basis of what you want to become… not what someone else plans on turning you into.

For myself, I would rather be a hawk. I fully grasp the intelligence of crows, and I confess that since my movement to the land of fields and rocks, I am not as sharp as I once was. I am not as verbally quick on my feet, not as able to DESTROY™ someone on Twitter as I used to be, or might have been, had I spent the last year or two with crows. But there is no strength in this, nor true power or majesty. There is only a meddlesome ability to influence, which can help you get what you want in a world that is too constrained or regulated for raptors to soar, but which does not elucidate pride, or admiration, nor even envy.

And I have felt a growing strength and competence, out here. In a span of about eight months, I have learned how to roof and side a house, how to rough-in and trim out the electricity in commercial and residential buildings, how to bend conduit, how to do oil and transmission-fluid changes in a Ford, how to add a wall inside a house — studs, drywall, mud, paint, the whole deal — and the basics of how to build an AR. I have also become stronger, and despite being sick for two months, it shows on my body. So does the tan.

It’s not that this would not have happened in suburbia. It is made to be close to impossible there. This sort of development would be considered superfluous, and therefore, ridiculous. Perhaps even suspicious. What is he preparing for?

In crow-country, there isn’t anything to prepare for. They make sure of it. Or at least, they try.

Not to mix my animal-metaphors too much, but the master usually desires his dog to be dependent upon him.

Ultimately, some people will have no desire to be independent, to be free. They have no desire to be raptors. Perhaps they even harbor a hatred for them, and a desire to exhaust them to death. But some people, I believe, secretly harbor this dream, while believing that it is unreasonable to move to a space where they might become what they idealize. This was how I felt, in High School, reading about — of all things — seagulls. It is for these people that I have written this reflection and account. Having been there, I have discovered that freedom is possible, but not in a land designed for slaves.

Corgis take no offense at being reminded that they are corgis; they have no interest in being a wolf. Wolves laugh; they know they are not domesticated. The dog that is half-way domesticated may bristle at being called something slavish like a corgi. But unlike dogs, half-way domesticated humans have a choice.

Perhaps it doesn’t make any kind of objective difference. Perhaps it is all in aesthetics. Practicalities clearly favor the domestic life. The crow. The corgi. The sheep, herded by shepherds (who themselves, resemble sheep of the dumbest selection). The life of the hawk, or the wolf, or the human living in a world where hawks and wolves still roam, is uncertain. It is challenging. And it is often painful.

But crow-country and hawk-country fashion different kinds of species, of men as well as birds or canines. And in my heart, there is no price worth accepting for the privilege of standing in the borderlands as a tourist, to look up, and to see glory flying above… to know that I could have been among them, but instead relegated myself — and perhaps my children — to domestication. To convenience. To ease. To fantasy, and inaction, and dreaming of what it might be like to soar with those I chose not to fly with.

This is why I chose to move to hawk-country. Only time will tell if this is the “right” choice, however one might measure this kind of righteousness. But if my experience here is anything to judge by — here, among the coyotes and deer and hawks that I saw vanish from my childhood home — than nothing in the world could make me regret my move… my freedom.

This Post Has One Comment

  1. You have more in common with your great-great-grandfather than you realize

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