Friday, March 26, 2010

To prey.....or not

This is another thing I struggle with. If I had to kill an animal or bird to eat I would be a vegetarian. A lot more people would be. I'm not sure that most urban kids ever think of it any further than that meat comes from the grocery store.

We did butcher a hog here once, many years ago now. Never again. Paul McCartney has a video out called If slaughterhouses had glass walls everyone would be a vegetarian. It is ghastly. I became aware just how bad it has gotten due to a magazine called Orion, several years ago. Conditions in these houses of death have become much worse since the unions were broken, probably back in Reagan's era. Unless an inspector comes to the plant, which is known ahead of time, animals are pushed through hurriedly. If one isn't stunned properly there is no time to do it over. Throats are cut when they are kicking and screaming. Some are scalded alive to remove hair or feathers. Often workers are illegal immigrants who work in dangerous conditions for low pay.

The whole meat business in the USA is disgusting, except for the few who are raising animals the old way on pasture and are not being run through these big packing houses. These animals are treated humanely and not pumped full of concentrated feed, growth hormones and antibiotics. But we have become accustomed to relatively cheap meat. Buying it from these humane producers is significantly more expensive. Odd that doing things the old way, without concentrated feed and drugs, is now more costly. It takes significantly longer. It takes more land. It takes more work.

So in order to have our cheap meat animals and birds are raised in concentration camps under abysmal conditions, often tended by low-paid workers who abuse them during their pitiful lives. They are neither recognized as living, feeling creatures nor treated as such.

Just writing this makes me want to opt out and go back to being a vegetarian. One problem. My husband has no desire to give up meat. I was a vegetarian for 2-3 years, back 15-18 years ago, while my husband and son were not. I still had to deal with meat for them and after a while I gave up the hassle.

We have about 50 acres here. We could raise our own animals for food in a humane manner, but as I mentioned earlier, they would die of old age if we had to kill creatures that we have come to know. I know, this is absolutely cowardly. The best compromise I can come up with at present is to buy from the few producers who raise animals humanely.

Totally on the other side of the issue, I would not begrudge myself being the meal of some predatory animal. This is unlikely to happen in Iowa, so I guess I am pretty safe making that statement. I do wish that we had the choice of something like an air burial though when we die. This is where Buddhist monks who die in monasteries in the Himalayas are put out on ledges for the vultures. I definitely think we should have the choice to give back to nature in this way. I have buried my son, my mother and my father, and all of them were in caskets, inside of vaults. This strikes me not only as selfish and bizarre, but downright creepy. These were their wishes, which had to be honored. I will be cremated and ashes spread. On this, my husband is with me.

I still have seen enough to suspect that plants are sentient in their own way. I do hope they don't feel physical pain, but do they have some sort of psychological pain at being uprooted or cut? There is a book out there called The Secret Lives of Plants that I feel I must read. This makes the subject of vegetarianism somewhat dissatisfying as well, which is why I have opted for the more Native American or animistic view that life feeds on life and there really isn't a way around that, so the best one can do is to be very respectful and thankful at how you go about it. The amount of waste we have in this country is just overwhelming, and treating food animals or fruits and vegetables, and all natural resources, as existing solely for our needs and pleasure is a symptom of that. I have read that if the whole world were to come up to the level of usage and waste of we Americans it would take two more planet Earths to sustain us, which is downright shameful.

I saw a program on Bhutan the other day. Their national priorities are happiness and preservation of their natural world. If only Americans were so wise.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

One more thing.....

I think I should clarify something about living with a wild creature, lest I mislead. It requires a good-sized commitment. Taking on the responsibility for the life of another being, domesticated or wild is not a small thing, but in the case of it being a wild creature, you must maintain the relationship daily. This is especially true if your wild friend can do physical damage. When Tinker becomes emotionally aroused in some way, he doesn't just have and emotion, he becomes the emotion. This can happen quite quickly. Just ask Roy Horn, or the woman who had her face torn off by a chimpanzee, or more recently the trainer who lost her life to a killer whale (Well, I guess you can't ask her). Even when you have years of reading these creatures, they can surprise you, or you may just get a little too complacent.

I'm sporting a rather nasty bite on my upper lip this week because Tinker got pissed at me for trimming a toenail. He got in my face, making threats in the way that cockatoos do, and I didn't take it seriously enough. Next thing I knew I had a gaping hole in my lip. Tinker didn't become angry - he BECAME ANGER! After the damage was done he figured he had made his point and it was over as far as he was concerned. Apparently what I was saying to him at the time was not conciliatory enough to suit him.

