Click on Bird Paintings below.
Click on Bird Paintings below.
Hair is a wild thing, as close as many humans come to nature, perhaps. Da Vinci thought, rightly, that is is like water. It is: ordered chaos. Fashion is a minor thing, compared to this, merely a tiny part of human culture.
This is not a story about fashion, and it is really only secondarily about hair. I was thinking this blog or book of books, essays and whatever, is too heavy, too intellectual, and it would be nice to do something lighter. So I started thinking about the last eight or so years of drawings and paintings, and how much I have enjoyed doing not only studies of people and animals but studies of hair. I have not done studies of hair as an indication of social class, which is what fancy hair tends to be. Was Leonardo doing that? Yes and no. I think he was mostly interested in the geometry of it, the math in space: the way a rounded head took the geometry of braided lines. The fancyness or fashionable quality of it was secondary, perhaps even non-existant. Though most of his fancy studies of hair are to do with Leda and the Swan painting. Most of his other studies of hair are much more prosaic, even ordinary, or at least pretend Greek. The model dressed up as a Greek below, is probably Salai, Leonardo’s young man by this time. He adopted him when he was 9 or so. Here he looks maybe 16. The old man is unknown, possibly made up as one of Leonardo’s caricatures, of which he did many. He liked to juxtapose the old and the young, the ugly and the beautiful.
My interest in hair is not part of the fashion world. Fashion is mostly about money and class. I am not interested in either phenomena. My interest in hair is really born of cutting it as my wife’s and kid’s barber. Getting a hair cut was cheap when I was a kid, but now it is not. A girl, even a young girl can easy spend 25 or 50 dollars going to get it cut. A boy or more likely a boy’s parents, can easily spend 25 to get their hair cut. I often cut my wife’s or kid’s hair. This is partly about saving money, not spending it. We have saved thousands of dollars not getting hair cuts by so called “professionals”.
The only painting near me by a student and colleague of Leonardo is this one formerly ascribed to Ambrogio De Predis, called, “Portrait of a Youth as St. Sebastian”, from the late 1480s also called an “Alleged portrait of Gian Galeazzo Maria Sforza”. CMA has recently changed the painter of this work. When I did the copy in 2015 it was said, by the blurb next to the painting, to be the work of Ambrigio De Predis but now it is said to be by another of Leonardo’s students, Marco d’Oggiono. This makes a certain sense, looking at his “Girl with Cherries”, where the hair and coloration is similar. But this is what museums do, try to follow facts, while making things up as they go along.
Predis and his father are also said to have worked on the right and left wings of the Louvre version of the “Virgin of the Rocks”. While Leonardo’s sfumato technique is used in my drawing in the shadows on the skin of the face. and Leonardo’s curls are used on the curls of the hair, the painting itself not a great form, as the hands in it are too big and are excluded by me. This seems to be characteristic of Oggiono. Leonardo would have done much better on the face and the proportions of the hands. But it is well done despite the mistakes, and one feels the presence of Leonardo in the De Predis or d’Oggiono. In either case doing something done by a student of Leonardo was exciting and made it a learning experience for me. It allowed me to feel Leonardo was a bit my teacher too.
William Holman Hunt
My drawings involving hair do include among them a few that are accidentally concerned with class and status. I generally do this somewhat ironically as here. This one is a copy of the painting the Cleveland Museum of Art by William Holman Hunt. I was interested in the forbidding character of her hair and form. I ignored the class and status of the woman in the work, who was Hunt’s mother in law. She had ten children, eight of them girls. Two of her children died while married to Hunt. Yet here he is painting a portrait of the Mom of his dead wives soon after they died. What is she doing here? She or Hunt chose the elaborate hair do. It is not wild and free like most Pre-Raphaelite hair, made a ‘stunner’ by elite male standards, willing to be killed off when young, like Elizabeth Siddal. She died of an opium overdose, having modeled Ophelia for John Everett Millais. In that painting, one of the best of 19th century works, she was made to sit clothed in a bathtub that was not well heated. She got sick.
The woman in the above drawing has hair more strict and tamed, more Georgian than Victorian, very no nonsense, though it is nonsensical. It does not fit the face. The face has kindness in it, but the hair does not. It speaks for the wealth of her husband: his status, his class. In it is the cruelty of wealth, 19th century English colonialistic wealth, Imperial arrogance combined with the kindness of personal loss.
This is a small work by Ernst Meissonier, a really great little work, that is mentioned in one of Vincent’s letters. Meissonier was a far right narcissist who painted himself with white hair, and an elaborate long white beard, a sort of Celestial Andy Warhol. He liked to paint his nostalgia for the far distant past, and would even make and dress up dolls in sixteenth century costumes which he made himself to try to get the fashions correct. I like his devotion to reality. Lots of people did. He did 17 century imitations and Napolean on horse back. He was also one of the men who sought to punish Gustave Courbet for something he did not do, tearing down the Vendome column. I don’t like that he did that.
This is one of his more sedate creations, the artist is dressed in Revolutionary fashion. Hair is pulled back and tied with a ribbon. In the front the hair is cut shorter. Leonardo says that this is how a painter should work, well dressed, caring for himself, working easily and well.
It is clear with these various images that hair is often used as a social symbol of class and standing . This is made even more clear by the Egyptian royalty, who wore certain sorts of hair styles, often wigs made of human hair, but sometimes wool or hung down and weighted with metal beads. In China, women’s hair styles announced the status of eligible girls compared to married ones, and men’s styles differed according to their social position. Men wore the Queue, which was an invention of the Manchu who required the long braid down the back to be worn, the front of the hair being cut. Marie Antoinette is said to have build up her hair a number of feet tall by use of a metal frame, hidden inside her hair, like a bird cage. Supposedly she even wore ships, three foot feathers, and a live bird in a bird cage in her hair. There is a painting of her wearing a ship model.
This and many others, in Africa, Native America and elsewhere were mostly fashion statements or required impositions, enforced by powers or the vanity of fame. None of this interests me much, most of it is merely fashionable power play, the showing off of wealth or status seeking.
