I’ve been contemplating the ‘primitive mindset’. This morning it dawned on me, I know well the perfect case, one of my best friends, I’ll call him Steve. He’s a perfect case not in the primitive mind, but in the biological impossibility to tap into it. Decades ago when he was a young man, he had half his brain removed due to extreme seizures. This left him diminished socially and emotionally, but savant with science and language. I’m now perceiving his mind as hyper-civilized and a-primitive.
Steve is a genius of all life forms – plants, animals and fungus. Being with him in the forest is like walking through with a human set of unabridged hard science books. He knows everything alive, scientific names, identification markers, condition indicators, exact historical habitat ranges, and what modern science knows of their co-relationships. With him being so full of knowledge, you’d be amazed how little he knows.
He follows the season changes predicting when which butterfly species will appear. He knows which species plants they feed on, so his mind keys in on changes to specific plant parts. His anticipation escalates into sheer excitement upon their first sightings. He runs full speed chasing them to get closer looks, to confirm identification and observe behavior. I run along with him tapping into the bliss of the butterfly in spring. One time I asked him, “Do you wonder what it feels like for the butterfly to fly and flutter from plant to plant?” He looked at me puzzled, frankly said, “No.”
His whole life is dedicated to reviving local ecosystems. He tracks which species are vanishing and lost, and intervenes to protect and reintroduce them. For example, he knows that 4 species of butterflies (2 recently lost and 2 endangered) depend upon a recently lost species of native thistle. So he harvested some of the thistle seeds from within our bioregion and finds specific spots for them that match their most preferred conditions while he watches over them as they grow.
Sometimes his intervention is more intimate. For example, when a rare native orchid started struggling, he used a tool to assist them in their propagation. As he explained to me his understanding and interaction with the creation mystery of life, I asked him if he felt at all like a parent, or at least an alloparent. He again gave me that puzzled look. His pleasures were obviously confined to the realm of Darwin, not Thureau.
He constantly cues in to bird calls and signs, teaching me identification techniques, which I take in best I can. I constantly teach him which emerging plant parts are edible and medicinal, which he tastes while struggling to hold back his ethical qualms exploiting nature. He can’t hold back in questioning my wild ways of unnecessarily sitting or lying on the ground. I know better than to break out in Lakota song when the spirit comes to me strolling through the forest with him.
How ironic that the answers I seek to my questions on the primitive mind have been right in front of me this whole time. All I have to do is look at this extreme case of what’s not in front of me.