Esteemed thinker: Matthew A. Henson and working animals

puppies sled team Never has there been a time on earth where we have not relied upon animals to help with our work. No matter the size, large or small, nor the count of legs, two or four… no matter where we live… north, south, east, west… regardless of the climate…. cold or hot, or the location…. above or below land; there has always been the representation of some species that has helped us out or even pulled us out of a jam.

Let us take the mule, a rather interesting high-bred of an animal, the offspring of a female horse and male donkey. (Left under their own natural preferences one must wonder if either would have gotten together without a bit of coercion from humans.) Although often the butt of jokes, it is a most hardworking animal. They plowed fields, worked underground in the mines, and hauled loads through the mountains; the sturdy and reliable mule, never asking for much more than to be fed and watered.

And although we usually think of birds as flighty and not exactly the kind of animal one would rely upon (except to taste good when cooked for dinner), the rock pigeon has given its species a place in “work history”. The homing pigeon is a bird that has been domesticated to work, which includes having provided service to the armed forces. For years they were used as military messengers due to their homing ability, speed, and flying altitude. And who would think that those pesky birds we all shoo away from sitting aloft would be heroes!

As far back in time as the Roman Empire the camel too has paid its military duty; it has been saddled and ridden into battle right up into modern days. Known for their endurance, this desert dweller was first domesticated around 3,000 BC and has been working ever since; transporting people and goods in some of the world’s driest and hottest regions. Its broad flat feet enable it to walk in the sand without sinking (and without much complaining)!

Yes, there are countless animals that work for peanuts…like the elephants! So the next time we find ourselves bemoaning about work, just remember, there is some tired dog that has just come home from working at the airport having sniffed all day through luggage stuffed with dirty laundry… such a thankless job, and all it wants in reward is a gentle pat on the head.

Matthew henson_2 Today’s blog returns the esteemed thinker: Matthew A. Henson, the renowned African American explorer who in 1890 joined Admiral Peary’s first Arctic expedition across the northern tip of Greenland. From June 1891 to August 1902, Henson spent seven years in the Arctic with Peary, covering 9,000 miles (14,500 kilometers) on dogsleds across northern Greenland and Ellesmere Island, in Canada. Henson was a man that was well-liked by those who came in contact with him; being admired by the Inuit population for his hunting and sled-driving skills, as well as his ability to speak their language.

I now present to you a bit of insightful observations snipped from his autobiography, A Negro Explorer of the North Pole. Here are the words of the illustrious, Mr. Henson and his thoughts about ‘man’s best friend’, dogs!

“….I had a much livelier time with some members of the Peary Arctic Club’s expedition known as “our four-footed friends”—the dogs.

The dogs are ever interesting. They never bark, and often bite, but there is no danger from their bites. To get together a team that has not been tied down the night before is a job. You take a piece of meat, frozen as stiff as a piece of sheet-iron, in one hand, and the harness in the other, you single out the cur you are after, make proper advances, and when he comes sniffling and snuffling and all the time keeping at a safe distance, you drop the sheet-iron on the snow, the brute makes a dive, and you make a flop, you grab the nearest thing grabable—ear, leg, or bunch of hair—and do your best to catch his throat, after which, everything is easy. Slip the harness over the head, push the fore-paws through, and there you are, one dog hooked up and harnessed. After licking the bites and sucking the blood, you tie said dog to a rock and start for the next one. It is only a question of time before you have your team. When you have them, leave them alone; they must now decide who is fit to be the king of the team, and so they fight, they fight and fight; and once they have decided, the king is king. A growl from him, or only a look, is enough, all obey, except the females, and the females have their way, for, true to type, the males never harm the females, and it is always the females who start the trouble…

Next to the Esquimos, the dogs are the most interesting subjects in the Arctic regions, and I could tell lots of tales to prove their intelligence and sagacity. These animals, more wolf than dog, have associated themselves with the human beings of this country as have their kin in more congenial places of the earth. Wide head, sharp nose, and pointed ears, thick wiry hair, and, in some of the males, a heavy mane; thick bushy tail, curved up over the back; deep chest and fore legs wide apart; a typical Esquimo dog is the picture of alert attention. They are as intelligent as any dog in civilization, and a thousand times more useful. They earn their own livings and disdain any of the comforts of life. Indeed it seems that when life is made pleasant for them they get sick, lie down and die; and when out on the march, with no food for days, thin, gaunt skeletons of their former selves, they will drag at the traces of the sledges and by their uncomplaining conduct, inspire their human companions to keep on…”