A number of hair studies go beyond mere status images and show great beauty or wonderful workmanship. This does matter to me. For instance, there is this Frederick Sandys, in CMA, which I think is Sandys best painting. It is not a mythical surrrealism, or strange to the point of irrealism, as much of his work is. It shows a real person as well done as can be. I find myself liking Suzanne Rose. She has a certain acceptable vanity, an eccentric, not the show off vanitas of the Durer self-portrait, below, as beautiful as it is. Mostly I drew what I loved in the image, the wrinkles all over her aging face, or the way the lovely lace is woven into her hair, the clarity of her eyes. It is exacting and wonderful.
So, while there are hair studies I do not like very much there are some that I do and my choices have to do with the motive behind the work, or what I can imagine the artist thought he or she was doing.
I don’t much like the self portrait by Albrect Durer, even though I find it marvelously painted, especially the hair. But one wonders what is the meaning of “beauty” in this context, where the arrogance and mythical quality of his comparing himself to the mythic image of Christ is too much. The image of the Iconic Christ is itself false and fictional. Thus this work is a fiction based on a fiction, vanity made incarnate. He is certainly handsome and he was shown his skill well, which was partly the point, but the allegory is too far flown. It is not believable and like Gauguin’s painting of himself as Jesus, faintly ridiculous. The hair, the beard and the fur collar are gorgeous, but that does not redeem the ignorance and show off quality implied in it.
I never saw this man’s face, so this is the most anonymous man I have ever drawn.
Having no hair might seem to remove the cultural and symbol laden overtones to which hair is prone. But it hasn’t. Indeed, the “Skinhead” movement appears to have begun in Britain as a leftist movement, but by the 1970’s it had become a right wing and in some cases, in Germany, for instance, it even a Neo-Nazi, racist movement.
This is an American who I drew in an audience at a concert a few years ago. American skinheads, though they are rarely called that, are usually, if not always anti-government far right republicans. No regulations for them, no helping others— they serve only themselves and their own freedom.They do not care for others and the planet: only they matter. I am not saying this man is like that, I have no idea.
I once met a man in San Francisco who had cut off all his hair because he thought this was ‘sexy’ and would attract women to him. I asked a woman I then knew who told me this man had asked her to rub his head, which she did not do because she thought it repulsive. So much for his theory, which at least in this case, ended up being wrong.
Men who shave their heads are as likely to be futurists as political in their motivation. By futurists I mean people who want to appear as technologically savvy, freedom oriented people who want a society that is computer based, giving them too much and giving the poor and needy nothing. The love of robots is part of what they believe in. I am not a fan of any of that.
But of course that may be merely a mythical construction. Going bald seems to have to do something with reproductive diminishment. Men seem to think that going bald make them seem less threatening and so they might be more rather than less attractive. I do not know if this is accurate. In any case, going bald can be said to be a natural process for many men and a few women. Chemotherapy removes ones hair even in women, as I saw with my cousin Elizabeth, who died of Hodgkin’s Lymphoma.
This de Hooch is also lovely, partly because it evokes the beautiful tune he is no doubt playing so excellently on the flute, but also because of the hair, which is full and well done, reminding me of the full sleeved male of the couple in love in the Rembrandt late work called, erroneously, I think, the Jewish Bride.
This is my daughter at the Eureka zoo, where we went every week. She is nearing 3 here. This was a great time with her, indeed, her whole childhood amazed me. It was one of the best times in my life. Most people who do not have kids themselves do not know that a 3 year old is a very sophisticated person. They may not remember that age and how they were, but the adults they spend time with do remember and know they were really quite a lot of fun and very smart.
I think that the hair of the very young is the most beautiful that hair ever is. In the very old hair becomes thin, grey or white, the life largely gone from it. Of course this frail and wan beauty has its own loveliness. But the lovely hair of the young, they do not even see it for what it is, which is a shame. It was very light in my two kids and wonderful to look at. The intricate curl on the viewers right, next to her neck, was wonderful and typical of that age. It is one of the best memories of my life to think of her and my son’s young golden hair. This is not a race comment, I could care less about that, it is merely a fact, and one that I value very highly.
So these were done in the fall of 2017. I had done drawings of hair previously, but as my daughter was doing a lot of experimenting with her hair I started studying her hair more systematically. So my sketchbook starts looking like this. If you see, below, I have taken some of these drawing out of the sketchbook and included them with later drawings or with ones that goes better with the drawing beside it..
Hats she Made
The actual drawing of all of these involves different distributions of dark and light in each one. She often makes a pony tail.
The point of this is to show what I was doing. I was showing different ways she did her hair, and how it looked. In the top one I was also showing different sorts of hats she crocheted herself. She wore the hats some days because she got tired of her hair and wanted to cover it up. She was only 13 or 14 during this period and such behavior is pretty common during that age. In the one immediately above she is playing the violin, but one cannot see the instrument, except the bow. She is reading the music. She had made a ‘thing’ for her neck, it was dark, like a ribbon. If I remember she was then playing Telemann or Bach. Probably not Vivaldi, which she did later. She would braid her own hair. As below too.
She was gotten to like them less, but I still like these more formal braids. They create a certain charm and look like one is attending to oneself.
Of course an ordinary pony tail is also fine.
I was intrigued by the hair with the geometric design on the sweater.
I have always liked this picture of her. She is about 11 or 12 here.
I like this drawing very much. She is nearly thirteen. (2017) The hair is both heavy and light weight. That is how real hair is- drawing it involves distributing the darks and lights on a curved head. The perspective is good on the glasses, and the face in general, as well as the violin. The likeness is good, the violin is well done with dark and lights just right. One doesn’t even miss the shoulder rest, though it is dimly indicated, as I wished to emphasize the hair more.
