I love chickens… when they are allowed to range freely and do their chicken thing eating bugs, scratching for treats, hiding nests in the deep grass, double clutching (eggs, not hot-rods), scurrying about establishing their pecking order, strolling around with a clutch of baby chicks in tow, flogging offending dogs… they are a joy to behold. A microcosm of our own tribal tendencies, there is much we could probably learn from chickens, not the least of which being the value of simplicity in our lives. Their reputation for being mindless is undeserved, as anyone who has spent much time around free-rangers knows. They may not be the brightest bulb in the chandelier, but they do have their moments of brilliance. My brother actually trained a young rooster to do tricks and it even followed him around like a dog. Some of my most enjoyable childhood moments were spent with my grandparents flock, observing their interactions with each other and the “wild” world around them.
It wasn’t a huge flock, just fifteen or so birds… they had sprung from a pair of half bantam/half game hens, and a rooster of the same lineage, that my brother brought home from the Roseville flea-market one Saturday morning. He was always bringing animals home to my grandparents farm. True to his name, George (which has been said to mean “husband man” as in animal husbandry) was drawn to farm animals… chickens, rabbits, ducks. I’m not sure what kept him from bringing home goats and pigs, other than not having access (at 9 years old) to transportation for anything he couldn’t carry. At any rate, my grandparents indulged him, and it was a beautiful thing that I will always be grateful for. You see, although George was the one who brought them home, he seldom had time to invest in them… so the feeding and egg gathering often fell to me. It was an activity I very much enjoyed… kind of a zen thing. I was 7 and would disappear for hours on end, just hanging out on the hill, with the chickens. 50+ years on, I can still visualize them scurrying about under the apricot tree where we spent so much time together.
But, time rolled on and I grew older, leaving my little band of friends behind as I forayed into my own “wild” world… the tumultuous 1960’s. I was no longer at my grandparents farm but, instead, coming of age in the wild and woolly reaches of Lake Tahoe. It was the late 60’s and by “wild and woolly” I don’t mean the great outdoors, although that was certainly ever present. No, I mean the wild Tahoe party scene, and the long hair and bearded faces, popular at the time. Much was going on, and I often struggled to find my own identity, but there was always a grounding factor for me… my relationship with animals. They didn’t judge me if I chose poorly… wrong pants, wrong hairstyle, wrong words. They just loved me unconditionally… as I loved them.
By this time the animals in my life were the dogs, cats and horses of my neighborhood… my natural connection to them stemming from my earlier years spent with the chickens. Of course, my brother was still bringing animals home, but they were smaller now… lab rats, mice, guinea-pigs, fish, birds… creatures more suited to our home in Tahoe suburbia. As usual, their care fell to me and, as usual, I didn’t mind a bit. George loved animals, but he didn’t connect to them the same way I did, so he perhaps didn’t learn as much about them as he could have. This would backfire some years later when, at my wedding, the 200 goldfish he purchased for the fountain in our parents yard, where the wedding was to be held, all died of hypoxia… too many fish, not enough air. George was devastated. He wanted my special day to be perfect, so he dropped everything else he was doing, helping with the event, and drove… not the 20 miles back to Porterville to get more fish, but another 30 miles beyond that, to the next town that had a supply… he had depleted the entire goldfish inventory of Porterville with his original purchase. I really miss him, he was truly a gem of a human being. Ultimately, he would build a small paradise for himself and his family, on a secluded, northern Washington state hilltop… replete with fabulous garden and a bevy of livestock. He never gave up his husbandry tendencies or his pursuit of self-sufficiency, and was on his tractor nearly to the day he died. I so miss my big brother.
Getting back to the late 1960’s… Butch Cassidy and The Sundance Kid had just been released and, while there were many memorable scenes in that movie that I have cherished over the years… “One, two, three, go!” and “Oh, shiiiiiiit” for example, there is one scene in particular that had an indelible effect on me… it was the first time I realized I had just seen an animal die, for real, in a movie. Butch and Sundance had arrived in South America and, in the hubbub of the scene, a chicken (of course) is run over and killed. Though it’s doubtful that many even noticed the ultimate sacrifice made by the unnamed little bird, it was not lost on me. To this day I avoid watching that scene. Which brings us to Owen Wilson. Owen has always seemed, to me, like a hip version of Redford’s Sundance Kid so, what I’m about to relate is somewhat ironic or, at least, has an air of synchronicity to it. If you have seen “Are You Here” you know where I’m headed… out to the barnyard.
But, before we go, there is something I forgot to tell you. About the time Butch and Sundance were cavorting across the silver screen, I was becoming a vegetarian. I was 14 and did it, not out of compassion for my furred and feathered friends, but because I perceived it as a healthier lifestyle. To be honest, I was influenced by the mother of my best friend Carol, who was the coolest parent I ever met and very much into healthy eating, and by Carol’s older brother, who was the first hippie I ever knew… and who I had a secret crush on.
