Understanding humans’ place in the ecosystem

Where wildness reigns, humans give up their dominant roles.

 

On a rainy February day in 1985, Valerie Plumwood, an environmental philosopher and feminist, took a solo canoe excursion through Australia’s Kakadu National Park. Near the end of her day on the water, still far from civilization, she was attacked by a crocodile. As she tried to jump out of the canoe and scramble up the nearest tree, the crocodile seized her by her legs, held her in its jaws, and began a series of death rolls — what Plumwood later described as “a centrifuge of boiling blackness.”

When the crocodile took a momentary break, Plumwood scrambled up a muddy bank and escaped. She bound her wounds with torn pieces of clothing and staggered out of the bush. When she was finally found, she begged her rescuers not to carry out their plan to find and kill the crocodile. “I was the intruder,” she later wrote, “and no good purpose could be served by random revenge.”

Plumwood became a leading environmental thinker who railed against the dangers of the “human supremacist culture” of Western civilization and its dualistic approach to nature, one that puts humans somehow above and beyond nature. During the crocodile attack, she wrote, “I glimpsed the world for the first time ‘from the outside,’ as a world no longer my own, an unrecognizable bleak landscape composed of raw necessity, indifferent to my life or death.”

Large predators, she said, “present a test of our acceptance of our ecological identity … as part of the food chain, eater as well as eaten.” They also teach us lessons “lost to the technological culture that now dominates the Earth.”

In this issue’s cover story, writer Chris Solomon helps us review those lessons in depth. Fortunately, he does this not by being attacked by predators, but by spending time with them. Solomon goes to Alaska’s McNeil River State Game Sanctuary, where visitors walk — carefully and with great respect — near throngs of wild brown bears, who have come to accept humans as part of the landscape. At the sanctuary, humans are subordinate, resuming a role we must have played long ago. Such places are increasingly rare, but the lessons they hold are invaluable. They allow us to question the human relationship to the non-human world, and to acknowledge the precariousness of all things.

Editor-in-chief Brian Calvert
Brooke Warren/High Country News

As Plumwood wrote after her attack, we have failed to realize “how misguided we are to view ourselves as masters of a tamed and malleable nature.” More simply, we have failed to understand the “vulnerability of mankind.” Like any trip into the wilds of the world, Solomon’s journey to McNeil is a gentle reminder of something Plumwood nearly gave her life to learn, that nothing in this universe is guaranteed, not even the survival of our species.

High Country News Classifieds
  • COMMUNICATIONS AND OUTREACH ASSOCIATE
    Communications and Outreach Associate Position Opening: www.westernlaw.org/communications-outreach-associate ************************************************* Location: Western U.S., ideally in one of WELC's existing office locations (Santa Fe or Taos, NM, Helena,...
  • FREELANCE GRAPHIC DESIGNER & PROJECT COORDINATOR (REMOTE)
    High Country News (HCN) is seeking a contract Graphic Designer & Project Coordinator to design promotional, marketing and fund-raising assets and campaigns, and project-manage them...
  • FILM AND DIGITAL MEDIA: ASSISTANT PROFESSOR OF INDIGENOUS MEDIA, CULTURAL SOVEREIGNTY AND DECOLONIZATION (INITIAL REVIEW 12.1.21)
    Film and Digital Media: Assistant Professor of Indigenous Media, Cultural Sovereignty and Decolonization (Initial Review 12.1.21) Position overview Position title: Assistant Professor - tenure-track Salary...
  • REAL ESTATE SPECIALIST
    To learn more about this position and to apply please go to the following URL.
  • ENVIRONMENTAL GEOPHYSICS
    "More Data, Less Digging" Find groundwater and reduce excavation costs!
  • RARE CHIRICAHUA RIPARIAN LAND FOR SALE
    40 acres: 110 miles from Tucson: native trees, grasses: birder's heaven::dark sky/ borders state lease & National forest/5100 ft/13-16 per annum rain
  • CENTRAL PARK CULTURAL RESOURCE SPECIALIST
    Agency: Oregon Parks and Recreation Department Salary Range: $5,203 - $7,996 Position Title: Central Park Cultural Resource Specialist Do you have a background in Archaeology...
  • STAFF ATTORNEY
    Come live and work in one of the most beautiful places in the world! As our Staff Attorney you will play a key role in...
  • ARIZONA GRAZING CLEARINGHOUSE
    Dedicated to preventing the ecological degradation caused by livestock grazing on Arizona's public lands, and exposing the government subsidies that support it.
  • OPERATIONS MANAGER
    Position Summary: Friends of the Inyo (friendsoftheinyo.org) is seeking a new Operations Manager. The Operations Manager position is a full-time permanent position that reports directly...
  • WATER RIGHTS BUREAU CHIEF
    Water Rights Bureau Chief, State of Montana, DNRC, Water Resources Division, Helena, MT Working to support and implement the Department's mission to help ensure that...
  • EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR
    The Amargosa Conservancy (AC), a conservation nonprofit dedicated to standing up for water and biodiversity in the Death Valley region, seeks an executive director to...
  • DEVELOPMENT & OUTREACH ASSOCIATE
    Southeast Alaska Conservation Council is hiring! Who We Are: The Southeast Alaska Conservation Council (SEACC) is a small grassroots nonprofit based out of Juneau, Alaska,...
  • DESERT LANDS ORGANIZER
    Position Summary: Friends of the Inyo seeks a Desert Lands Organizer to assist with existing campaigns that will defend lands in the California desert, with...
  • IDAHO CONSERVATION LEAGUE
    Want to help preserve Idaho's land, water, and air for future generations? Idaho Conservation League currently has 3 open positions. We are looking for a...
  • LUNATEC ODOR-FREE DISHCLOTHS
    are a must try. They stay odor-free, dry fast, are durable and don't require machine washing. Try today.
  • EVENTS AND ANNUAL FUND COORDINATOR
    The Events and Annual Fund Coordinator is responsible for managing and coordinating the Henry's Fork Foundation's fundraising events for growing the membership base, renewing and...
  • EDUCATION DIRECTOR
    Position Description: The Education Director is the primary leader of Colorado Canyons Association's (CCA) education programs for students and adults on the land and rivers...
  • 10 ACRES OF NEW MEXICO HIGH DESERT
    10 Acres of undeveloped high desert land in central NM, about 45 minutes from downtown Albuquerque. Mixed cedar and piñon pine cover. Some dirt roadways...
  • WATERSHED RESTORATION DIRECTOR
    $58k-$70k + benefits to oversee watershed restoration projects that fulfill our strategic goals across urban and rural areas within the bi-national Santa Cruz and San...