[Change agent Fran Peavey writes:] One day I was walking through the Stanford University campus with a friend when I saw a crowd of people with cameras and video equipment on a little hillside. They were clustered around a pair of chimpanzees - a male running loose and a female on a chain about twenty-five feet long. It turned out the male was from Marine World and the female was being studied for something or other at Stanford. The spectators were scientists and publicity people trying to get them to mate.
The male was eager. He grunted and grabbed the female's chain and tugged. She whimpered and backed away. He pulled again. She pulled back. Watching the chimps' faces, I [a woman] began to feel sympathy for the female.
Suddenly the female chimp yanked her chain out of the male's grasp. To my amazement, she walked through the crowd, straight over to me, and took my hand. Then she led me across the circle to the only other two women in the crowd, and she joined hands with one of them. The three of us stood together in a circle. I remember the feeling of that rough palm against mine. The little chimp had recognized us and reached out across all the years of evolution to form her own support group.
Quoted from Fran Peavey,
Heart Politics (New Society Publishers, 1986), p. 176
The hazards of doing this work (outreach and education on our relationship with other species) are constant….daily. Mostly they are emotional hazards. A dear friend of mine in Maine has told me that she cannot watch the videos or look at the pictures of the worst abuses going on every minute on the planet. I understand that. I tell her that I have no problem with people not being willing to see the images as long as their lives are not contributing to those industries. If, for instance, someone is consuming a particular product created with sweatshop labor and supporting it with their dollars, but they are not willing to witness the painful reality of how that item is produced, I don’t have much respect for that. We can so easily ask someone else to do our dirty work and then happily pick up a product without having to know its true cost.
I figure it this way: If the humans or non-humans can endure the suffering for their entire lives, then those who contribute to the suffering with their dollars should be at least willing to witness it for a few minutes. If someone cannot witness the reality, then it is a good indicator that they should not be supporting that industry.
But I really do understand not wanting to witness these realities…..because once you do, they can, and usually do, haunt you on a daily basis.
Here are just a few snippets of how these hazards of my work show up:
-This morning I woke up and looked at our rescued dog, Bean, in the bed next to me. It was not a very chilly night, but she wants to be warm. She is covered in a fleece blanket and with just her dark nose sticking out. While looking at her desire for warmth, I remember the visual of every short-haired dog I have seen on the end of a chain sitting outside in the winter day and night……I remember my friend Adena telling me the details of rescuing dogs in the Detroit area who are just skin hanging on bones and never come inside or even have straw during cold Detroit winters. They are chained outside houses and apartments and ignored. No food, no water, no love. She has even found them dead and frozen solid. So, I cannot even just look at my warm happy dog without the contrast coming up in my mind instantly.
-Yesterday I was doing research for the book I am finishing up. For the section on animals in entertainment, I had to find a photo of a muzzled bear being forced to ride a bicycle. I came across photos showing the brutality used to force them to do this. And, I came across photos of bears being forced to ride horses and, of course, horses being forced to ride with bears on their backs. My dreams last night were filled with these images.
-I was going by farm fields yesterday. I cannot just pass a field of newborn beef cattle and their mothers and not think of what they are destined to go through in the trucking and slaughter stages they will go through in the next year. The images of what I have witnessed in this industry flash through my mind the instant I see them in the field.
-I passed by a goat dairy farm. I thought of all the times that people have told me they just drink goat milk because it is so much smaller an industry...that it is kinder. Or people telling me that they just buy “local, humane” dairy. I stop and watch as a mother goat is trying to get to her two babies. But they are separated by two fences with some land between the fences. The goat kids keep leaping at the fence trying to get to the mother who is pushing against the fence toward the kids. They cannot be together because the mother’s milk will be taken for people. I also look at those kids and know that the males will be slaughtered for meat in less than a year. This is the reality for all dairy farms. I don’t watch for long….
