- Additions to St. Hildegard’s Physica
Author’s note: In the twelfth century, Hildegard von Bingen published a scientific treatise on the habits and uses of plants and animals. The following is a modern update for some species in North America she would not have known.
Deer are metaphysicians. They teach the world leaping and walking with grace. Harts despise Euclid and abhor straight lines. All their postulates are structured using the scents drifting through thick forest trees, supported by the logic of bird song. To prove a conjecture about the physics of necessity, they will leap in front of a moving vehicle that they might convince their comrades that their logic is sound. They are guardians of silence and will defend stillness with their lives. Their gaze is Hegelian, offering thesis to your antithesis, and the synthesis will break your heart and leave you confused and tired, good only ever after for sighs and long walks. Old deer, whose antlers have grown forked with many points, are ridiculed by younger deer; they then are forced to live solitary lives, hiding the shame of their deficit of daring when they stood among wolves and mountain lions. Deer resemble humans most in their arrogance and cunning. They understand the calculus of shadows and hide their offspring in its intricacies. When the world is white with snow and the moon’s glow illuminates and softens the earth’s rugged undulations—its rocky and rough coarseness—deer will gather and in the sparkling snow practice a magic fierce and unrelenting. This sorcery will draw down what it is to frolic without a fear of death. If you see this, your heart will be replaced by that of a deer, and you will grow both quiet and contemplative, unassuming and steady-eyed. If you meet someone like this, you may be sure they have seen a coven of deer’s spellwork; there is nothing you can do for them. Be content. They are lost. [End Page 85]
Opossums are marsupials, so they carry their questions outside their bodies in a pouch. This leads to particular vulnerabilities, including an unpleasant openness and awkward frankness when they ponder the world into which they were thrown. Who they are is nakedly exposed to the world for further inquiry and sometimes they will play dead rather than suffer the needling of those who mock and pester them. They have evolved ugliness as a defense against ridicule, and their ratty tangle of unruly hair and naked tail allow them to withstand the boorish taunts of rascals. An attitude of forbearance in personal hygiene belies a bellicose commitment to purity of expression—an almost positivist reluctance to treat their, admittedly primitive, concepts as fuzzy or their notions as inexact. When a persimmon they perceive, a persimmon they expect it to be. They most resemble humans in their tendency to believe their own narrative and in their reluctance give others the benefit of the doubt in constructing their own. Opossums have only four kinds of teeth, and so their cosmology is based upon a fourfold conception of reality: wood, pavement, enemies, and persimmons. Their magic is simple and might be better characterized as a kind of sleight of hand rather than proper conjuring. They are without science. They do not readily accept blame even if at fault and are inclined to petulance if accused of anything carrying the odor of scandal. If you meet one in the woods, pass by with a nod. And never make fun of it just to see it fall into a torpor. Such is considered rude and ill mannered.
When coyotes take holy orders, and all do, they take a vow to wander. Over the natural world they are called to roam far and wide, visiting many climes to sample the ecosystems of the world in their variety and fullness. While solitary, they are not inclined to loneliness. They are tasked by their vocation to chronicle with their mind’s eye the substances, shapes, and events of existence. This they take seriously. Such an undertaking requires a level of attention that does not lend itself to the contemplation...