30 January 2009

From EcoSemiotics to Semiotics of Nature

EcoSemiotics is "the semiotics of relationships between nature and culture." I.e. it's about how humans "read" their landscape.

Though ecosemiotics is a major interest of mine, I also find the semiotics of nature (also biosemiotics or, for animals, "zoosemiotic") -- "semiotic processes whose agents are animals [or even] micro-organisms" -- is also of great interest.

When the bear reaches up and marks a tree, what does it's sign say to other bears?

Of course, much of the semiotics of nature takes place in the realm of smell, pheromones, and other signals largely invisible to the human being. Indeed, if Isaac Newton had been a dog, then chemistry would be queen of the sciences!

RTD agrees:

Tracks are, in human discourse about EcoSemiotics, usually taken as the proto-sign, the form of a sign, the representamen as Charles Saunders Peirce called it (cf. Thomas Albert Sebeok's work on animal communication).

Bear track:

Wolf track:

Such tracks are of interest to other bears and wolves, as well as to RolyTheDog (RTD) and perhaps various prey. Certainly predators take interest in the track (and scent-sign) of prey.

Mouse track:

Elk track:

Tracks, scent, and a marked tree combine to mark the passage of a bull elk--and a sign to cows and would-be-interloping bulls:

Tracks can also be a mere scratch upon the world, of little interest to other animals or to humans except for aesthetic value or as a sign that -- in the human mind -- marks the passage of time:

There is also the possibility of communication with other animals, of course, as all dog, cat, and other pet owners know.

When meeting a black bear in the woods, you want to send a message that you are not a threat to it or its cubs, but also NOT prey:

And my spirit-animal, the raven (Corvus corvax), is incredible conversant if you are willing to learn a few clucks, quorks, chortles, knocks, and "nevermore" type squaks (use judiciously). Some native peoples called them Wolf-Birds, and while hunting I've had more than one raven lead me to an elk. Quork out!

[graphic above from: Temple of Solace]


troutbirder said...

Very interesting post. I am a total ignoramus on this subject although I tend to pay attention along some stream beds in Montana.

Deedee said...

Nice blog! I've been thinking a lot about tracks lately since here seems to be an nightly drama played out in the snow here in my yard. You certainly have a rich pageant by the looks of things!

EcoRover said...

Troutbirder, as anglers we certainly read what the swallows are doing when there is a hatch, and observe the way a trout reads a crippled minnow imitation (streamer).

I've heard that Alaskan grizzlies come to the sound of a screeching fly reel, knowing that an angler might drop their salmon!

EcoRover said...

Deedee, I even enjoy looking at the mouse & rabbit tracks in the snow around the house. The fox & coyotes tend to stay away unless the winter is especially harsh.

tsduff said...

Swooping by with a caw and rattle to say hello to a fellow cousin. I'm intrigued with your blog and want to read a bit more. Your life sounds wonderful - and I, here in my urban nest near San Francisco feel stifled,unhappy and trapped. Your track pictures are awesome. I love to walk, but somehow have succumbed in recent years to driving everywhere, and I'm paying the price by becoming out of shape. Currently I'm working very hard via diet and exercise to reverse this, but walking has been difficult as I get out of breath so easily. (flying would be so much easier :))

Thank you for your comment at my place - it was acknowledged with a nod and a grin from a crow.

EcoRover said...

Thanx for the swoop, TSD! I do love Butte America, rats and all (that's an inside joke about "Butte Rats"--i.e. natives).

In our culture, it is SO easy to get caught up in being busy, driving everywhere, always taking on too much... That's why I appreciate your advice from Thoreau.