[General Note: A month ago I mentioned a trip that I made out to the Yellow Dog Plains north of Marquette to photograph a very beautiful area that is the proposed site of a sulfide mining operation. This last week the Sierra Club made a web page available, http://michigan.sierraclub.org/mining.shtml about this issue (you might recognize some of the images there, they first appeared on this list...). The web page provides a great deal of information about this type of mining and several public workshops, meetings, and a chance for public comments on the rules that are being created to protect us and our environment. From November 21st to December 7th these workshops and meetings are planned at a variety of locations, including Grand Rapids, Lansing and Ann Arbor. The deadline for public comments ends December 19th. Think about it, in the time it takes you to read an article and write an email you could have a positive influence on your government beyond merely voting. For more information look at the web page and/or contact Rita Jack at rita.jack@sierraclub.org]

For the better part of a week, well actually the worse part of a week, I've been stuck inside ill. The only exploring that I've been able to do is is in my mind. I'm going to suggest some  ideas here that may seem really odd, but bear with me for a bit... even in mental exploration there are interesting things to find by looking where no one else is going.

Biologists are often warned against anthropomorphism - ascribing human characteristics to other animals. This is to prevent the bias of our own experiences from interfering with observations of animal behavior that might be motivated by different reasons than we expect. But at the same time, by not anthropomorphizing we promulgate another bias, that humans are capable of drives, motivations and feelings that other animals are not.

About a month ago I was up near Big Bay in the U.P. working on the project mentioned above. In the distance the Yellow Dog River threaded it's way through the landscape, even though I couldn't see the river itself I knew where it was by the line of trees along it's banks. I decided which hill had the very best view of the scene, and I hiked out to it to set up my tripod and camera. When I got to the rise I jumped a deer out of it's "bed" on the same hill side.

A week later I was 400 miles away and photographing a tiny, but beautiful stream that flows into the Hodenpyl Dam Pond, south of Mesick. Along the banks of the little brook I found the bones of a doe. Did she purposely choose this lovely spot to die at? Later in the day I looked out on a ridge, decided where the most appealing spot was, and hiked there to make an image only to have a buck leap out of his bed and trot out of sight.

Two weeks later I was photographing along Poplar Creek in Wexford county. There was a spot on the water where a maple tree had a branch stretched across the water and the red leaves were back light over the sparkling water. It was spectacular! While I was setting up the shot three does crossed the creek at that spot...

In each case I picked what seemed to me to be the most beautiful spot, and there was a deer there already. I know there could be any number of reasons for a deer to be in a particular spot, anything from wanting the vantage point to pure chance. But what I wonder is if they might not have been there, at least partially, for the same reason as me, because of the aesthetics.

When I was a kid there was a controversy over whether animals were intelligent. Now it is generally accepted that animals have a wide variety of intelligence. Earlier this year the movie March of the Penguins elicited a discussion about whether animals are capable of love. It seems to me to be a case of "why deny the obvious". They show affection, nurture, protect and sacrifice for - sounds like love to me.  Any of us with pets or who have seen the tenderness that some animals raise their young would be inclined to believe that there is a spectrum of love of which animals are capable. It might be different than the love we experience, but love none the less.

What about aesthetics? What reason do we have to believe that animals don't have an appreciation for beauty? Their "tastes" are certainly different from our own. But we already know that everything from birds to fish to toads select mates based on preferences in songs, dances, movement even croaking - a wide variety of aesthetic choices I would say. It appears to me that animals do see beauty and exhibit tastes in each other, so why not believe that they are capable of seeing beauty elsewhere too?

I have a friend who likes to tease me by telling that photography in general, and mine in particular, is not art. For me it is not a matter of showing art, it is a matter of sharing beauty. I think that life is more meaningful, fuller and worthwhile when we experience the beauty that surrounds us, in our environment and in each other.

"The exceeding beauty of the earth, in her splendor of life, yields a new thought with every petal. The hours when the mind is absorbed by beauty are the only hours when we really live. All else is illusion or mere endurance." - Richard Jefferies

Charles St. Charles III

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