Selected pages from Tokyo zine #1: Two weeks with Birds.
I read your zine today. I enjoyed deciphering the red ‘sub-text’ beneath the black handwriting, where you wonder if anyone will understand how this work relates to watching the habits of other people communing with nature, rather than reflecting only your personal obsession. I’ve always loved watching the natural world. But until I met you many years ago, and then Richard, I didn’t really know where to direct my looking.
I have read two novels over the past two weeks where empathy with animals is a central theme: Philip Pullman’s Northern Lights and Philip K. Dick’s Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep. I feel like I should have read them both at least a decade ago! But no matter. In both cases, strong relationships are forged between humans and animals, but the animals in question are completely removed from their connection to a broader ecology. In Pullman’s first novel of the His Dark Materials trilogy, some animals are Daemons; they are attached psychologically and psychosomatically to human beings. They have a spiritual and emotional connection. If a human dies, their Daemon dies too, and vice-versa. The bond between a human and their Daemon is almost sacrosanct. In Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep, humans bond with animals as part of a pseudo-religious and post-apocalyptic movement, where animal ownership is both a conspicuous way of achieving social kudos, and a way of lifting humankind away from despair and entropy (the Tomb World). Real animals are purchased from a catalogue. Humans aspire to try to love them.
Today I felt like Deckard. I had an existential concern for my fish, Rambo. I thought he looked lonely, hiding under his rocks. The Original Fin has been swimming solo in his pond for a while, so I decided to walk to Marrickville Aquarium Supplies and buy him some friends (or enemies, who knows?). As I was walking back I was thinking about you and how personally your work has affected me. Trying to be as careful as possible, I held the two Koi in front of me as they slopped around their plastic transport. Further down the street, I locked eyes with a middle-aged woman who was letting her neat little sheep trim the shrubs of her apartment block. Me with my fish-in-transit. Her with her sheep-on-a-rope. I thought about our two animal species in these unlikely suburban contexts, and the extent to which we try to create spaces for them to exist, and to imagine them being contented. I thought about the Japanese bird-watchers you had documented, their bird-feeding (such a no-no in Australia) and the desire for simple connection with other living things. A desire that comes from wonderment, curiosity and care.
My faith in interspecies relationships somewhat restored, I introduced The Original Fin to his new pondmates.
Now they hide from me in togetherness.