Apifera Farm - where art, story, animals & woman merge. Home to artist Katherine Dunn

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Friday, September 27, 2013

Love a pig, love a man but don't confuse the two



It's easy to look at the photos of the animals on my blog and project human dimensions on to them. I do it in my stories and art. I see them daily, over and over, and writing stories about them is my way to share my feelings, fears, joys, humor, and anger - or memorialize a moment I had for a future read. My new book, "Misfits of Love" does just that, demonstrating how our time with animals can help open up spaces for us to ponder, heal, grieve, express, cry, laugh or share intimacy to others - or ourselves.

Animals are a huge art of my life - and many of yours - and we are better because of it. They comfort, do silly things, break our hearts when they leave. They are workers, companions and muses.

But living with animals here is entirely different than some people might think. I think many people see animals as superior in consciousness than humans, and I often hear people saying humans are idiots, and "if only we were more like animals". I certainly don't consider humans superior to animals, but I don't consider animals superior to any living part of nature, including humans. I don't think any one species should be on a pedestal.

Observing and interacting with creatures, especially in a herd, flock or group, gives one a clearer understanding of a species. If you think all animals are kind and generous, come to feeding hour. If you think that a cute little lamb is so soft and cuddly, come watch them head bang for a position in the flock. No, they are not being mean, they are behaving in a way that will help them survive. They don't think like us. We are the ones who try to explain them through our human expressions. They sense fear and act accordingly, they smell a scent and are programmed to mount another and procreate. They do not give up their food for a buddy, and they come running to me because I am the hand that feeds them. Fear, flight and survival at any cost drives a creature, and it helps me understand how to be a better shepherdess, rider and goat wrangler.

I have a covenant with each animal on this farm - including the ones I slaughter and eat and that covenant is privy only to me and them. Many don't understand how I can eat certain animals, but I'm very clear on how and why I do.

I get uncomfortable when people call my animals "darlings", or "sweet babies". They are neither and much more multi dimensional than that projection. They can do many endearing things - snuggle together for warmth, act gently around an elder or youngster - but they will ram another for food or position in the eating line. I have seen hens suddenly go after older hens, to the death. The weak are a liability in flock society. So I intervene, because my job here is to provide humane treatment for all, while still letting nature rule. If a rooster becomes aggressive, he is butchered, quickly - such was the case of Bad Ass, and after watching him tear apart other chickens, and come after me at some point, I didn't have an ounce of regret for my decision.

I don't feel animals have agendas like humans. They don't have ego. But they have motives that are pretty clear. When the goat climbs in the chicken coop, he wants one thing - chicken scratch.

And when Ernest comes a running to my name - he knows me, he knows I might have food, but when I don't, he flops over for belly rubs. And that is a wonderful human-animal interaction. And there are many wonderful interactions like that with all the animals.

It can be hard to be intimate with human beings. We are often selfish, passive aggressive, moody, ignorant but loud mouthed, or just plain obnoxious. But mostly, I think humans have personal morals and agendas that can make intimacy difficult. And let's face it, I don't know about you, but I'm constantly thinking if people really knew me - all of me - they'd turn around, quit reading, quit buying, quit sharing, just plain quit me. Intimacy is scary. But animals don't judge us or at least I have never felt one creature judge me - and it is easy to slip into a sense that that relationship can be as good - or better - than a truly intimate human one.

I love Ernest the pig, I love my flock, I feed them, doctor them, hospice them, sing to them - but it is different than the way I love and interact with my husband.

My husband knows my flaws. I know his. He chooses to be intimate with me day in and day out, flaws or not. I can't say that about a lot of people, but I'm lucky to have some good friends who do the same. He does not come to me for food, he comes to me because there is conversation, stimulation as ideas are exchanged, tenderness while we talk about sad things, joy when we remember a wedding or birth.

He helps me build things that help my animals, and we laugh as we watch Ernest run around. He is so adorable, that Ernest. But Ernest is a pig, and my husband is a person.


3 comments:

Katherine Dunn said...

I got this message about this post and thought it was succinct and asked her if i could sahre, she obliged:

"This is one of the best blog posts you've published. You have found a way to articulate some of the secrets that those of us who have lived and worked with animals, especially livestock, know: it is not a romantic relationship we've entered into, all sweetness and cute antics, nor is it hierarchical in that I have dominion (or conversely, animals are better humans than humans) but one that requires that we be clear and discerning, respectful and pragmatic. It requires emotional maturity to make the right decisions and keep one's covenants with animals, but, as you said, it is not the equivalent of an intimate relationship. Thank you so much for sharing this."

barbara@sparrowavenue said...

the reality is:
survival of the species, not the individual (regardless of animal, human or plant, for that matter).

having said that, belly rubs are nice to give and (I assume) nice to receive.

Lis said...

So much madness in our world is the result of mistaken nostalgia for something that never was, never will be ... life is much more complex, dark and light. A valuable insights for those of us in suburbia buffered from the realities of the natural world.

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Thank you for reading! The farm and my art/writing keep me hopping, so might not respond immediately. Thank you for understanding. ~Katherine & Apifera ~