At this point many would have blown up at the bird I suppose. My husband would have made soup out of him long ago over episodes like these. If I were to retaliate though, I would make it into something that would be very hard to get past. I tell him that was a nasty thing to do and that he hurt me far more than anything I did to him by trimming a toenail. I can tell by his reaction that he understands what I am telling him, and he will come along, hang way out from my shoulder and look at his handiwork ("Wow, I did that?") and be somewhat apologetic. But his attitude toward me about the whole incident is more like, "Well, don't provoke me again."

I do find it interesting that he does realize to some extent what he has done and even seems sorry, as he comes up and lays his bare eye patch against my lip. That is as close to "I'm sorry" as I get from him. After that it is "Well, get over it. Move on."

So when strong emotions come out, so does the wildness take over. But I think it makes life interesting, and flesh heals. Thank goodness he isn't a tiger!But don't take on a wild creature for a companion unless you are willing to make a big commitment and suffer a few consequences. I wouldn't trade the experience for the world, but lots of parrots end up at rescue centers because people didn't know what they were getting into.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Living in a sacred manner

Black Elk uses the term "walking in a sacred manner" and says "Nothing can live well except in a manner that is suited to the way the sacred Power of the World lives and moves."

This is pretty powerful stuff. I call it "living in a sacred manner." By this I mean living deliberately, like Thoreau, and being aware and respectful of the earth and the other beings around you.

Tinker has taught me that you do indeed reap what you sow. If I treat him with consideration, then in return he will be gentle with me. If I am all wrapped up in my own world and treat him as a demanding interruption, then he will in return be rough and short-tempered with me. He is like a mirror, or instant karma and can be either a closed book if I don't treat him with respect, or a great friend, confidant and teacher if I open myself to him by treating him respectfully. I have to believe that this applies to all of the natural world around me. So my life can either be full of weeds, or flowers, depending on how I define these other beings, but I think the Power of the World believes in biodiversity, not human supremacy. So we humans can be either like a cancer on the earth or as fellow travellers with all of the other beings.

AS to those other than whom we might normally classify as being "living," there are those of the school of thought who believe that when one gets down to the sub-atomic level of matter, that the particles are diffused in pure consciousness, and that material objects or beings are actually the crystallization of individual thoughts or ideas. If this is indeed the case then I can see how a shaman might cure someone of a disease by being able to alter his consciousness so that he can go into this realm and tinker with the underlying structure. I suppose this would also encompass true faith healing.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Where I stand

Lest someone actually read this and accuse me of preaching, let me say that I am far from perfect in my relationship to the natural world. I was raised pretty much as homocentric as anyone else in the western world. I struggle with this daily.

Brian May, Queen guitarist, has made his stand against the restoration of fox hunting in the UK, and culling badgers over the spread of bovine TB, eradicating hedgehogs in areas and so on. He is a vegetarian and against all kinds of animal exploitation and hunting.

I have been a vegetarian for 2-3 years back in the 90's, after Tinker came to live with me, and I still can't deal with chicken in anything but anonymous pieces. But having the animist belief that all living beings are sentient to some degree means that I accept that life feeds on life, and this has to be approached with a sense of respect for the taking of life for food, be it animal or plant life.

We have factory farming here, which to me is like animal and bird concentration camps. I find that to be one of the saddest commentaries on our culture that these are not even seen to be living, feeling creatures. Male baby chicks, unwanted by egg producers, are sorted out at commercial hatcheries and ground up alive to be sold to pet food producers. Grinding up babies alive - are we monsters? When I protest I am told by producers, "These are food animals, not pets." So these food animals don't have feelings then, like pets?

But also I live in the woods and this puts me in an adversarial position with other beings at times. It is not black and white. There are animals like raccoons who are very good at exploitation of human premises and who have no predators who keep their numbers in check. They are quite intelligent and very capable of climbing and manipulating. There are times when I have exhausted every other means I can think of for living with coons and finally just have to start taking them out.

I do try to practice what I preach, and I work toward being better at it, but it can be very complicated.

We are all relatives

Not since Native Americans, in these United States, have we of the industrialized world (to begin with, of mostly European extraction and Judeo-Christian background) seen the rest of the natural world as equals on this earth. We judge all others by our own standards of intelligence and physical nature. If a stone feels neither cold nor pain, can't speak and doesn't move, then it is not alive.

We might study a species or a specimen to learn everything about it, but not respect its integrity as a type of person from another culture, from whom we could learn something valuable beyond the scientific facts, or worse: What can this species do for the human race?

