Aaron M. Moe

Assistant Professor of English at Saint Mary's College, Notre Dame

Yes, a hummingbird really did perch on my finger. (And on my nephew’s finger who is smiling here, full of wonder and delight.) This did not just happen to us. Several family members hung out on the porch for a couple of hours around 9,000 feet in the Colorado Rockies and marveled at the cloud-light birds whose palpitant wings generate tiny-tornadoes. Though there are plenty of wildflowers in the mountains, they nonetheless swarm for a sip of hummer-juice even if it means alighting on a human finger to do so.

This is one of many stories that make me excited to teach Animals in Literature and Society in the fall of 2015. The course (already waitlisted) fulfills the experiential Sophia requirement as students will interact with animals for 15+ hours over the course of the semester. Some of the time will be spent at the Humane Society of Saint Joseph County; some of the time will be spent doing things like attentively observing birds, butterflies, woodchucks, squirrels, frogs, spiders, fireflies.

Elsewhere, I have blogged about my hummingbird experience, Elizabeth Bishop’s poem “The Moose,” and the biophilia hypothesis. My hope is that students will become aware of biophilia and not dismiss it; that they will cherish the moments of what Bishop calls “this sweet / sensation of joy” surrounding human-animal interaction; that they will attentively engage other species and recognize the ways that other species have agency to create social cohesion through gestures that carry meaning across species lines; that they will think deeply about what it means to coexist on a shared planet in the midst of mass extinction . . . and respond accordingly.

We will be reading animal poems for children, Charlotte’s Web, and yet Moby-Dick. We will look at some of the theories surrounding human-animal interaction that have emerged in the last ten years. Hopefully, the readings, the experiential learning, the discussion, and the projects will create an experience students can reflect on long after they graduate from SMC.

For me, this class is a mixture of ode and elegy. On a daily basis we learn more about the amazing capacities of other species right when they are vanishing from the planet. Maybe some students will let W. S. Merwin’s poem “For a Coming Extinction” become a mantra that expands consciousness. I look forward to seeing students grapple with and respond to the other species coexisting on this shared planet.