Friday, March 15, 2013

Prairie Potpourri

If They Dream It, It Will Come  March 15, 2013
It's Sunday morning and the entire Sanctuary is abuzz with silent expectation. The produce truck is due to arrive, and that electrifying moment when it drives through the Sanctuary gates, parks in the open filed, and begins to spill its edible delights in a tumbling riot of scents, textures, colors and tastes, is anticipated with barely contained enthusiasm.

If, at all other times, the residents' focus, attention and activity is divided by interests, groups, friendships, rivalries, etc, on Sunday morning, everyone comes together in the work of waiting, wishing, wanting, and almost tasting the luscious treat to come, as if the sheer force of their collective yearning could summon it into existence. The goats pace up and down the fence that runs along the road, craning their necks, listening to faraway sounds, gazing intently into the distance, the cows gather in silent vigil at the end of the driveway, and the younger pigs and sheep camp out in the middle of the "feast" area (known as "dirt" on any other day of the week, and treated as such), while the elderly pigs and sheep keep an eager eye on the road from the comfort of their barns. The geese and ducks steer their families to the feast area, advancing as families do, in spurts and sputters, starts and stops, delays and detours, allowing ample time for the speed and quirks or each member. The chickens alternate between wistfully scanning the horizon and vigorously pecking the ground where the treats will soon be spilled, as if calling them forth from dry dirt, while the turkeys circle the area like giant terrestrial hawks, alert to every sound, and already giving visual expression to the festive occasion with their dazzling celebration gear. The llamas huddle in a tight hug at the far end of the driveway, leaning their collective person against the gate—23 hearts and minds feeling and thinking as one, 46 ears swiveling in perfect sync, 92 feet tapping in perfect unison—looking so wraith-like on the stilts of their legs, yet so solidly grounded in that spot by the shared anticipation, and yearning, and dreaming of the good thing to come.

And then it happens! The moment they've all been waiting for. The produce truck comes barreling down the road, the Sanctuary gates open, the truck drives through, and the animals stampede towards it, swarming and greeting it with such enthusiasm that you can almost hear them cheer. They flock around the back of the truck, pacing in place, sniffing the air, closing their eyes the better to savor the intoxicating scents, and voicing their joy in every language spoken at the sanctuary—from chicken, duck, goose, turkey, peahen, cow, pig, goat, sheep, and llama, to the occasional phrase of cat, human, mouse and sparrow—chanting their anticipation and their hunger for the good thing that the Sunday feast promises, delivers and represents in their lives.

When the feast finally begins in earnest, a dense silence descends on the sanctuary. For the first few minutes, all you hear is the steady rhythm of chewing and swallowing punctuated by the occasional grunt of appreciation or foot-tap of delight. There's so much to enjoy, so many pleasures and treasures to relish, so many new tastes to sample, and so many familiar tastes to greet, so many new combinations of old and new delights to savor, that five senses aren't enough to take all this bounty in. Sometimes it becomes necessary to touch the taste of strawberries with your entire body, rolling in them like Lucas, or to hear the taste of bananas, like Pierre, who relishes the popping sound of their skins cracking open.

But, as intense as the pleasure of eating is, it isn't what makes the Sunday feast so unique or so eagerly anticipated. Delicious food is available in constant supply at the Sanctuary, and savory treats are freely dispensed every day. What brings the refugees together with such urgency is more than the pleasure of eating, considerable though it may be. The Sunday feast satisfies more than a taste, it seems to fulfill a craving for a certain feeling, a hunger for a shared experience that transcends sensory gratification.

There's the enormous joy that fills everyone at that moment, and there's the amazing way in which joy can temporarily erase the myriad discords and frustrations of daily life, the way it can hush all the sad memories, losses, and traumas of their wounded past, the way it can obscure everything except joy itself. But, as exquisite as the joy that fills everyone at that moment is, it probably isn't the sole motivator either.

What's unique about the Sunday feast is the irreplaceable fact of sharing this joy with the entire community, the radiant fact of amplifying this joy by feeling it together and, perhaps, most of all, the astonishing sense that they can create this joy together by the power of their collective will. And that is perhaps the greatest gift of all. When they all get together in anticipation of the feast, when they all focus on the road (and its future gift), when they all wish for the exact same thing at the exact same time, they are no longer the mere recipients of goodness, they are the active makers of it. And what more powerful antidote is there to the profound disempowerment, the deep psychological fracturing and social fragmentation that they all suffered as objects of human consumption, than this massive coming together in the making and sharing of a communal joy so powerful that, for a moment, it seems to weave the broken threads of their lives back into a single cloth? 

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After the Storm  February  27, 2013
The recent blizzard swept through the plains with winds of such force and constancy that icicles* froze sideways, suspended from the eves at such improbable angles that they seemed about to take flight. For the better part of the storm, the animals hunkered down in their barns, huddling together, hugging, comforting and shielding one another against the invisible forces that rattled the walls of their home and pummeled the roof of the only shelter they knew in the world. But, by the third day, as the sun came out and the winds died down, everyone was desperate to get out.

After every blizzard, this happens. When the animals emerge from their barns and step into a now snow covered world, they almost always act a bit off kilter. Partly because the effort of weathering the storm leaves them physically and emotionally exhausted, but mainly because the world they find after the storm is so different from the world they knew before. The deep snow erases their "map" of the world, it covers all of their usual pathways and territorial markings (and the rivalries, compliances, submissions, discords, and expectations contained within), and leaves them hanging at an odd angle to their now map-less world.

Freed from the gravitational pull of established boundaries, borders, beaten paths and other restraints to pull them back into their old grooves and ruts, they move differently after a snow storm, they act differently, and they *are* different for a few short hours, because they are informed by different perceptions of their environment, different perceptions of one another, and different perceptions of their own selves in this clean slate of a world.