-At the end of the day I was driving home from yoga. I saw a huge gopher tortoise crossing the road. People would see him at the last second and they swerve around his big body. The highway was packed with rush hour traffic going 65 mph. I pulled over, put my flashers on and picked the big guy up and brought him to the side of the road he was walking toward. I took him way off the road and he continued on his way. His size told me he was probably about 30 years old.
These are just a few examples from a period of less than 24 hours…..hazards of this work…..Not being able to look at a pastoral scene without seeing beyond the beauty of the green fields and the beautiful animals to the ugly realities of the industry…..Not being able to look at a warm dog in my bed without thinking of the contrast going on every minute of every day in the world.
And, I realize there is no turning back. You don’t open the door on this awareness and then close the door. And, I remember the moment I really opened that door wide…The moment I noticed that I was surrounded by relatives, my animal family. The following moments when I realized that they were treated as things, not beings. It is an awareness that comes with mental pain…..visual images that do not leave you even when you are sleeping….It separates you from people who think you are extreme when you care so much about non-humans.
It is also an awareness that comes with the potential to make a difference in even a small area of that suffering. And all I can do is keep planting little seeds of compassion while I remember the words of the Buddha: “We must embrace the 10,000 joys and the 10,000 sorrows of this world.”
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Why bother traveling to other countries to visit foreign cultures? Save the airfare! Save the environment! Right here in the USA we have cultures that are as foreign to me as any across the ocean. JC and I are still in Northern Florida….we have been here for about 5 months and the culture shock is well beyond anything I have ever experienced in the Middle East or Mexico or Sweden. A few days ago we drove our home on wheels to the national forest in the middle of the state. The website for it made it sound wild and wonderful. Dispersed camping means that it is not a campground. We went to the dispersed camping area and it was, after all a campground. We decided to give it one night. Within 3 minutes of getting to our site, we realized we were in the middle of hundreds of acres of trails that were not hiking trails….they were ATV trails. Every other campsite had at least four ATVs parked at them. I approached one of the families at their site. They looked shocked that I would walk into their holy and private hamburger grilling ATV parking spot. I asked if they knew where the hiking trails were. Silence. Then, “None of those around here.”
“Hmmm, that website must be a bit off”, I thought.
According to grandma and grandpa campground hosts the sound of the giant bullfrogs in the lake turned out to be gators. They ought to know…they have been campground hosts there for 13 years.
Decision made…between the dog eating gators and the camouflaged families on their ATVs, we decided to head out the next day and camp in the quiet of a friends land near Gainesville. Sweet space with a piliated woodpecker as the loudest sound…..
Today we went to what was supposed to be a 50 family garage sale. Turns out it was at a church. When I find church sales up north in the USA or in Sweden, I know I have struck the jackpot in terms of quality items I can’t resist. Not so in the bible belt. I can pretty much resist everything at them…with no effort.
One guy had tried his hand at painting, as his sign said, “Real paintings on real canvas” The biggest of the paintings was a rough rendition of a pro basketball player on his knees praying to a giant bowl of tomato soup. One booth sold the chemical Round Up in old milk jugs, some with their caps missing. Right next to his booth was a woman in bulging pink spandex loudly spouting off to a customer at her table “My children are all saved Christians..WHO PRAY… living a wonderful life.” The customer gave a resounding “YUP!”
By the time I got to the end of the tables (most of them filled with porcelain dolls that people had paid for in monthly payments after discovering their unique gem in the Sunday paper slicky magazine) I was ready to go home. JC kept checking out the tables, hoping that something would appear, like a miracle, that would be just the thing he needed for our home on wheels.
The last thing I saw as I went to get the dogs out of the car and walk them was a guy who had the most creative idea there. He took old plastic cat litter containers and old automatic dog/cat watering containers and filled them with potting soil and aloe plants and marketed them to pet lovers.
By the end of May we will have made our way north…we will leave this foreign land and hit some garage sales with our familiar cultural treasures. Until then, I will just keep watching my foreign neighbors here and being grateful for their entertainment value.
