Fish in a tank

A few evenings ago he was sitting up on his bed looking troubled. His cheeks seemed blotched and his eyes were flicking and blinking, almost as if he was going to cry. But he’s nine, and I think it’s a point of honour with him never to cry. He said quietly, as I bustled around getting ready for lights-out, “Daddy, there’s something that bothered me today…”. I paused for a proper look at him and asked what’s up? “On the way back we stopped in the Chinese supermarket. There were all these fish in the tank. There were so many they could hardly move…”, and that’s where he tailed off. His expression told the story.

I could picture the scene from countless restaurants in Asia. Green murky water through smeared glass, a mass of plump seabass, carp or snapper crammed together, nosing back and forth in slow procession, a hand-net on a stick resting across the corner of the tank. I instantly got it, what pained him. Helpless to console, all I could say, after a while, was “I understand”.

When I was his age the school took us city kids to visit a livestock market in Gloucestershire. For the first time I saw pigs being forced from the back of a truck, along a maze of metal-barred channels and into a pen. They were being yelled at and struck, some were bloodied, and they slipped on the greasy concrete as they ran. They squealed horribly. The terror was palpable. I didn’t eat pork products for a number of years after that, but eventually the horror and injustice of it faded. I became immune, or numb, or just learned to block it out. Same with fish in supermarket tanks, and the stacks of hairy crabs in the wet market in season in Hong Kong and Shanghai – tightly bound in twine but still living, twitching. They’re there, but I don’t “see” them.

There’s just no room to carry those intense emotions – part shock, part anger, part grief, part shame – around with you all day, year after year. But for a few moments it struck me again when I saw his face that evening. That raw, defenceless, instantaneous identification with a fellow creature’s suffering. Compounded by your own helplessness to alleviate it in any way.

I believe that once in another world, before this world of absurdly mass-produced plenty, and maybe even alongside it in precious remaining pockets of sanity, the lives of the creatures we ate were esteemed. Their flesh was Nature’s bounty, to be treated with honour and gratitude. While they lived, they were respected and even revered. When they fell prey to us, we would mark their passing with appropriate solemnity.

The thing is, in this world we may block it out, that wish to empathise and respect, but I don’t think we overcome it. When money’s tight we pick the cheap eggs off the supermarket shelf and feed the kids at the burger chain, and we don’t worry about all that. Yet deep down we know: hens in nightmare factory farms; antibiotic-dosed cattle fattened on feedlot protein.

Step out the door sometimes and you wonder what’s niggling you. You tick off the mental checklist, all ok, but it’s only when you get there you realise what you forgot to bring. The subconscious takes note of these things.

I believe our individual and collective subconscious more than takes note of the pain and suffering we foist on the others. It’s there in Munch’s The Scream of Nature and in the anomie Jody recently wrote about so insightfully. And I think this was understood in those older ways of living. That the price for seeming not to care was to isolate ourselves from life itself. And that’s why we needed ways of ensuring that the proper caution and deference was observed in and around the business of converting other creatures into food. To protect ourselves from the damage that we otherwise do to ourselves and to our community of being.

But to my boy I couldn’t convey any of this, the other evening. He’s going to feel his share of it too, in time. I fear it’s all part of the price we pay.

Image courtesy of Yumtable Hong Kong


Science and Art attempt to capture Nature, Nature responds…

The owls adopted me soon after i came to the outback down toward Ka Lae. It started soon after i built a camp to work out of while building the components of a small farm. No humans had lived on this parcel since WWI and very few, perhaps 30, had come to the larger area of about 60 square miles over all that time. So although there were plenty of signs of the previous inhabitants, walls, corrals, heiaus, and foundations, the area was still fairly wild and overgrown, kept in check only by the cattle, the ranchers, and occasional fires.

During my years at sea my eyes had learned to pick up on tiny signs, diving birds, swirls, riffles, different colored patches in the water, cloud patterns for weather forecasting, etc, but that knowledge did not transfer to the creatures of the pastures and nearby woods. Continue reading “Science and Art attempt to capture Nature, Nature responds…”

sounds easy doesn’t it

Here it is in text with the original link below…

“NYTimes FEB. 8, 2018
Everyone a Changemaker
David Brooks

Bill Drayton invented the term “social entrepreneur” and founded Ashoka, the organization that supports 3,500 of them in 93 countries. He’s a legend in the nonprofit world, so I went to him this week to see if he could offer some clarity and hope in discouraging times. He did not disappoint.

Drayton believes we’re in the middle of a necessary but painful historical transition. For millenniums most people’s lives had a certain pattern. You went to school to learn a trade or a skill — baking, farming or accounting. Then you could go into the work force and make a good living repeating the same skill over the course of your career.