First image 1900s photo of puppies bred for pulling Arctic sleds

Esteemed thinker: Elizabeth Cady Stanton

animals The animal kingdom is a curiosity and for most, regarding relationships between off spring and parents… these beasts, both domestic and wild, are often enchanting to watch. I say enchanting not to affirm these bonds are always sweet and tender, but with the notion that they are captivating. And as we contemplate these relationships, it is equally curious to acknowledge how the elders know what to do with their off-spring. After all, they have no self- help books, no pediatrician to call when their baby koala comes down with a fever … so what is it that allows such animals the wisdom to care for their brood? Some say it is instinct, a trait that they are born with…thus passing down the knowledge from generation to generation … a sort of watch me and learn method…

And as humans, we like to personify these animals making some species seemingly more like us in their delivery of affection. A mother lion is known to be quite protective of her cubs, while the male secures the territory; a mother bear too will fight to defend her children, but like many other parents, she is strict disciplinarian, holding back the soft touch so that these cubs learn to survive in the harsh world without her. The father penguin is the modern day stay- at- home dad, taking on egg-sitting duties for weeks while the mother heads out to sea to hunt fish for her soon-to-hatch offspring.

But not all the parents of the animal kingdoms take on the devotional attributes at first blush; to our dismay that sweet little rabbit we all find so cute is actually an “absentee mother” leaving the baby bunnies right after birth and only returning for a few minutes to feed them in the first twenty -five days. And though we are ready to call in the authorities, in her defense she does not want her “tasty children” to be found by predators and so to keep these fiends at bay she stays away; not calling attention to her new family and allowing the secrecy of the burrow to remain intact.

And tough as the Black Eagle mom is portrayed by not intervening during sibling fights that are often to the death…she is really planning for the bigger picture…protecting the species by shielding and conserving the limited food source for the heartiest offspring.

So it seems that the upbringing rituals in the animal kingdoms have remained the same even though the physical world, their habitats, have been defaced by a myriad of reasons; thus making us wonder if their instincts, theses inborn pattern of behaviors, will slowly evolve and their method of ‘child-rearing’ will change too.

We humans are not driven by those instinctive, automatic, irresistible, and unmodifiable actions … but rather we are motivationally driven, able to overcome situations and change willfully. Child rearing is a behavior that is as different in ideals as from neighbor to neighbor. And while the centuries have slipped by, so have the philosophy of generations of parent- child relationships taken twists and turns, summoning societal and individual retrospection.

elizabeth cady stanton Allow me now to turn our attention to the introduction of a most esteemed thinker: Elizabeth Cady Stanton (1815-1902); writer, political reformer, and courageous 19th century woman. Born in Johnston, New York, she worked tirelessly throughout her life for the emancipation of slavery and the rights of women. During the American Civil War Stanton and her friend Susan B. Anthony (1820–1906) created the National Woman’s Loyal League to build support for what became the Thirteenth Amendment to the Constitution, which ended slavery in the United States. Once the slaves were free, Stanton and Anthony worked to ensure that women would be given the vote along with former male slaves.

I now give you the words of one of the most prominent suffragette’s and feminist in American history; from her book, Eighty Years or More, here is a parcel of thoughts from Elizabeth Cady Stanton….

“The psychical growth of a child is not influenced by days and years, but by the impressions passing events make on its mind. What may prove a sudden awakening to one, giving an impulse in a certain direction that may last for years, may make no impression on another. People wonder why the children of the same family differ so widely, though they have had the same domestic discipline, the same school and church teaching, and have grown up under the same influences and with the same environments. As well wonder why lilies and lilacs in the same latitude are not all alike in color and equally fragrant. Children differ as widely as these in the primal elements of their physical and psychical life.

Who can estimate the power of antenatal influences, or the child’s surroundings in its earliest years, the effect of some passing word or sight on one, that makes no impression on another? The unhappiness of one child under a certain home discipline is not inconsistent with the content of another under this same discipline. One, yearning for broader freedom, is in a chronic condition of rebellion; the other, more easily satisfied, quietly accepts the situation. Everything is seen from a different standpoint; everything takes its color from the mind of the beholder…”