In the animal world, as in the political world, there are observers and declarers. Declarers state their opinions with absolute certainty. They rarely ask the opinions of others, do not qualify their statements, never seek other points of view. They tend to embrace fixed labels – left, right, animal lover – that tend to shut the doors to thoughts or opinions beyond them. I cannot imagine describing myself as on the left or the right where there are so many compelling ways to look at the world.
I am always surprised when people tell me rather than ask me what the animals I live with are thinking. For one thing, I have no certainty about it. The longer I live with the animals, the less absolute I am about what is going on in their minds. They are alien, mysterious and fascinating creatures. We do not yet have a language for them, I believe, even if many of us think we do.
I am an observer. The more I learn, the more I see, the less sure I am of things. There are no good labels for me. The mark of every fine mind I've known are the words "I don't know," or "what do you think?" Real intellects are never certain. Thursday when I came back to the farm after some chores, I saw my vision of the peaceable kingdom -this was always the goal at Bedlam Farm – spread out before me. Rocky grazing, the donkeys nearby, the sheep in the middle. I was feeling smug. The barn cats were in the barn, the chickens were in their coop, all of the animals out in the sun filling their bellies together.
In just a few minutes, it went mostly to pieces. Simon ran Rocky into a fence when he came too close, Mother disappeared – she as been gone for one night, not too long for a barn cat – the chickens escaped through an open door in the coop, Storm Center was in overdrive spreading mass hysteria about another storm unlike any other and making lots of money off of it. There is, of course, no such thing as the Peaceable Kingdom, not on earth at last. We live in the real world, and I live with real animals in the real world of animals. There is trouble and change.
Rocky is sealed away in his new paneled enclosure, the chickens made their way back into the Coop. I don't know about Mother, she will make her own choices and is free to do so. The Peaceable Kingdom, like the meaningful life, is not a fixed point, not a destination. It is the road there, always on the road there.
I am getting lots of messages from declarers – people who are sure they understand the motives and morals of animals. For some reason, these messagers assume I know nothing about the animals I have lived with for more than a decade. I'm not sure why that is. It is, I think, the occupational hazard of observers. Since we don't declare certainties, a vacuum is created for others to fill. Part of the national disease, I think – stating opinions and shutting out others. A left and a right. Rocky will be protected, Simon given time to assert his authority and adjust. That's my declaration. The Peaceable Kingdom hovers, a vision on the horizon.