Having been raised by a woman born in a covered wagon, and by the woman who bore her… my grandmother and great-grandmother, I was well familiar with raising animals for food, and the harsh reality that entailed. In fact, when I was 10 years old, my great grandmother deftly demonstrated to me how to wring a chicken’s neck and, yes, it was one of my little friends. She then casually informed me that she could do that to two at once… one in each hand. I must admit, after the first time seeing a chicken get its head chopped off, when I was 4, the bloodless technique my great-grandma displayed was far less traumatic. Even so, I did have some trepidation eating my little friend, later that night at supper.
At any rate, after becoming a vegetarian in my early teens, it would only be a few years before I would return to eating meat. Partly for convenience, and partly because I enjoyed the flavor. Over the years I toyed with the idea of returning to vegetarianism. Not so much for health though… my cooking from scratch style has always kept me healthy. More out of compassion for the animals involved. But I only toyed with it… implementing a vegetarian diet in a household of meat eaters is no easy task, so I put it off. For like, 40 years.
Lately however, as the PTSD of The American Lifestyle has caught up with me, I have become far more sensitive to the fragility of life. Blame it on the violence in countless movies, or news clips, or video games, or moronic/demonic rock shows… overflowing with gratuitous gore. Or blame it on a lifetime punctuated by violence and trauma. Or attribute it to the joy of connecting with nature and the despair of seeing nature being assaulted and destroyed on all fronts. Or, blame it on the fact that I cannot bear to see even the smallest creature killed, regardless of what it is, because I know we are on the brink of massive global extinction and every creature that survives will be desperately pursuing the future of its kind. Whatever it was, I knew that I could not, in good conscience, continue to eat meat. In my mind, at least. My heart was there, but my tastebuds and tummy weren’t having it. And then, along comes Owen.
I have always liked Owen Wilson’s work. But, lately, I have lost interest in movies and TV… thanks to my growing awareness of the mind control bullshit they exude. As I spent more and more time on the computer, and less and less “communal” time in the living room watching TV, my companion became concerned. So, in an attempt to have something on the TV we both would enjoy, Al put on an Owen Wilson movie… Are You Here. As it happened, I was in the kitchen preparing dinner. We have an open floor plan that allows us to watch TV from the kitchen and, though much of the time my back was to the screen, I would turn around periodically to see what was going on. For the most part, I just monitored the plot by what I could hear. When Owen was given the hatchet and told to go get dinner, I turned to watch.
Though I had a good idea of what was about to transpire, I assumed it would all be fake. I watched him chase The Little Red Hen around the chicken coop and thought to myself, “how frightening for that little bird! She actually looks like she knows she is running for her life.” And then he caught her, and I thought to myself, “gee, I hope he didn’t hurt her!” Then he puts her head on the chopping block and I’m thinking, “he can’t really do this… there are laws!” After his first, unsuccessful, attempt to put her on the block, he finally succeeds in getting her to hold still by gently stroking her head. At this point The Little Red Hen makes eye contact… presumably with Owen, but definitely with me. This is when, out of repulsion for witnessing the act, fake or otherwise, I turned away and refused to watch. Too bad I could not escape the sounds. It became immediately clear to me that this was not fake. It was horrible. My kitchen duties kept me chained to the room and I could not escape… or I would have. Judging from the sounds, Owen did a brutally clumsy job… attested to by the squawks of The Little Red Hen in her agony, and the replies of her barnyard companions each time she vocalized. Every living creature in that barnyard knew exactly what was going on, and my heart broke for all of them but, especially, for The Little Red Hen. In her final act, she gave the world the truest view of fear and hope that a single eye could ever desire to give. I will never forget that look… or watch that movie again.
That scene allowed me to change… it brought me to my tipping point and pushed me over the edge. The brutality of it made me confront my own hypocrisy about eating meat, and realize I needed to deal with it. I still consume eggs and diary products, and see no reason to stop… as long as they come from a small, local farm that does not indulge in industrial farming practices. And I’ll probably have another bite or two of meat… in a moment of weakness. But I will always have The Little Red Hen to strengthen my resolve. And I will always be grateful to Owen. Thank you, Owen, for your part in this… it must have been really hard for you too, and you probably got a lot of flack for it. Most important though, for me, is the undeniable truth that we all, at some point or another, hold that fragile thing called life in our own hands, whether literally or through the choices we make. How we deal with that reality will ultimately reflect how reality will deal with us. Are You Here may be just another quirky 21st century comedy but, for me, it contained a bittersweet gift that I will always cherish. Funny, how life so often presents its treasures in the strangest packaging.
The real moral of the story:
We now stand on the brink of global environmental catastrophe, due to our insensitivity to, and overall lack of respect for, the balance of life on our planet. Our industrialized lifestyle steamrolls over anything in its path and our mad scientists attempt to cover, not cure. Together, thanks to a multitude of unsavory practices, including Fukushima and climate geoengineering, they have brought us to a point of do or die. Now is the time for all of us to assess the gravity of our global situation, who we are, and what we believe in. Will you stand up and fight for the rights of all that dwell upon the face of this Earth, or will you stand idly by as the entire web of life perishes? The future of life on this planet is now in your hands… and it’s time to choose.
Please visit GeoengineeringWatch.org for a broader view of the challenges we all now face: