My Kindle was lost somehow. Not thinking it stolen, but simply misplaced, I searched for a week. But found only that I was lost myself without it, and bought a Kindle Fire 7. It is a much superior edition than the old one, and with a wireless connection offers email, browsers, movies, on line series and much more. It has a decent battery and offers Amazon Prime movies and series. It uploaded all my old books, and I added a complete set of Harvard Classics as well as a complete set of Britannica Great Books…for $2.99 for each set. While I have both these 50 volume series in hard back, the kindle versions are portable and searchable. Instead of marking up the margins , flagging or dog-earing pages, I can highlight or save quotes.
The Harvard sets begin with John Woolman’s Journal. He was a Quaker who, after visiting Barbados (1671) became most known for his active opposition to slavery among his fellow Quakers. Woolman begins his journal with a short account of his youth, including an episode that is my own.
“I saw… a robin sitting on her nest, and as I came near she went off; but having young ones, she flew about…. I stood and threw stones at her, and one striking , her she fell down dead. …I ( became) seized with horror, at having in a sportive way, killed an innocent creature while she was careful for her young….. I climbed up the tree, took all the young birds, and killed them, supposing that better than to leave them to pine away an die so miserably.”
Why my own? In the way that itinerant children must adapt and integrate to survive, I always did so, as my father moved us each year to different mining towns. I had to focus on those little worlds, completely unaware of the rest. In Santo Domingo, Chihuahua, Mexico, when I was about ten, my friends and I used slingshots meticulously fashioned from a proper stick, an inner tube strip of rubber and a leather pouch. We shot at lizards with rare success, but always killed imagined enemy planes. It was during WWII, but so fresh was the painful loss of the northern third of Mexico to the USA, that; they were always Gringo planes. We shot at most anything alive, and at lifeless windows in an abandoned buildings. We rolled rocks into canyons, heedless of whatever was below. We shot at bats in limestone caves by the light of carbide miner’s lamps.
One morning walking to school I shot at a sparrow perched on a wire. It fell. A strawberry sized hemorrhage developed immediately aside it’s head . I can still see it quivering on the dry ground.
Yet I have never had a second thought about rational killing. When my grandmother asked me to ‘wring a hen” or take the .22 and shoot a dying old Tom cat I did so without qualm. The headless hen flapped around for a little, and soon became dinner. Old Tommie stopped suffering. Like the faithful border collies, cats were only farm instruments to help control varmints. They had names, but never were ‘family’, never in the farmhouse, ever. There was no wealthy Small Animal Vet, waiting in the wings, no Veterinary Small Animal Medical Drug and Devise cabal.
A couple of days ago I went to a friend’s cattle ranch, to watch their annual roundup of calves for branding, tagging, immunizing, worming, and dosing with antibiotics. The veterinary medical aspects of the roundup process are fascinating and most procedures familiar to physicians, including the thoughtless and dangerous industry driven excess use of drugs and antibiotics.
The procedures themselves are brutal to the innocent eye and ear: Frantic crying and bawling of frightened calves, roped, tied down. Burning hair and skin of the brand. Blood from ear markings and castration, the injection of vaccines. Adjacent, one hears the baleful angry calling of the calves’ mothers observing from a pen nearby. Frankly the castration reminds me of the way we once circumcised infant boys: restrain and proceed. But the mothers were not there.
Even so, a Round up is pageantry, and there is beautiful co dependent relationship between people, horses, and dogs. It seems surprising that small scale cattle ranching is so nearby, so extensive, so common, and so invisible. Many local horse /human skilled pairs at my friends small ranch roundup compete nationally; one is a current national champion, several are ranked or former champions in various aspects of their work and art. The cowboys, and girls, dressed up in their fine and fancy gear, working seamlessly with highly skilled horses, makes the word ‘awesome’ appropriate.
During the Fall or Spring, local ranchers go from one small ranch to another, in a spirit of camaraderie and community. Yet there is a subtle, subdued sense that they belong to a culture with no future; at least here where people seem to love to eat meat, but hate to see how it is made. California cattle ranchers seem to suspect that their way of life will be exported to some less chicken-hearted area; or be off shored. They fear of global warming may make us all heartless vegetarians, in a recent version, dating from at least as far back as 1962 when Rachael Carson , published her seminal work, Silent Spring. They expect there will be a CA ballot initiative soon called the Cattle Cruelty Act.
Even so, I regret the coming loss of cattle culture, despite the feeling it is rational and in many respects politically inevitable. Surely dressage, horse racing, polo and such will survive; but these are reserved for the wealthy and privileged, unlike the rough and raw culture of cattle ranching. How easily we are blinded by belief, by dogma. I’m reminded of of time I worked as physician on an expensive scientific expedition to Antarctica. It was on a refurbished icebreaker abandoned when the USSR collapsed. One day all 12 scientists and 20 pampered passengers watched Al Gore’s film, An Inconvenient Truth. We seemed to believe it all, while simulataeously burning more fossil fuel on that one trip, producing more global warming gas in that week than 400,000 methane producing cattle could in a year. There is a story about Alaska: A pilot crashed and survived by eating a Bald Eagle. When rescued by the Forrest Service, he was arrested for killing a protected bird. In court he plead no lo contendere, guilty, then was let off, considering the circumstances. But the judge was curious and asked what Bald Eagle tasted like. The accused thought a moment, scratched his chin and said
“Well, judge, somewhere between a California condor and a spotted owl.”
As to Woolman’s lifetime long efforts and essays. or addresses to Friends on slavery, and abolition, they are well worth reading, and re reading. I have a much better understanding and admiration of Quaker thinking, and their situation among Northern colonies. Of course I never will shoot at a sparrow again. The experience was painful, and the bird was dry, tough, and tasteless, without enough meat to keep a bird alive; I doubt Woolman’s robin was any better.