Sy Montgomery, book recommendations:
Well, one of them I quoted from earlier. And that is “The Outermost House” by Henry Beston. There’s a quote from that book that is kind of the motto that I use when I write all my books. It says,
‘We need another and a wiser and perhaps more mystical concept of animals, for “the animals shall not be measured by man. … They are not brethren, they are not underlings. They are other nations caught with ourselves in the net of life and time, fellow prisoners of the splendor and travail of the Earth.”’
That’s beautiful, by the way.
From NYTimes columnist and podcast host Ezra Klein:
I’ve spent the past few months on an octopus kick. In that, I don’t seem to be alone. Octopuses (it’s incorrect to say “octopi,” to my despair) are having a moment: There are award-winning books, documentaries and even science fiction about them. I suspect it’s the same hunger that leaves many of us yearning to know aliens: How do radically different minds work? What is it like to be a truly different being living in a similar world? The flying objects above remain unidentified. But the incomprehensible objects below do not. We are starting to be smart enough to ask the question: How smart are octopuses? And what are their lives like?
Sy Montgomery is a naturalist and the author of dozens of books on animals. In 2015 she published the dazzling book “The Soul of an Octopus,” which became a finalist for the National Book Award in nonfiction. It’s an investigation not only into the lives and minds of octopuses but also into the relationships they can and do have with human beings.
This was one of those conversations that are hard to describe, but it was a joy to have. Montgomery writes and speaks with an appropriate sense of wonder about the world around us and the other animals that inhabit it. This is a conversation about octopuses, of course, but it’s also about us: our minds, our relationship with the natural world, what we see and what we’ve learned to stop seeing. It will leave you looking at the water — and maybe at yourself — differently.
The Outermost House by Henry Beston
The Old Way by Elizabeth Marshall Thomas
King Solomon’s Ring by Konrad Lorenz
This, Ezra first:
And so it’s this idea that, oh, isn’t it interesting, octos have this completely different kind of cognition than we do and maybe think with their tentacles, and not with what we would think of initially as their brain. And we would never do that, but what a fascinating thing. Well, maybe we do do some version — a smaller version, probably — but of that. And then that’s probably true across a lot of these different pieces — that we, in fearing anthropomorphizing, we under-represent or refuse to admit how much we’re also animals, and have more animal forms of cognition than the post- Enlightenment rationalism that we tend to emphasize.
Bingo, Ezra, you got it. That’s absolutely right. We have been blinded to the genius of not only fellow animals, but fellow people for the longest time, just because we think everything has to be just like us. We didn’t even recognize the symptoms of heart attack in women because we were too busy focusing on men, because the doctors were all men for so long, for example.
So absolutely, I think that is the biggest mistake we are making in the world. And we’re not just making it in underestimating animals, but we underestimate fellow human beings as well.
A filmmaker forges an unusual friendship with an octopus living in a South African kelp forest, learning as the animal shares the mysteries of her world.
“My Octopus Teacher,” the tale of an eight-limbed creature and her human companion, has won the Oscar for best documentary.
The lifespan of a female octopus of the kind Foster met extends to only about 18 months. But that was enough time for him and his fellow directors Pippa Ehrlich and James Reed to be profoundly impacted by her.
“This really is a tiny personal story that played out in a sea forest at the very top of Africa. But, on a more universal level, I hope that it provided a glimpse of a different kind of relationship between human beings and the natural world,” Ehrlich said on the telecast.
Foster has said his relationship with the octopus taught him about life’s fragility and our connection with nature, and even helped him become a better father.
Reed thanked Foster at the ceremony, saying: “He kind of showed us if a man can form a friendship with an octopus, it does sort of make you wonder what else is possible.”
Under the sea
In an octopus’ garden
In the shade
And swim about
The coral that lies
Beneath the waves…