Archives For Kittens

Government & Baboons

July 30, 2013 — 11 Comments

I recently read an interesting article about battling terrorism from an international base in Djibouti. Many African nations have joined those from Europe and North America in trying to protect vulnerable villages from the ravages of violent extremism.

However, as readers of Mere Inkling know, we don’t deal with political matters here. Everyday life, yes. Writing and self-expression, of course. Faith, definitely. Imagination, most certainly. Current events are also on the table for consideration, insofar as they relate to the aforementioned subjects.

Politics though, as a subject in and of itself, is not on the Mere Inkling menu.

With that in mind, I want to share a passage from the Air Force magazine article. In a description of “a recent personnel recovery mission in Ethiopia,” it says,

The HC-130s landed at night on a pitch-black airstrip, but first had to make a “clearing pass” to scare a congress of baboons and a pod of hippopotamuses off the runway.

Quite a picture. However, the image itself only made part of the impression left on me by this sentence. More lasting was the reminder of what a group of baboons is called.

C.S. Lewis wrote a fascinating essay about government entitled “Democratic Education.” One of many of its many kernels of wisdom is this: “Democracy demands that little men should not take big ones too seriously; it dies when it is full of little men who think they are big themselves.”

Returning to the subject of animals, the second chapter of Genesis tells us,

Now out of the ground the Lord God had formed[f] every beast of the field and every bird of the heavens and brought them to the man to see what he would call them. And whatever the man called every living creature, that was its name. The man gave names to all livestock and to the birds of the heavens and to every beast of the field.

So, Adam named the animals, and I imagine that after her creation, Eve helped her husband refine some of those appellations. What I don’t know is this—exactly who decided how we label groups of the same species?

I would point out how apropos baboons being referred to as a “congress” is . . . except for two considerations. (1) The connection would be lost on many readers whose governments have parliaments, and (2) It turns out this is actually an error. The actual word for baboon bands is a “troop.” So much for their unfortunate association with an organization that has lost the confidence of nine out of ten Americans.

Here are a few of the familiar and unfamiliar collective nouns for a variety of animals, with some brief comments and questions.

Lions | Pride – Aptly named!

Prairie Dogs | Coterie – I never considered prairie dogs snobbish.

Kittens | Intrigue – I should have learned that from simple observation.

Finches | Charm – They really do, don’t they?

Wombats | Wisdom – Wisdom to Aussies, a mystery to me.

Pekingese | Pomp – Well, perhaps just slightly elitist.

Cobras | Quiver – Logical, given the prospect of meeting a group of vipers.

Peacocks | Ostentation – Much nicer than the “pride” option.

Barracudas | Battery – Same as electric eels, I suppose.

Crows | Murder – A term familiar to most literary folk.

Bullfinches | Bellowing – Huh? Sounds more hippopotamusish.

Cows | Kine – Have to thank the medieval English for this one.

Seabirds | Wreck – Beware when they fly overhead.

Bacteria | Culture – And what kind of civilization have they ever built?

Deer | Gang – Must be the teenagers, before they become a herd.

Cockroaches | Intrusion – Accurate, repulsive and ominous.

Guillemots | Bazaar – What’s a guillemot, and what is it selling?

Cormorants | Gulp – Didn’t their momma’s teach them to chew?

Cheetahs | Coalition – Wouldn’t “a ‘sprint’ of cheetahs” sound better?

Woodpeckers | Descent – Am I missing something here?

Clams | Bed – Not much else to do in the clam-world.

Turtledoves | Pitying – Meaning they take pity on us, not vice versa.

Bobolinks | Chain – Cute, but lost on Americans where they’re known as reedbirds or ricebirds.

Snails | Walk – Someone’s lacking a bit in creativity here.

Ravens | Unkindness – Speaking of unkind, who labeled them this?

Flamingoes | Stand – Come on now, isn’t that a bit obvious?

Giraffe | Tower – I guess the flamingoes aren’t the only ones.

Lice | Flock – That is way too nice a word for those vermin!

Alligators | Congregation – As a pastor, I simply don’t want to go there.

This is way too much fun, but I’d better stop now so I can revisit this theme in a year or so. Until then, if you learn who gave that unkind name to groups of ravens, let me know.

Storge, noun: Parental affection; the instinctive affection which animals have for their young.

Some of you will recall when I wrote about attending my wife as her nurse while she recuperated from surgery this past summer. Well, I just completed a remotely similar familial duty with my daughter and her husband the past two weeks.

We’ve all been anticipating the arrival of their fourth child and Grandpa is the on call childcare provider of choice. Well, Grandma is actually first choice . . . but since she’s a teacher, that’s not feasible. (She’ll be down here for a week to help out soon, while her husband is home recuperating from two exhausting but wonderful weeks with our inexhaustible grandchildren!)

A few days ago, our newest granddaughter breathed her first breath. I contemplated writing “entered the world,” but far less accurate. She’s beautiful, of course. And we’ll continue to pray that her inner and spiritual beauty, rather than her external appearance, will define her life.

This has gotten me thinking about C.S. Lewis’ wonderful book, The Four Loves. The following passage describes humanity’s natural love for family.

I begin with the humblest and most widely diffused of loves, the love in which our experience seems to differ least from that of the animals. Let me add at once that I do not on that account give it a lower value. Nothing in Man is either worse or better for being shared with the beasts. When we blame a man for being ‘a mere animal’, we mean not that he displays animal characteristics (we all do) but that he displays these, and only these, on occasions where the specifically human was demanded. (When we call him ‘brutal’ we usually mean that he commits cruelties impossible to most real brutes; they’re not clever enough.)

The Greeks called this love storge (two syllables and the g is ‘hard’). I shall here call it simply Affection. My Greek Lexicon defines storge as ‘affection, especially of parents to offspring’; but also of offspring to parents. And that, I have no doubt, is the original form of the thing as well as the central meaning of the word. The image we must start with is that of a mother nursing a baby, a [dog] or a cat with a basketful of puppies or kittens; all in a squeaking, nuzzling heap together; purrings, lickings, baby-talk, milk, warmth, the smell of young life.

The importance of this image is that it presents us at the very outset with a certain paradox. The Need and Need-love of the young is obvious; so is the Gift-love of the mother. She gives birth, gives suck, gives protection. On the other hand, she must give birth or die. She must give suck or suffer. That way, her Affection too is a Need-love. There is the paradox. It is a Need-love but what it needs is to give. It is a Gift-love but it needs to be needed.

As Lewis says, this storge love is a natural affection, instilled within the entire animal kingdom. That is what makes reports of people’s crimes against their own children so terribly shocking. These barbaric acts go against natural law itself. They are inhuman in the absolute sense. And witnessing them among humanity and various animal species reminds us of just how far we have fallen.

By God’s grace, such outrageous acts are the rare exception. Storge is so deeply engrained in nature’s order that we see it in nearly every direction we look. No family is perfect, but most of us are blessed with parents, siblings or other relatives who love us by virtue of our innate bonds.

However, if you are one of the unfortunates who were not loved by your father or mother . . . if you were rejected by your family, I am praying for you. Praying that you will come to know storge in its wonderful fullness through surrogate parents and siblings. After all, it’s not blood that forges these bonds—it is love. Storge is something we readily share with our spouses and our intimate friends. It is a sort of “kinship by choice.”

As I thank God for the most recent addition to our family’s number, I encourage you to thank the Lord as well for the storge love he allows you to give, and receive.

The painting above was created by Samuel De Wilde (1751-1832). And for you cat lovers who were disappointed by my selection of an image of puppies, enjoy this fine portrait of feline storge.