I think this one at the top and the one down from it are the best, both done from life,
This is the page of my sketchbook that the two drawings above are taken from. She has an individual lesson once a week with her teacher, who is a great violinist. The way I do these drawings might seem odd. I work on them in her class as she plays in different positions with her teacher. She is always changing what she is doing, and so there are different poses. I work on each pose for the time that she assumes it and stop and work on another when she is doing that one. In the last few months there were three average poses she got into as she worked with her teacher, so I did those.
There is one that I did from a photo maybe six months ago (2019)
She went though a period of wearing these hair bands, with the lovely designs of them.
What follows is some pictures done of my son, mostly in the same environment as of my daughter above. They tend to be quite competitive with each other. This can be problematic at times, but it appears to be usually the case between children. When I was a kid I generally stayed out of the fray, with a few exceptions. But there was stress because of our differences, and competition for the attention of parents. Part of it, of course, is due to their being brother and sister. They think they are far different than they actually are. I think they are far more similar than they probably are. Between the two is the reality of it.
The reality of human hair is probably evolutionary. How this is so is argued over in biology. The argument goes that hair serves to protect the brain. The other argument is that hair keeps the head warm when it is cold and protects the head from UV sunlight.
Again it is hard to see how the latter is the case given that many men start going bald in their 30’s. It is said that they begin going bald as they stop being reproductive, but men rarely stop being reproductive in their 30’s, so I am not sure this argument holds up.
Babies are often bald too. Often the mothers have the insight to cover up their young heads.
Peter Frost maintain in a 2015 paper, “Evolution of Long Hair in Humans” that
“Also begging to be explained is another aspect of human head hair: its length and silkiness began as infant traits. There seems in fact to be a pattern of visible infant traits being “borrowed” by adult women under the pressure of sexual selection. Such traits attract the interest of adults while stimulating feelings of nurturance and
protection. This is a useful behavioral response not only for infants but also for adult women when competing for attention from prospective mates.”
There may be some truth to this. as indeed, human hair does grow longer outside of Africa. The long length of human hair does seem to increase with women. Women have stronger hair than men, apparently. Hence their growing it longer. I don’t know that this is true though. Much more than any other animal, hair changes or length does seem to be motivated by sexual selection pressures. But this does not mean that wearing a ship or a bird cage in ones hair is favored by evolution. That was an attempt to get fame and notoriety on the part of Marie Antionette. The hair of Elvis or Warhol is similar. That is clearly a cultural thing, meant to make a notable person as a fashionable signature seen as instantly recognizable, not an evolutionary matter. Warhol was willing to kill himself for fame, dye his hair white and belong like a fanatic to the Suicidal Marketplace. By this I mean the market system that put billionaires above us all and in slowly destroying all that matters on earth. Their suicidal tendencies are adopted by many people because people in general cannot yet protest loudly enough the bogus ‘leadership’ of their leaders, who merely lead them to the death of all that matters.
My kids are not seeking fame, and are not ‘fashionable’. They are real kids with real hair.
His hair was long and thick here, much like his grandma’s on the mothers side. It had grown long, and the darks and lights were varied and curved.
My son on a carousel
This is recent, a month or two ago, (2019), he is ten now and starting to act like an older young man, and his hair is thick, though at his request I thinned it as much as I reasonably could. He likes this one the best.
Picking Dandelions, 2014
I love this painting. I have written about it elsewhere. His hair at two was blonde.
I enjoy my best work as if I did not even do it. After trying more than once I finally
got something of the silkiness of it, here. There is nothing as finely innocent and
beautiful like the hair of a young child. He seemed in a sea of grasses and flowers
that I let grow out back. I painted the figure in this from a photo, as there is no way
to get a young child to pose this way. But the all the grasses and flowers were done
What life there is in a field! Children are more or less helpless at this age
and one does everything for them, but here he is exploring on his own, loving the
flowers, the warm air, existing. I always get excited when I look at this one, it is full
of life. I feel I did not even paint it, it painted itself.
My daughter and son’s teacher playing in a group class with them at the university.
My kids and their teacher
My mom in 1947
This is a very quickly down Sumi ink painting done in the last 5 years of myself near the ocean in California. There is a mistake on the neck and left side of my jaw. Otherwise I particularly like the hair. The weather near the ocean was very moist and that made my hair very curly.
My spouse when she let her hair grow naturally white.
My daughter and her teacher with two others playing Telemann as a group,
My daughter’s teacher. The braid reminds me of what my daughter often wore.
An anonymous guy at the Akron baseball ball park, with a nice beard. It did not strike me as an aggressive beard.
The hair of African Americans is basically the same as “white” people, who are never really ‘white”, just as “black” people are never “black”– we are all shades of lighter or darker brownish, often with orangeish or ochreish tinge. The exaggeration of words like white and black is part of what causes racism. Hair is a variable distributions of darks and lights, just tighter curls in some cases. This is a done from a model is life class.
This one was done after William Sydney Mount’s “The Power of Music” at CMA.
I liked this models hair, drawn in a life class.
My daughter drawing a Fox Squirrel exhibit. She was maybe 10 here.
5000 years ago.
This is one of various drawings have done with my son or daughter watching to show them how to draw. In the old days many artists might have drawn or painted what they imaged as the first persons, Adam and Eve. We know now that that is a myth and one of thousands of similar creation stories through out the world. I wrote a creation story myself when I was 20 or 21. It scarcely matters now.
I much prefer looking at this rendition of Otzi, the 5000 year old man found in the ice of the Italian alps. A lot of science went into what he might have looked like. I include his head hair, chest hair and beard in it too. It is based on a photographic model, but I changed it slightly. I added, for instance, his less than perfect teeth. His hair seems combed or at least put into a pony tail. I’ve studied this subject quite a lot and with study there usually follows a drawing of one kind or another.
A Koala (not a Bear) marsupial, sleeping.
Humans are animals, who generally are too conceited to think they are animals. We are like the Moose I saw in a creek n the Bear-tooth mountains, who stood in the creek and hair dropped in large clumps from its sides as it was bathing.