They are nervous, they are excited by all the questions and possibilities, they are unnerved, too, to be so free from the daily anchors of rote and routine that they can seemingly defy every old constraint, every old limitation, every old expectation, including their own. They walk around with a light bounce in their step, an almost hop, they stretch their necks as far as they can go, they lift their chins to the sky, the better to catch the high flying scents, and they lean heavily into the breeze, extending visible or invisible wings, as if they're about take off. Sideways.
*The icicles were knocked off immediately after the pictures were taken, so that nobody would get hurt.

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Brave Birds  February  23, 2013
 All 100 newly rescued hens are growing stronger, healthier and more vibrant with each new day. While *we* are still in the process of naming each and every one of them, *they* have already assigned a "name" to each fellow refuge and each member of the sanctuary community--a unique and distinctive sound that identifies that individual from all the others. During their first few weeks of freedom they focused on mapping, understanding and finding their place in their new world, learning its rules, rewards and expectations and, in turn, bringing their own experience and wisdom to the sanctuary flock. But, if in the beginning, they were shy to join group activities, especially riotous ones like the egg hunts and egg feasts, they have now become full participants in the daily life of the bird community, and are especially enthusiastic about the ritual of finding, collecting and eating the eggs that rightly belong to them.
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This is Sven  February  21, 2013
 This is Sven in his chosen "fortress", a small, arid area between the car and the kiddie pool, where he secluded himself shortly after arriving at the sanctuary, and where he spends his days in self imposed exile, patrolling the imaginary borders of his cloistered world and preemptively honking and hissing at everyone who walks by. He is a recluse, a hermit, a loner but, if he avoids all social contact, it may not be because he is emotionally absent or detached. It may very well be because he is too present and too open to the woes and fears and tears of others. Whatever the reason for his solitude, Sven feels compelled to nurture those he perceives as lost, afraid, or vulnerable, even if the cost is his personal comfort.

Once, he left the safety of his fiercely cloistered world and walked all the way into the middle of an open field that terrified him, only to escort Bluto to his favorite spot in the sun, and to watch over the old, frail, terminally ill dog in his final days. He did this every day until the end.

And when Louise ewe, who is crippled and enfeebled by old age and severe arthritis, hobbles by his "fort" on her painful joints, Sven not only refrains from shooing her away, he offers her the balm of long, gentle preening sessions that comfort and soothe her more than any medicine. And she stands there in a blissful trance as he gently picks tiny bits of alfalfa leaves off her face, carefully pecks at stray specks of straw around her eyes, and softly nibbles at her temples as he chatters up a storm of sweet, guttural reassurances straight into her ears.

And, if an intruder (like, say, the photographer) should startle Louise and disrupt their healing communion, Sven will shield his friend with his own body, putting himself between her and danger. Not because *he* might perceive the intruder as dangerous, but because he understands that Louise does. This is Sven. Uncertain of everything in his life except, perhaps, the simple fact that others are as full of mind and feeling as he is.

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Desiree's Delights  February  19, 2013 
If Desiree can find joy and wonder in a muddy stick, a slush puddle, or a dirt covered stone, it's not because her mind is so "simple" that any dull thing amuses her—it's because her mind is so sharp that she can see the pearls of play, pleasure and purpose where most of us see nothing but dirt.
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Fellow Travelers  February  13, 2013 
Stan the turkey spent the first twelve weeks of his life locked in a greenhouse where his only contact was with the human who fed him once a day, and the elderly dog who occasionally sneaked in to stretch his aching joints in the sun.

So, when he first arrived at PPS—a thin, fuzzy ragamuffin of a poult, covered in scraggly down and unruly spikes that hadn't yet fully unfurled into feathers—his first and most forcefully expressed desire was not to join the community of sanctuary birds, or to connect with the other turkeys, but to break free: first from the crate he had arrived in—whose walls he attacked with all the rage in his caged bird body—then from the confines of the bird barn, then from the distant boundaries of the main yard, then farther still, aiming at and beyond the sanctuary borders, if allowed (which, for his own protection, he was not).

A month later, he continues to reject any enclosures no matter how large, always finding ways to escape from any yard into the wide open fields. If this is a reaction to his early confinement, it's also, in equal measure, an expression of his personality. Stan is outgoing, curious, athletic, self-reliant and, most of all, filled with what can only be described as wanderlust. To him, it seems, the best place in the world is the place just beyond his reach, the place beckoning in the distance.

And, while he remains uncertain of his place and role in the turkey tribe, or the larger bird community, he is perfectly at home with Marley the sheep. Not because, as it's tempting to assume, Marley reminds him of the dog in the greenhouse, but because with Marley, Stan can be perpetually en route to that distant place, forever defying fences, barriers and borders of all kinds. And, most importantly, he can do so with a fellow whose mood, like his own, is to travel. 

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Joanna Lucas
© 2013 Joanna Lucas

Photos: Karen Stewart (1),  Michele Alley-Grubb (2, 4, 5, 6), Vanessa Gochnour (3)
If living ethically is important to you, please remember that there is nothing humane about “humane” animal farming, just as there is nothing ethical or defensible about consuming its products. When confronted with the fundamental injustice inherent in all animal agriculture—a system that is predicated on inflicting massive, intentional and unnecessary suffering and death on billions of sentient individuals—the only ethical response is to strive to end it, by becoming vegan, not to regulate it by supporting “improved” methods of producing dairy, eggs, meat, wool, leather, silk, honey, and other animal products. For more information, please read The Humane Farming Myth. Live vegan and educate others to do the same.