Tuesday, November 29, 2011


Happy Thanksgiving!

Belated, obviously. What did you do? Where did you go? Who were you with?

We went to Mom's house, as usual. We go to my husband’s parents’ place for Christmas, but it’s important to me to go home for Thanksgiving. Maybe it is the one that has changed the least, and so most reminds me of my childhood, because of all the holidays I was raised with, Thanksgiving is the one that had the least to do with children?

We have a child in the family again, of course, though my nephew is still too young for toys and candy. Infants are oddly serious beings, not at all like children in the normal sense. He does not play or laugh, and though he is cute, he does not mean to be. He attended Thanksgiving dinner, and fell asleep at the table in my sister’s arms, with his mouth open. While he slept he dreamed, his eyes moving under his artichoke-petal lids, and his face worked, far more than it does when he is awake. First one side of his mouth flicked upwards in a smile, then the other joined it, then he puckered his lips slightly into a round O. Perhaps he is practicing expressions for use later?

Another pleasure was watching my mother's kindness to my husband. You’ve met both, however briefly, and will know such kindness is neither new nor a surprise. How could anyone not be kind to this man? Everyone likes him. And yet, being kind to him is difficult. He’s so generous with others that all his energy flows outward, and hardly anybody can fight the current and get in. You are the same way, except figuring out what you want is easy—there just has to be birds involved—and figuring out what he wants is almost impossible. But, we have discovered that he likes both key lime pie and omelets, so Mom made sure he was properly supplied with both. We were there two days, and he got three omelets, one for each kind of cheese she had on hand.

This was the first year I cooked a turkey. I didn’t cook the turkey, for the feast, but since I found an ethical source for the birds, I figured it was an opportunity to lay in a supply of meat. I’m still boycotting unethical practices, but being more settled now gives me an opportunity to do the research necessary to expand my diet. It’s not as strange as I would have guessed to eat meat. I don’t feel shame or guilt at eating something sentient. I saw something online about turkeys being “not that much different from us,” and I thought right, exactly; I am living meat, too. I’m much more than that, of course, and so was the turkey…I believe very much in animal rights, but unlike many, who seem to think the shame lies with treating nonhumans like meat, I hold that the shame lies in treating them like only meat.

This past summer I had occasion to interact closely with two wild birds, both of whom died. I tried to save both, first a tree swallow, then a young robin. My sister found the swallow, injured, near her barn. There were zillions of swallows there, busily making more swallows, swooping in and out among the various farmers washing beets and chard and the like, mostly ignoring us. None of us know how to tell swallows apart; we assumed them all to be barn swallows, as they do like the barn, but the injured one turned out to be a tree swallow; so said the people at Tri State Bird Rescue, which is nearby, and where we took the injured one. We didn't know what the problem was, only that it could not fly, but could move fairly well otherwise. They said they'd keep us updated. A few weeks later, they sent my sister a tactless little card, saying the bird had been euthanized. Why? They didn’t say. What had been wrong with it? They didn’t say. Should we even have intervened to begin with, given that the wild little bird probably spent the end of its life terrified, only to be killed by humans anyway? Obviously, they couldn’t tell us.

The robin’s problem was easier to diagnose; it had been caught by one of Mom's cats. I’ve been reading up on the ecological impact of housecats, which is neither inconsequential nor good, so I rescued the bird, which could not fly effectively, maybe it was too young. There were, by then, two cats, and I couldn’t move them both at once, so I caught the bird and moved the bird to a nearby hanging plant. I figured it could flutter to the ground or call its parents over once the cats were inside, but the following day I found the bird dead nearby. Why? Did it succumb to internal injuries? It lasted the night, I think; when I found it the body was only beginning to attract ants. I have no abstract notion of when a human being should help a wild bird or not, or how much. Much as I enjoyed having an excuse to interact with both birds, the intervention felt vaguely misguided both times. Should we have left the swallow to die? Taken the young robin to Tri State? I have no idea.

We can’t treat the entire planet like our friends and pets; their welfare is too often mutually exclusive. If we’re going to assume that a bird should not be allowed to die, what of the fox that might otherwise have lived by eating it? What abstract moral code squares with ecology? Maybe none can. Maybe we have to stick up for our loved ones simply because we love them, be partisan and short-sighted to some extent, and know every other life-form is doing the same thing—and thank them for it?

-best, C.

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