However the truth is that no animal on earth is as bad as humans can be. Human hair is an outgrowth of animal hair. Most of what humans are comes from and exists thanks to animals and ultimately, plants. Humans rarely say thank you. I say thank you to them here, and below. Hair is organized chaos, like water, and is an amazing part of nature, not at all a part of the conceited and small world of human fashion, the small world of money making.
Squirrel Tail in Sunlight
Cats and dogs are major parts of our households. Yet many do not tell their stories. Victorian art began to tell their stories, but then art went abstract and corporate and no content was allowed other than red yellow and blue or grids. Maybe a square or oval now and then. The museums and art galleries, supporting ideology and corporate profits, emptied art of real content, and they are defiantly proud of the Nothing they put on their walls. Cat and dog stories became part of popular culture, while art became empty and elitist. I am restoring cat and dog stories here. I also show artwork I have done about cats and dogs, wild and “domestic”. At the end I discuss the dismal facts of most domestication, why it was important to Darwin and why people have largely failed nature and animals.
When I was a baby one of the most important beings in my life was our dog Nani. He was a German Shepard who kept watch over my crib when I slept. No one could mess with me, except my Mom.
Later we got two Siamese cats, Shiro and Kuro, light and dark, or day and night in Japanese. They were given us by George Corwin, a man my Dad worked with, who had been in a concentration camp of sorts in China. He told me about burying a hunk of meat near a fence in the camp, and living off the rotting meat for months. I got to know him pretty well when my Mom got dementia, and he called me a lot to find out how she was. He clearly loved her. I was glad of that. He was a nice man, and for some reason admired my Dad’s Dad, who had been a VP for American Can company, and he said he had to do with developing the Aluminium can, though I was unsure if that was true or a tall tale my Dad told him. He bragged about owning a Hiroshige, and loved Velasquez’s “Odalisque”
Shiro ruled the house for many years, and was philosophical, detached and very smart. Kuro was never neutered, which was a mistake, as he got in so many fights in our neighborhood in Stockton, California that he eventually died of his wounds from other cats. I remember seeing his face torn and bloody. His his ears, and head, also had open sores on them. I do not know why he was never neutered, he should have been. It was my introduction to the perils of testosterone poisoning, I suppose. I think I was nine when he died, and Kuro must have been 3-5. He was a good cat, I remember that, but was evidently a bad fighter.
Sometime in the year before my Dad died, when I was 17, we got a black and white fronted cat named Minx, who was much more ordinary than Shiro. Shiro was the loveliest Siamese I ever saw, and a bit regal, and Shiro was mean to Minx. They could not tolerate each other at all, or even be in the same room together. If they were in the same room, Shiro attacked the smaller Minx.
So on Dec 13, 1973 I was in a flexible studies program at my high school, which meant that I was mostly doing independent study. I have always loved studying and do not need school to motivate me, so it was great for me. In any case, I usually came home around 12 O’clock. My Dad had been home for over a month, because he had had a serious heart attack in November. I expected to see him at home, and walked in the side door. To my great surprise the two cats, Shiro and Minx were not only sitting shoulder to shoulder behind the door that I opened, but they were clearly waiting for me. This was shocking that these two cats who hated each other should be so together and unusually nice to each other. Why? What happened? I went up to see my Dad, but no one was home but me and the cats.
Suddenly the phone rang and it was my Dad’s doctor on the line saying that my Dad had just died and my mother was hysterical and could I come pick her up and bring her home. The cats knew this, obviously, and gave up their fights. The ambulance evidently had come to the house and picked up my dad and mom. That must have frightened the cats. My Dad had had a violent embolism explode an artery near his heart and he must of died fairly quickly, though he was still alive apparently by the time he got to the hospital. He hit his head on the toilet seat when he fell, my mother said. There was blood on the toilet. I went to get my Mom and brought her home, only seeing my Dad under a sheet in the room near my Mom. He was dead by the time I got there.
The only thing I can imagine is that the cats knew he was dying or dead, and the overcame their long term differences all of a sudden and waited for me at the door together. It was very moving and caring of them to do that and I have never forgotten it.
My wife had a cat named Shierkhan. Not the best name as this name refers to a mean Tiger cat in the Jungle Book by Rudyard Kipling. When our cat was little he did have a mean streak and would attack my heels as I walked around the apartment. But we really bonded when I got sick and was in bed in the hospital for two weeks and then in bed for a month at home. He would flop down with his head resting on my hand and stay there for hours.
He brought some joy to my illness. He ended up being a very patient cat and even stood still as my two year old boy, shown below, cut off his whiskers with some toddler’s scissors.
I was moved by his care of me and we were pals until he died of cancer of the liver at 17. The kids and I were laying beside him as he died near the bed in the bedroom. We all cried as he died.
He lived in California for a few years and I did this of him in some wildflowers, near the ocean.
Paws in California
When my mom got too sick to take care of her cat, we took it home and cared for it. She was also a great cat, named Mei Lin. She was a Siamese from a farm in Spencer, Ohio. I used to play fetch with her with a rolled up aluminium ball. That morphed into attaching the aluminium ball to a stick with a long string. She would play chase the ball for hours and would occasionally assume strange body shapes, looking at the ball in a threatening manner from between her legs, or backing up to get the ball sideways. She loved to play ball also on a chair in my mother’s living room, trying to capture the ball between the lathe turned spindles on the chair’s back. It was the same chair I now sit in writing this.
I did this portrait hoping my mom would recognize the cat she loved, but she showed no sign, if she did recognize her. After I got Mom off most of the psychotropic drugs my brother put her on, she was better, and even sometimes talked to me. We brought Mom to our house occasionally, and Mei Lin definitely knew Mom and was very loving towards her and a few times Mom did respond to Mei Lin in kindness and interest. She would sometimes remember who she was, sometimes not. The drugs the “doctors” gave her knocked out awareness of her cat, taking her off the medications brought it back.