I would not call myself an expert in Southern Culture. In the past three years I have lived in a house in Georgia, eaten lots of boiled peanuts, learned that bacon grease is actually a “seasoning” , seen more pitbulls on short chains than anywhere else, spent months in Northern Florida, seen barbeque served at peace events and animal welfare events, and done yoga with people who say “Y’all”. None of this has made me an expert.
I also am not sure where the south begins and ends. When I told someone that a friend of mine from Oklahoma was from the South, I was told that Oklahoma was actually the Midwest. I have also been told that North Carolina is the South, but Asheville isn’t.
Travel is magical. I actually got to visit the south recently while I was thousands of feet above New Jersey in a plane.
I got my aisle seat and was amazed to see an empty seat between the window seat guy and me. We smiled at each other….happy at our good fortune on a full plane. But, just before they closed the cabin door, a loud voice boomed “I got here as quick as I could y’all. I just gotta get to my sister’s 80th birthday! I am so glad y’all waited.” Enter Dixie. She waddled down the aisle, I got up, lifted both armrests up and let her get into the middle. She took up about a third of my seat and her own. “Darlin, I am sorry, but that arm thing is not going to go down again with me here,” she reported while beaming her big smile and patting my thigh with her thick wrinkled old hand. “No worries”, I answered.
She introduced herself to me and the guy in the window seat. He was some high-powered guy from Dupont trying to crunch numbers and get other work done on the plane. There is certain plane etiquette…it is unwritten and unspoken as far as I know. But, Dixie definitely did not have the first clue about it. She leaned over to Mr. All Business from Dupont and yelled in his face, “WHAT ARE YOU WORKIN ON SO HARD?” Then she actually picked up some of his documents and started looking at them! Before we even took off we got to know that Dixie is from Little Rock Arkansas (is that the south?) and the names of all her “grand-babies” and every detail about the family she will see when she gets to her sister’s 80-th birthday party. Dixie wore a giant gold cross around her neck. She held it as the plane took off. “This is my second flight in my ennnn-tire life and the first one was this morning. But, thank god the lord is with me.” With that she shows me the cross up close….holds it right in front of my nose. There is something about Dixie that I like a lot. She is innocent. She has even got the Dupont guy smiling and laughing. She told the Dupont guy all about how she had her haircut and dyed it red to look more like the city people who will be at the party. He stopped his work to listen and then told her it looked nice and he was sure she would fit right in. She smiled like a grade school girl being told she is pretty. She tells me she is so thirsty, she would love to “have me a Coke” but her wallet is in her checked bag. I tell her she doesn’t have to pay for soft drinks on the plane. “Are you kidding? They are going to give me that for free?” She gets her coke and tries to put the tray table down like the Dupont guy just did….but it won’t go down over her belly. I bring my tray table down and tell her to put her drink there.
Everyone in the plane can hear all of Dixies stories. I wonder if they are enjoying her as much as me and the Dupont guy. He and I keep laughing and winking and Dixie keeps telling stories and making my tray table and his shake when she laughs.
I had planned on getting some work done….and my laptop is still closed on my thighs as the plane is landing. I reach between my feet for my computer bag and Dixie grabs the bag and holds it open while I slide the computer inside. Then she pushes my bag between my feet. She then turns to her right and neatly stacks the documents that the Dupont guy never got to and slides them into the folder on his tray. “There you go”, Dixie says, “we are all ready now and I will see my niece right down there.” At this she points out the window…and stares at the ground below. She grabs her cross and prays for a safe landing, “Lord let me get there all in one piece.” I am not the praying type or the religious type…I am more the anti-religion type. It doesn’t matter….I have just visited DixieLand and smiled through the whole trip.
I live with JC Corcoran, and our beautiful goofy rescue dogs,Bean and Bapu. We live in Santa Fe, New Mexico. We are busy veganizing Santa Fe and the world. I live to hike, bike, swim, rescue animals, and love being a voice for those species that human society has not learned to connect to and learn from.
To see more about us and our work, visit www.plantpeacedaily.org.
(Rae is the family blogster)