But these days machines can do pretty much anything that’s repetitive. The new world requires a different sort of person. Drayton calls this new sort of person a changemaker. Continue reading “sounds easy doesn’t it”

Continuing on Jodi’s Stereotypes

If the US is considered a melting pot, Hawaii has long been the tip of the spear in the fire. Unexpectedly had most of four days at a high-rise hotel in Honolulu to attend the commissioning of the brand new destroyer my granddaughter serves on. It was the second time in a few months that i had been to Honolulu since 1965, and it was still much like i had entered a time warp. Back when there had been no high-rises, in fact no highways, so i was a little wide eyed and gawking. Over the few days I spent a fair amount of time outside at a special hidden, smoking area and over time got to be nodding acquaintances with others that came periodically on whatever schedule their habit drove them. Most conversations were fairly surface level, but occasionally a few went deeper and one such was a recently retired very black, very squared away Army Master Sergeant, and the topic came around to the new administration in DC. As soon as the November results were in this fellow retired. After 26 years serving his country he had had enough. Continue reading “Continuing on Jodi’s Stereotypes”

the sky on a clear night in January

Flash addition 31 January: the blood moon eclipse dimmed the nearly full moon so the stars and planets all came bright….

If you get up early say 0300 and the sky is clear and you look toward the south and east there is a pageant in the sky that you may not be able to forget. Rising in the southeast and curving toward the south as it rises further is Jupiter, the brightest of the night, the king of the gods to some cultures, and, if you have binoculars, some of the attendant moons. Jupiter is so bright that many of the stars nearby can barely be seen. But the four large Galileian moons, named in 1610 and often visible by eye, can be clearly seen because they are large and so much closer. In all Jupiter has 53 named moons and an amazing 69 total.

Just above it is Zubenelgenubi, the Arabic name for the brightest star in what we call the constellation Libra. Below Jupiter is reddish Mars, in the head of Scorpius closely followed by red Antares and the Hawaiian fishhook tail with the two stars of the stinger at the end.

High above all, is bright Spica and a little to the right nearly due south, is Corvus, the Crow, Alala flying to the west. And directly underneath it, Crux, the Southern Cross, nearly vertical, as far above the horizon as it is tall. To the west the Moon, Canopus, Sirius and Procyon are chasing after Orion diving into the horizon.

If you continue watching for an hour or two more, Jupiter, Mars and Scorpius will continue rising, arcing up and toward the south. Below them will appear Saturn, and then toward dawn, Mercury. These four planets arcing across the sky describe precisely the flat disk of our solar system tilting up above the Milky Way, the bright lumpy disk of our home galaxy seen on edge. And soon after as all these dim rises the sun. All this rarely seen and hard to forget when they are flung across the sky so majestically before us.

In the coming months where as we move around the sun, we get to see the Milky Way continue its clockwise twist until the Teapot, Sagitarius, rises in the southeast and we can see the center of the galaxy directly between the the spout and the stinger on the tail of the Scorpion.

Once in a while you win

It was a clear warm early fall day in Vermont almost 50 years ago. Was walking with my wife to be through the mixed fields and scrub trees struggling to reclaim the once tended pastures, following or climbing over the old stone walls that marked forgotten boundaries, a few miles from the nearest farms, drawn on to finding “the right place” as in “you will know it when you see it”, in no hurry. The nights had been cold enough to color the trees, brief flame before browning and dropping for the fast approaching freeze. After an hour or two we stopped to soak up the early afternoon sun, warm our bones, and bask in the stillness, so different than our life in Boston a hundred miles away. Here we were silent too, a prayer to the beauty, a revery to a different distant time. We were blissed and blessed.

After a spell a loud clumsy crashing noise, the breaking of small downed branches, interrupted our meditations. It was quite dry, even the grasses crackled. First thoughts a drunken bear or moose, drunk or shot. The noise went on for some minutes, seemed longer, and finally a figure emerged from the scrub to the east, a 30 something guy all decked out in the latest brand new dark green forest camo carrying a shiny compound bow and broadheads, a pack, and bedroll, standing out in the dry yellow grasses. We had not moved or spoken. He stood stock still when he finally saw us sitting there about 50 feet away.

I decided to break into the silence that descended when he stopped. “What are you doing?” “Oh, huntin’ deer, seen any?” He was a coupla days unshaven, so trying to size him up a little more I asked how long he had been at it. “This is the third day” he said as he came closer. So not letting my eyes leave his, not wanting anyone unknown near us with a silent quite deadly weapon, i replied that we had seen a couple yesterday down in the shallow draw about a mile to the west. He thanked me and continued on toward the west, finally crashing and crackling his way out of earshot. There wasn’t a breath of wind. Amazing how far sound travels in silence.

Turning to my gal i said “must be lost and blind too, out of his element”, and nodded in the direction of the two young does with their spotted fawns that were bedded down for the afternoon about 20 feet away to the north, heads up watching us for a few seconds before curling back up and closing their eyes again.