This is a semi-wild barn cat. He lives in a barn in the middle of Ohio, where we get pumpkins and eats the mice and other things as well as taking hand outs from humans. I liked his wild and defiant eyes, and that he was here sitting on a hay bail.
In early images of cats I find this one, which is a portrait of a kitten we had when I was 16 or 17
Hako and I, age 16.
This drawing in recent, Nov, 2018 but shows myself and my dog Hako in 1974. He has nearing a year old then. He was given to me by an old friend of those days after my Dad died in late 1973. It was a very kind gift and one that I valued for many years. He died in 1987. Hako was a great dog. It was one of the deepest relationships of my life.
Here is another picture of Hako, done in late 1973 or early 1974, as a diptych, which also included a portrait of a Black Cat, based on Yeat’s poem, the “Cat and the Moon”, about Minnaloushe.
This was the back and front paintings of a book of art I made then, called The Dream, which was a picture of life and death as I knew it then, my senior year in High school.
This was the drawing for the painting of the cat.
Hako Pencil drawing
Above is a recent drawing of Hako.
I did a series of paintings and drawings at this time, 1973-74, and I even included a little humor, or Hako, doing “his business”. The humor is wry, and some might think it odd, but it was amazing the watch him do this every day. I wanted to make a wry humorous image to counter some of the serious images of this early book, which was largely about death.
Our Animals, 2019.
These are recent cats and a dog of ours. The two on the left adopted us by sitting on the deck outside for weeks. Someone wrongly dumped a lot of cats in our area, and these two were attracted to us, others were killed by the the local Animal Pound woman. There are many things one can do with unwanted cats, but dropping them off in a wooded area, such as we have is cruel, and will very likely lead to death, starvation or suffering for the cat. There are a lot of wild coyotes in our area and they are likely to find cats very edible. The forth one was the baby of a wild cat, probably dropped off in our area. The mother was not a very good mother and probably had never been pregnant before. She gave birth to the cats in our woodpile. I tried to cover them with a tarp, but when a storm came up it partially uncovered them and they got wet. My daughter and I tried to warm and dry the dying kittens, but failed in 3 cases. There were at most week old and could not survive the exposure. This one survived, barely. We had to learn quickly how to feed it with a small syringe. My daughter saved it with much devotion and care,, feeding it regularly with the small syringe. It nearly died twice more, falling off the balcony and getting a lung infection.
The first cat on the left of the drawing above shows the only cat we bought. We bought her to teach the feral cats how to be domestic cats. It was a wise move and it worked, mostly. She is a wonderful cat, kind, and mothering all of us, with much licking and cleaning. The same cat is below in a few sketches, These were done all in one day, as she dozed on a carpet in the kitchen.
This is our new dog. The same drawing is in the picture above, with the cats. The cats and dog do not entirely get along, except when they do, which is occasionally, especially when the dog is tired. The cats have figured out that they are best up high when the dog is wide awake. She never bites them, but she does like to play with them, and they often do not want to play too. For a few months we had some foster cats, and the dog loved one of them and used to put the kitten in her mouth like a mom, gently, holding her from the back and side.
Our Four Cats (2018)
Our 4 Cats: in perspective
The top cat in the drawing above was born in a woodpile outside our house, as I explained. Below are later kittens born of the same mom and dad. The dad was a magnificent black male with yellow green eyes. He was like a panther, very large for a house cat, and lovely to look at. He was hit by a car, and was last seen on the side of the road, in Sept, 2019. The female, tabby, seems to be gone too. Below are a few of their kittens. We have fostered many of them, 7, i think. One was taken by another person, and two are fostered out. they gave all our cats fleas. We are still working on that.
Terms like domestic, wild and feral are human terms and mean an animal that more or less fits human needs. Dimitry Belyayev showed in his famous Fox experiments that domestication is really a process of genetic manipulation of behavioral control of an animal involving genetic selection for “tameability”.
The genes that control what is human centered and what is not, get turned off or on depending on the control of breeding. If it is left up to the animal, the genes that were dormant, and made the animal wild get turned on again, and tend to dominate, whereas when a human controls breeding wildness tends to be turned off. This means that the idea of domestic species is somewhat illusory. Yes, there are real changes in dogs, pigs chickens and the like, but the changes are rather shallow and are somewhat easily rescinded.
Coyotes at Limantour, Point Reyes
Coyotes are the wild dog of the Americas. It is an amazing animal. They are very smart, and even large expenditures to kill them off by the US government have failed and now they are spread all over the US, when they used to be confined to the western states. This is one good example, among many, or the lethal minded speciesism and inanity of game agencies and the USFWS. Farmers used to and many still hate them and kill them on sight. Like the hatred of wolves, this is irrational and in killing the Coyote they are not recognizing that they are killing off the very animal most likely to control their rodent populations. According to Barry Lopez, in his book on wolves, the myth of the wolf as killer of humans is a myth or falsehood.
The effort to kill off Coyotes by ranchers farmers and the Government failed. There are more Coyotes than ever, Henry Thoreau speaks of farmers as “regarding the soil as property, or the means of acquiring property chiefly, the landscape is deformed, husbandry is degraded with us, and the farmer leads the meanest of lives. He knows Nature but as a robber” Certainly this is true of the farmer as killer of wild animals, even those that would help him.
Above is a recent painting of Coyotes I watched in Point Reyes. There were actually 3 of them but I only put two in this portrait. They were searching for things to eat, as usual, and were concerned that I noticed them. Few humans see Coyotes as they are usually nocturnal and very smart and stealthy.
They are often used in Native American myths and stories about the Origin of life, in creation stories or teaching stories for kids. Native Americans often projected their own foibles or excesses onto Coyotes in order to teach kids to behave and do appropriate things. Coyote’s misbehavior is used to teach kids to be better people. This is clear for instance in the Brule or Lakota story about Inktomi, the Spider, Coyote and the Rock, a version of which occurs in the great Native American movie the Dreamkeeper, one of the very best of movies made about Native Americans, both in terms of its realistic and its mythic or story telling elements. In the original story the Coyote gives a blanket to the Rock and then, when it gets cold, the Coyote takes back the blanket. The moral of the tale is that one should not take back things that are given. The rock kills Coyote, rolls over him, but, of course, he comes back to life. He always does. Killing Coyotes is both mythically and historically useless.
