In February of 1985, ecofeminist philosopher Val Plumwood was attacked by a saltwater crocodile. She was in a red plastic canoe, in the part of the river she was told not to go to. She tried to jump from the canoe into a tree to escape the crocodile, but the crocodile jumped too. It death-rolled her three times in the water before she managed to escape and crawl to a place where a ranger found her.
After surviving this attack, Val Plumwood wrote extensively about how the experience had illuminated the ways humans separate ourselves from nature by denying that we can (and, according to her, should) be eaten by other things. We imagine that we and we alone own our bodies and that we are above being eaten, but we are wrong.
Val Plumwood was a colleague of my father, and when I was nine we visited her at her house below Plumwood Mountain. The house was a stone hexagon, one room except for a curtained-off shower in the centre. There was an outhouse and a glass-walled guest room, both detached from the house. The furniture in the kitchen had been chewed by a wombat, who she said went in and out of the house as it pleased every night. In The Eye of the Crocodile, Val Plumwood writes:
Upon death the human essence is conventionally seen as departing for a disembodied, non-earthly realm, rather than nurturing those earth others who have nurtured us. This concept of human identity positions humans outside and above the food web, not as part of the feast in a chain of reciprocity but as external manipulators and masters separate from it. Death becomes a site for apartness, domination and individual salvation, rather than for sharing and for nurturing a community of life. Being food for other animals shakes our image of human mastery.
Val Plumwood said she wanted to introduce us to her friends. She led us to a patch of mud a few steps outside of her house. She was wearing sandals and she put her feet into the mud and stood still as leeches wriggled up and began to bite her. She told us she liked to come out and feed them maybe once a day.
Plumwood writes about the existence of two parallel universes—the universe humans live in, where the body belongs to the individual, and the universe of the food chain, where all bodies belong to all others. The golden eye of the crocodile is the portal she travelled through from one universe to the other. She says, ‘Horror and outrage usually greet stories of other species eating live or dead humans, and various levels of hysteria are elicited when we are nibbled by leeches, sandflies, and mosquitoes. But humans are food, food for sharks, lions, tigers, bears and crocodiles, food for crows, snakes, vultures, pigs, rats and goannas, and fora huge variety of smaller creatures and micro-organisms.’ She writes that the body is like a library book, subject to recall by any other organism, at any time.
We went for a hike in the forest. My sister and I knelt down to play in a stream and when I stood up again I felt a cold thing crawling up my leg. I screamed. Val Plumwood calmly demonstrated how to get rid of a leech that hasn’t bitten you yet—rolling it up into a ball in her palm and flicking it away. My parents say they had to give me whiskey to make me sleep that night.
I feel happy so I stop going to therapy. I begin to experience irrational anxiety walking home at night that I may encounter a ghost or a demon. I develop anxiety around cars; that I will die in a crash. I look in the mirror and feel I am looking out from far, far inside my body. I get a haircut and it doesn’t help. I get a tattoo and it doesn’t help. I have an anxiety attack while watching Killing Eve, begin to panic at my own impending death. For over a month the world seems unreal, the participation of others in it unbelievable. Every indication of the passage of time distresses me. Looking in the mirror or letting one body part touch another body part distresses me. The part of my leg that I shaved to get the tattoo feels cursed. I am crying into Eloise’s faux fur coat. She is putting her hand on my hands to hold them still and I didn’t even realise I was wringing them. I am spending every free moment watching TV in bed, lying as still as possible.
I read an article about Hereditary and how horror movies use transness as a plot for demonic possessions. In Hereditary apparently Toni Collette has two children; the girl is possessed by a demon, but the demon is unhappy in a female body, and so the girl is killed so it can move into the body of her brother.
I remember as a teenager watching Toni Collette and Julianne Moore kiss in The Hours during English class. Both of them in terror at not being able to be women in the right way. In the opening scene, where Virginia Woolf drowns, her shoe floated off and some girl said, ‘I want those shoes.’
Val Plumwood writes, ‘I met the crocodile like a child who has just become aware of the evil in the world, a sharply demonic experience of some great wrong done to another.’
I can’t remember when my fear of insects began to centre on cockroaches, only know that my body’s response to them is the worst of all. Hot flash, heart pounding, dizziness, clawing at my intestines. The fear is simply that they will touch me. And the sounds they make—scratching, fluttering, swooping—make me the most nauseated, because in the sound you can hear the weight of the bug and know how heavy it would be on your body.
I can remember being less afraid of cockroaches,or at least able to get over it more quickly once the insect had been killed or trapped inside a vacuum (plastic bag fastened over vacuum hose to prevent escape). Remember opening my eyes during sex on Valentine’s Day to see a roach crawling on the ceiling above us. At this time I had a partner who would kill and catch them for me. One night I was woken up by the sound of a cockroach’s wings in the room. After that, my fear became ridiculous. I took beta blockers, Valium, Xanax, drank whiskey, wore earplugs, but I would still lie awake the whole night, my entire body wrapped tightly in the doona. Eventually I began to sneak out when my partner had fallen asleep and go back to my own house.
When I see other insects in the house, the fear spirals to cockroaches, and to global warming, and to money. The hotter the summers get, the more cockroaches there will be. If a smaller bug can get into the house, then a larger one might. If I don’t save enough money to move to a colder climate, I will be trapped with the threat of these insects crawling on me always until death.
This above is an excerpt from a piece originally published in The Lifted Brow Issue #42. To read this and many more brilliant works in full, get your copy here.
Mira Schlosberg is a writer and comics artist whose work has appeared in Meanjin, Rabbit, and others. They are the editor of Voiceworks magazine and edit comics for Scum Mag. Their comic book Guidebook to Queer Jewish Spirituality is available through Glom Press.
Will Thompson (they/he) is a self-taught illustrator and animation student. They work mainly with traditional mediums and enjoy making things with their hands