I have always loved the natural world. I grew up in small-town America, and from the time I was old enough I was out in the woods. I have always collected bits and pieces of the things I found out there that appealed to me, but it is only recently that I have learned that these inhabitants of the wild are all other peoples. They don't communicate with words, as I would expect, judging by human standards, but by catching my attention with pieces of themselves. They have no mechanism for speech as we know it, though one could compare the wind in the branches of a tree, or in it's leaves, as a form of speech the same way that our breath, causes speech as it goes through our vocal cords and is shaped by our mouths.

Now I use these gifts as the materials of my art, which as it turns out, is more of a collaboration, than something I can call my own. I no longer know how much of an idea for a piece of artwork is mine, or how much of it might have been that of a tree who wanted to express itself in a different way through me, and left a piece of itself for me to find that planted the seed of an idea.

I have already described how Tinker and I can carry on a conversation even though he only whispers a word occasionally. Other people who come to know animal companions very well will know this too. But those who really respect their companions will learn from them as beings with their own wisdom and will naturally think of them as having rights much like any other human they know. Dogs and cats can do spectacular things like predicting when a human might have a seizure or if one has cancer.

Who knows of what else dogs and others are capable? We as humans should be humbled in the face of such abilities possessed by other creatures, and we should have a great deal of respect for them, seeing them not as property or as inferior life forms but as partners in life.

Now extend this to the natural world about you. Suddenly you as a human are not the center of the universe, but just another strand in that Web of Life. You are connected to all of the other strands, and the whole web only works as well as the integrity of all of those strands. As Chief Seattle said in 1852: "Man did not weave the web of life, he is merely a strand in it. Whatever he does to the web, he does to himself."

Saturday, March 13, 2010


My beliefs have been shaped a lot since a cockatoo named Tinker came into my life. He is 21 years old today - HAPPY BIRTHDAY TINKER!! He has been with me since he was three months old.
He is still a wild creature, being of the first generation removed from the wild and still with all of his natural instincts. I always thought what a great honor it would be to really know a creature from another species. I don't try to make him human because I want to know a bird. We sort of meet half-way.
Cockatoos are very astute at evaluating what is going on in the house and he knows english very well so that I have to be careful what I say to him and how I say it. He is not a talker in the sense of, say an African Gray parrot. He whispers things to me. Cockatoos can whisper, and his body language and the way he mimics behavior do the rest. Cockatoos are capable of a great deal of facial expressions, and every expression I make towards him I will find coming back at me at some point. We can easily carry on a conversation.
He teaches me things, like not to swat flies. Not because he is adverse to chasing and trying to catch them himself, but because swatting is violent. He is very opinionated. He also knows just how to run me and will, from my shoulder, grab my ear or cheek, using his beak as a hook, and guide me to whatever he wants, be it a look out the window, or something to eat or play with. He is fully flighted, as I believe that birds should be able to fly, but rarely ever goes after anything on his own.
As far as I am concerned he has nearly all of the rights of a human member of the household. There are times I have to overrule him on the side of safety, but otherwise we are together as much as we want to be during the day. I occasionally take him outside in the screenhouse or in a carrier, but it is cumbersome, and he hates the harness I got for him so he could go out on my shoulder. He is generally uncomfortable outside, due to the occasional hawk overhead, or screaming jaybirds or crows. So I don't worry about it too much.

Friday, March 12, 2010

Beginnings - The Great Mystery

Well now, this is a new venture into the world of blogs. Does anyone read these, or are they just ego trips? Will find out............

I am on a search for the authentic fabric of life. Once it was simple: I was raised a Christian in a small midwestern town and that was that. Ha! Always interested in Nature and all of her features and inhabitants, it began to seem unfair to me that only man was created in the image of God. Questions - so many questions.

Eventually I worked my way through various religions, but they always seemed to elevate human life as being the crowning achievement of creation. Hmmmmm. The most I could see is that humans have the greatest capacity for creativity, but then so often use it for destructive purposes perpetrated upon the natural world or others who had been objectified or vilified first.

I keep returning to aboriginal beliefs. To me these are the original beliefs of the human species before we became so full of ourselves that we began to worship our own image and gave ourselves dominion over the earth. I believe that humans are far more embedded into the Web of Life than we know and if our attitude doesn't change then there will be very hard lessons ahead. Unfortunately all of the inhabitants of Earth will suffer for our hubris.

So this blog will be about my journey, as an artist and an explorer of the web of life and what it means.