My own view of Coyotes is rather different. I admire them a great deal. Like dogs, they get into all kinds of mischief, but I rarely hold that against them. The live behind us, and I often hear them and less often see them.
Red Fox Sitting (Wyoming)
Foxes are a different story. I have always liked them.
I first saw one when I was 11 or 12, recently dead, frozen into the ice
with a dust of snow on it, a grey fox, one of the loveliest
things I have ever seen. It was silver and rust colored, some orange
lying in the orange or brown marsh grasses, a veritable symphony of harmonies of
I have seen foxes in many places and gotten to know them pretty well. I have seen the Grey Fox up close in Point Reyes and the Red Fox in Canada and Wyoming as well as in Ohio, and have heard their high pitched and lonely call in many places.
I have seen baby Foxes in the Allegeny mountains of New York. I admire their
intelligence, as well as the expert avoidance of death by cars, which so many
animals die from. I have seen a few fox kills by car, but not nearly as many kills as raccoons or skunks, squirrels or deer. What is interesting about animals being
killed by cars is that the person who kills them rarely gets out and takes the corpse
off the road. This shows both a terrible disregard and disrespect for animals as well as
a non caring willingness to kill them and not to think of what was killed. Nor have I ever heard of any attempts to stop road killing, except perhaps for the underpasses that have been built out west for animals. But there has been no attempt on the part of car makers to make a car that would do less harm to animals. The contempt of animals by car corporations is evident. It is evident in the willingness of people to kill animals in cars or trucks too. Usually people say animals are stupid and get in the way of cars, but actually it is people who are stupid, driving around irresponsibly in metal boxes going 60 miles an hour, unthinking.
Red Fox Walking, Wyoming
The two painting above are recent and were done, along with the Coyote and the self portrait with Hako for this page. The two Fox paintings are of the same fox I took pictures of in Wyoming. There was a deep snow drift there and it knew I could not walk in it, as I sunk down to my thighs. It was not at all afraid of me and so I got to spend alot of time videoing it. My impression was it was an elder male, and as it was a relatively warm late winter day, it was very comfortable and laid in the snow, and enjoyed that.
I am writing here about ordinary cats and dogs, which, when well treated by humans are great animals and full of fun, intelligence and life. But humans abuse many animals, both wild and domestic. Bartolome de Las Casas describes in lurid detail the abuse of Native Americans on the Island of Hispaniola and elsewhere. Columbus had war dogs, Spanish Hounds (Greyhounds?) or Mastiffs, apparently, which he and his men trained to kill. Las Casas writes:
“But now I am going to tell of another action the Spaniards engage in which is
perhaps even more ferocious and infernal than the one I have just
recounted, and it still goes on at the present time. As has been said,
the Spaniards train their fierce dogs to attack, kill and tear to pieces the Indians.
It is doubtful that anyone, whether Christian or not, has ever before heard of
such a thing as this. The Spaniards keep alive their dogs’ appetite for human beings
in this way. They have Indians brought to them in chains, then unleash the dogs.
The Indians come meekly down the roads and are killed. And the Spaniards
have butcher shops where the corpses of Indians are hung up, on display,
and someone will come in and say, more or less,”Give me a quarter of that
rascal hanging there, to feed my dogs until I can kill another one for them.”
As if buying a quarter of a hog or other meat.
Other Spaniards go hunting
with their dogs in the mornings and when one of them returns at noon and
is asked “Did you have good hunting?” he will reply, “Very good! I killed
fifteen or twenty rascals and left them with my dogs”
(de Las Casas, Devastation of the Indies, p. 127).
The use of dogs to kill Native Americans is a double abuse against the dogs and against the Native Americans. The origins of human cruelty toward animals is clearer than the origins of animals. The story of Columbus and his abuse of native Carib Islanders makes him a figure who must not be celebrated. He was anything but a hero. This makes Rene Descartes abuse of Dogs, which was very bad, seem a minor instance of the same abuse. Descartes claimed, wrongly, dogs have no reason or understanding and those who have no understanding cannot really feel pain. This is hair splitting nonsense, a self justifying lie by Descartes. Descartes believed only humans and not animals have understanding, and only humans not animals have a soul, and therefore animals do not feel pain. This excused his torture of dogs, he thought. So he played violin to them while they were dying, or cut their main arteries and watched them die, feeling their pulse as the did so. This is not science, but it is cruelty. It certainly brings Descartes into question.
Similar to what Columbus and his followers did to the Native Americans on Hispaniola is what the English did to the Irish, where the English sent 3000 Mastiff dogs to Ireland to silence the growing hatred of the Irish for the English who abused them horribly. The English harmed the Irish for many centuries, culminating in the Irish famine of 1847-50 which killed over a million Irish and forced several million to migrate to North America. This is partly why I grew up here. The abuse of animals by the English and other Europeans is a shameful act of the history of conquest.
The difference between wildness and domesticity involves making animals tractable to human desires and uses, as I said earlier: it is about making animals behave as agents of human serving domesticity. A wild dog can be very dangerous, a wild cat less so. I mean a domestic cat, not a Puma or a Bobcat. Some animals , like Wolves, Coyotes or Raccoons can not be domesticated, though they can be tamed to a certain degree. I had a pet Raccoon when I was a kid, but it got too wild at a certain point left the house on its own never to be seen again. For a few months, I used to play with it. It returned to the wild. I also knew a puppy that was half wolf, and the owner had to ‘dispose of it’ because it became too wild for him. But I am merely scratching the surface here. I wish only to point out that human’s make animals into slave like servants of human needs and desires. This is often not a good thing, as billions of animals are killed.
