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1 PART I Between Fences and Beyond All living organisms are territorial. The Encyclopedia Britannica defines the word territory very well: “in ecology, any area occupied by a home or defended, or both, by an organism or a group of similar organisms for such purposes as mating, roosting, or feeding. The type of territory varies with social behavior and environmental requirements of the particular species and often serves more than one function. Most vertebrates and some invertebrates such as arthropods, including insects, have territorial spacing mechanisms that prevent harmful overcrowding effects such as exhaustion of food supply. Some authorities also consider plants or micro-organisms that secrete repulsive chemicals into their immediate environments to be territorial, because the substances space individuals of species apart from one another.” In other words, the territorial imperative is as basic as hunger and sex. All living creatures claim their respective space and defend it vigorously . I am in awe of the creosote bush that predominates in many of the desert regions of North America. This plant is said to secrete a chemical that defines its immediate territory and thus cannot be encroached upon by other creosote bushes. Songbirds announce their territories through song and defend their air space against raptors. Canines and other creatures mark territorial Jack Loeffler, photo by Katherine Loeffler 2 / Between Fences and Beyond boundaries with urine. Ants of different species engage in mortal combat . All the while, life feeds on life within every earthly habitat, every territory, and every bioregion or ecosystem. Every species relies completely on its habitat for survival. Each habitat is a composite of living organisms collectively contained within a landscape or seascape or atmosphere. The surface and atmosphere of our planet are composed of an ever-shifting mosaic of ecosystems aswarm with myriad species that survive by means of competition or cooperation or a combination of both strategies. Lest we forget, we are but one of those species, a biological phenomenon with a level of consciousness as yet unparalleled, as far as we know. We humans gradually achieved our specieshood (and our proclivity for consciousness) some four to five hundred thousand years ago. There may have been eight to ten thousand generations of true humans since our emergence from the biological realm of our predecessors. It was colder then; it was the time of the Pleistocene, an age of glaciation when it was possible to wander afoot across a landmass that extended from what is now Siberia to what is now Alaska. Our ancestors seeded every continent but one. With the gradual warming trends of the Holocene epoch, we blossomed and little by little became the dominant species on our planet. Over the past ten thousand years or so, we have gradually all but abandoned our hunter-gatherer practices in favor of a more agrarian and community-oriented life-style. We have also grown in numbers. A few years ago I realized that in my lifetime the human population of our planet, Earth, had trebled. Our ancestors ranged in tiny bands far and wide through a seemingly endless landscape, only occasionally encountering one another— just enough to spice up the gene pool and avoid giving birth to identical cousins. They marked their territorial rangeland with rock art and cairns, burial sites and waterholes, especially in arid habitats such as the American Southwest. As the great human ecologist Paul Shepard points out, we began our specieshood as hunter-gatherers on intimate terms with our respective homelands. “Prehistoric humans . . . were native to their place. They possessed a detailed knowledge that was passed on from Between Fences and Beyond / 3 generation to generation by oral tradition through myths—stories that framed their beliefs in the context of ancestors and the landscape of the natural world. They lived within a ‘sacred geography’ that consisted of a complex knowledge of place, terrain, and plants and animals embedded in a phenology [periodic biological phenomena such as flowering, breeding, and migration] of seasonal cycles. But they were also close to the Earth in a spiritual sense, joined in an intricate configuration of sacred associations with the spirit of place within their landscape” (from Coming Home to the Pleistocene). As they wandered through the mysteries of habitat, they engaged in a form of geomythic mapping that defined their territories in a sacred manner. Agriculture caused an enormous shift in human culture. Tiny villages came to dot a still seemingly endless landscape. As Lewis Mumford points out, “War was not yet in evidence. Such Neolithic...

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Additional Information

ISBN
9780826344410
Related ISBN
9780826344397
MARC Record
OCLC
609165678
Pages
285
Launched on MUSE
2011-07-21
Language
English
Open Access
No
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