How many billions? Over 59 billion animals are killed worldwide every year, with some estimates as high as 70 billion, excluding fish. The U.S. death toll is about 10 billion animals killed every year according to the Humane Society. Fish kill is weighed by the ton, so it is extrapolated that somewhere between 50 and 100 billion are caught and killed every year. It is hard to see why this level of murder of roughly 120-50 billion animals, including fish, is justified or needed, as the vegetarian diet is healthy and gives plenty of protein. The killing of animals in factory farms is clearly ideologically and economically driven. Greed and Speciesism. Making this killing more ‘humane” is absurd. It is still killing for profit. Eating meat, for primates, is a luxury born of killing adjacent tribes. Humans do not ‘need’ to eat meat to get protein, that is a lie told by the meat industry. No one ‘needs” to eat meat. Billions of animals, including sea life are thought to be killed every year. Opinions differ on this number and how it is divided, among pigs, cattle, seafish or shells, chickens and others. But the number is huge and nearly everyone is guilty of this. Many animals are going extinct because of human ignorance on this issue.
Exact figures of hunting kills in the U.S. range around 100 million animals per year. I put the number of animals killed here to shock the reader into recognition that this is a real problem, and that domesticating animals is mostly about killing them not about having a happy and furry dog or cat in the house. Cats and dogs are domesticated animals but they are generally not abused or used as meat. This is not to say that there is not a lot of cat and dog abuse by those who are unkind to them or even eat them. Rather it is to say that the primary use of these animals is often a good thing. This is not the case with goats, cattle, sheep, chickens or pigs, which are used mostly for their meat, which involves killing them, or their milk which means using them as mechanized producers.
The notion of domestication is a human centered and often a speciesist notion and largely refers to the compliance of a certain animals to human abuse as food, as in cattle, or control, as in dogs. Domestication might be for “mutual benefit” among some cats and dogs, but most non-human animals suffer terribly as the benefits go to exclusively to humans. Indeed, John Livingston is probably largely correct that humans domesticate themselves and make themselves killers, “destroyers of towns” as the Seneca (Haudenosaunee) call all American Presidents. The fact is, that of all beings on earth, humans are by far the worst and most dangerous.
I include among these those who hunt, the licensed hunters, who alone benefit from animal killing. They kill mostly for pleasure but partly kill for food. Dolphins would much prefer to be in the wild than be in a Sea World show, which is far more about humans that it is about dolphins. Indeed many Orcas have been sold or captured by buyers of wild animals to be used in such shows. This is unjust and has contributed to the near extinction of the Puget Sound, or Western Orca, for instance. Human breeding deforms wild animals to have traits desired by humans, but such variants are not the products of nature, but of human whim. The deformed noses of Bull dogs or Pugs are a case in point, where the dog can barely breathe due to the arbitrary human need of short noses. German Shepard hips have likewise been deformed by Breeders.
Walking the Dog
The best book on Dogs I have read is Marc Bekoff”s Canine Confidential. It is largely written from and for the dog and its point of view. It has a marvelous section on the dog’s senses, as well as the idea for “dominance” is the science of the dog, where the concept is used to explain the behavior of dogs, such as their need to feed puppies. Bekoff is careful to distinguish the actual behavior of dogs from the human centered ideology of humans, where the idea of dominance serves to reinforce the tendency to speciesist exceptionalism in humans.
I like to imagine a world in which animals cannot be sold or eaten. I do not eat animals or fish, and only eat plants, and have not for twenty years. This enables me to see clearly just how much eating animals deforms the thinking of my contemporaries. It is amazing to see how what people eat deforms their thinking and makes them irrational and nonobjective about the role of domestication in history and how much animals enabled oppression of nature and women. Indeed, the most destructive of all forms of animal abuse is domestication, cats and dogs, notwithstanding. Humans above all domesticate themselves, making themselves tractable property owners, subservient to a bankers unethical making of private property as a first principle. Wild humans are something else entirely and do little or nothing except for money.
Dog and Boy Playing with a Flying Disc
Darwin’s later work, after the Origin of Species, is largely about domestic animals, pigs, rabbits, goats, cattle, pigeons etc. His The Variation of Animals and Plants Under Domestication (finished by 1869) discuses many of these species as examples of evolutionary development. The first chapter discusses the evolution of Dogs and Cats and tries to tease out an answer about their evolution. This was beyond science at the time, but Darwin is headed in largely the right direction in his discussion of Wolves as the origin of dogs. He makes the mistake of thinking that Jackals and Coyotes, which are more closely related than wolves and Dogs, may be part of this evolution, a theory that has since proven mistaken, as Jackal and Coyotes are more distant canines. The genetics, which Darwin did not know, show that Dogs come from Wolves. He was right that they are all canines.
Darwin says he seeks to answer this question: “the first and chief point of interest in this chapter is, whether the numerous domesticated varieties of the dog have descended from a single wild species, or from several.” It is amazing to see how he goes about answering this question, and how it leads him into all kinds of interesting research. He doesn’t answer the question well and is not correct, but this is hardly his fault given the knowledge known at the time. He imagines, rightly, that “It would indeed have been a strange fact if one species alone had been domesticated throughout the world.” He is speaking of the wolf, but as this is exactly what is the case according to the genetic record. This is a “strange fact”. Though genetics also reveals that nearly all wolves have some mixture of Coyote genes in their DNA. One source says that
“The results showed that, unlike wolf–dog hybrids, jackal–dog hybrids show a decrease in fertility, significant communication problems, and an increase of genetic disorders after three generations of interbreeding, much like coydogs.”
which would tend to prove Darwin mistaken, though he is partly right, as they can and do sometimes breed, though it is rare, and the results are questionable. One website notes that:
The wolf (including the dingo), coyote, jackal, and domestic dog all have 78 chromosomes arranged in 39 pairs. This allows them to hybridise freely
(barring size or behavioural constraints) and produce fertile offspring.
The wolf, coyote, and golden jackal diverged around 3 to 4 million years ago.
Other members of the dog family diverged 7 to 10 million years ago
and are less closely related and cannot hybridise with the wolf-like canids: the yellow Jackal has 74 chromosomes, the red fox has 38 chromosomes, the raccoon dog has 42 chromosomes, and the Fennec fox has 64 chromosomes.( https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Canid_hybrid )
There are various anecdotes about foxes and dogs breeding, but the truth of them is hard to assess. There is no reason to think that the Fox can breed with Dogs, they are very different species and vastly differ in their chromosomes. Darwin heard an anecdote of this kind. I doubt it is true.
He may be partly right that:
“Notwithstanding the difficulties in regard to fertility given in the last two paragraphs, when we reflect on the inherent improbability of man having domesticated throughout the world one single species alone of so widely distributed, so easily tamed, and so useful a group as the Canidæ; when we reflect on the extreme antiquity of the different breeds; and especially when we reflect on the close similarity, both in external structure and habits, between the domestic dogs of various countries and the wild species still inhabiting these same countries, the balance of evidence is strongly in favour of the multiple origin of our dogs. ( pg 34)
Darwin makes clear what was known then, and shows what hard work he did to find out what he knew. His reasoning is impeccable, based on inadequate information. But that new information is available now that proves him wrong appears incontestable. But how he does not quite answer this question is exceedingly interesting and shows a great mind at work. Even when he is wrong, as he is largely wrong is his thesis of the multiple origin of our dogs, Darwin is interesting, and is partly right. His surmise that dogs may have multiple origins might be wrong but his understanding that Coyotes and dogs or Wolves and Coyotes can breed is right.(This essay on dogs and cats can be seen here, beginning on page 15.)
He wrote on sexual selection in Descent of Man and on human emotions, facial expressions and other things. He developed a theory pangenesis and “gemmules”, which is really the theory of what we call genetics now, with some differences. This shows how right Darwin could be. The Gemmules would later be called DNA, RNA and genetic processes in general. While he used artificial selection or domestication as a major source of information on his theory of natural selection or heritable characteristics, questions have been raised regarding just how much he knew about the harmfulness of domestication. This theory, also called evolution, while very good and lasting in its details, does not show that he was aware of the abuse of plants and animals akin to slavery conditions by human beings domesticating animals. Was he aware of the harm done to nature by domestication? He abhorred slavery and he did some work on animal rights. But did he do enough?
He did write against trapping animals, bull baiting and chicken fights. He wrote mostly against vivisection and cruelty against animals, On this he wrote “It deserves detestation and abhorrence.”. He wanted to protect the right of science to know, however, and did not draw a clear line where that should stop. He wrote that anti-vivisection has as its
” object… to protect animals, and at the same time not to injure Physiology,”. This is somewhat ambiguous. I am not sure he knew how far the domestication of animals would go in its cruelty toward animals, or that his own work on domestic animals would have an indirect influence on this. If he knew this, he would certainly ‘abhor and detest’ what has been done partly in his name. The reduction of animal DNA to the for profit motive is destructive to nature and largely a failure. The reason for adaptation to boimes is not human greed, but survival and efficacy to the environment. ( see for more on this: )
David Neibert is certainly correct that animals have been largely left out of most histories. A history that includes the human abuse of nature and animals is a very different thing. History is a very largely human centered concern, male centered I should say, mostly about the history of kings and presidents, military campaigns, conquest and capitalism, or communism. Indeed, there is yet no decent history of nature in general. The corporate abuse of animals and plants continues all over the world, and is very likely resulting in the destruction or extinction of insect and flowering plant species of the order of 60% or more. Primates, mammals, amphibians, birds and fish also are experiencing a 60% decline in population. The Great Barrier Reef coral is about 60% dead. These are alarming numbers. The 60 percent decline in population across nearly all species is disturbing and begs the question, –why 60 percent? It would seem that this is an accident or coincidence, though I suspect this is actually the amount of stress that profit making corporations have put on our earth and all its species and biomes.
The huge loss of plants, animals, insects and biological communities is directly due to herbicide use, biogenetics, habitat loss and global warming, all of them human caused. The idea at the root of this biocide is domestication of plants and animals. This goes back 12,000 years to the origins of speciesism and the rise of the ideology of human supremacy. Animal abuse begins with agriculture, and the “domestication” of animals. The fact that a study notes that 77 percent of the wild earth is now gone because of human greed and industry, is not just worrying, but alarming. Domestication of animals is a huge part of the decline of the wild and the extermination of species and populations. The cause of this is the same as I just outlined.
So, cats and dogs have been a concern of mine since a young age. So has wild species, who now need our protection and are not getting it nearly enough. But the question of what history is, after Darwin, is a very real one too. CEO’s and presidents who harm nature need to be put in jail for their crimes. Once animals and nature are included in a history, –all animals and plants, seas and forests–not just cats and dogs—the historical story is very different. It is not at all flattering to humans, their greed of most domestication, which also has greed as its prime motive. Or to put this bluntly, once animals and nature are included in a history, human abuse of nature and the planet becomes apparent and the history of humans becomes a questionable thing. This question arose after realizing that Darwin’s notion of history is profound. His struggle with this was a real one, and now we know that he needed to be more in favor of animals rights than he was. That he was largely in favor of animal rights is incontestable, but he did not know all that we know now.
He did not record much of the actual history of domestication and how dominating animals has helped undermine and destroy nature. Had he known how bad it would become I am sure he would have been much more concerned with animals. The contribution of killing and using animals as food and profit has to be stopped. Climate change is partly caused by this, as well as by capitalist speciesism, which destroys our air, seas, forests, deserts and threatens the entire earth. It is greed and speciesism that have to be undone. Darwin at least suggested this, though I don’t think he could imagine how far and what danger there would be in the abuse of animals and domestication. We need to be more aware of this, and to do much more than we have to stop capitalism and its worship of the rich and greedy.
Follow this link to the PDF about Henry Thoreau’s Moonlight book:
Follow this link to the PDF about Marianne North: left click on blue link below then left click on link to pdf below that.