17 March 2015

The Fear Machine: Instincts And Decisions, Vol. 2. A Kind Of Death.

Instincts And Decisions

Instincts And Decisions

Yesterday, I wrote about having to make a decision Sunday morning about whether to call an ambulance when Maria was sick in Pennsylvania or to trust my instincts and wait it out. I got hundreds of responses to the post, it went viral, a surprise to me, as usual. The comments were interesting and helpful. Many people seemed certain that I had made the wrong decision, they said they would have called 911 right away if their loved ones were in great pain and there was any risk of serious injury. Others told me about their food poisoning and stomach troubles.

Many people said they weren't sure and many simply said they were glad Maria was better. For me, the issue was a matter of learning how to make decisions and more importantly, how to trust my own instincts and think quickly. I get grouchy when people give me unwanted advance on Facebook, not because it is such a terrible thing, but because I want to learn things for myself, I want to experience my life and trust my own decisions and instincts, not the instincts of others. And I want to make my own mistakes, the greatest teacher of all.

Reading the many comments and some of the e-mails, I came to feel that I had made the right decision, it turned out my instincts were good and correct and I was glad I trusted them. There is a risk in that, of course, but that is the price of being independent and learning how to take responsibility.

Maria shares this feeling. An ambulance call in a strange city far from home would have been disrupting and disturbing for both of us. It would most likely have been very expensive as well, and that certainly wouldn't matter in a life-saving circumstance, but it did matter if it didn't seem necessary, that is the nature of our life, the life we chose.

And I have to be honest, I am no hero, I can't say it wasn't on my mind, as much as I love my wife. If I had been certain Maria was in great trouble, I wouldn't have hesitated for a second. As it was, I reached for the phone more than once. But I'm glad I didn't make the call.

We live in the midst of a great Fear Machine, a monstrous and profit-making Hydra that bombards us with warnings, regulations, new laws, cautions and alarms. Lawyers warn us against liability and lawsuits, the health care industry warns us about food, lifestyles, and about the growing number of tests we need, politicians smother us with warnings about travel, fears about leaving dogs in cars, strange packages, suspicious people. Various governments regulate our taxes, garbage and travel. Children are made phobic about strangers,  they are rarely allowed to live freely or schedule their own lives, and the Internet is seen as an evil and dangerous place.

Aging is portrayed as an endless nightmare, we are urged to prepare for it as soon as we can vote and work.

I believe submitting to this fear – doing work one hates in places they don't want to be in pursuit of the illusion of security – is a kind of slavery lived in exchange for the illusion of security, and I don't wish to be a slave. There is no security in that. I meet too many people who are desperately unhappy with their lives. I was one of them for many years.

All of this doesn't include the news, which traffics in fear and alarm and  projects the world as a divisive and violent place on the edge of destruction, or our political system, which seems paralyzed and increasingly angry and dysfunctional.

Even the weather has become a profit-making source of hysteria and worry.  Every time there is a big storm, I get messages from one place or another urging me not to shovel snow, to stay inside and drink lots of water. Nuts to them all.

Henry David Thoreau was an inspiration for me, so was Thomas Merton, the Trappist monk who built a hermitage out in the woods and was devoted to the solitary and spiritual life. Thoreau lived on Walden Pond – he did take many meals from his mother and his friend  Ralph Waldo Emerson – but he did live alone for most of a year, and the point for him was to live an independent life and learn to make his own decisions.

"However mean your life is," wrote Thoreau, "meet it and live it; do not shun it and call it hard names. Cultivate poverty like a garden herb, like sage. Do not trouble yourself much to get new things, whether clothes or friends. Things do not change, we change. Sell your clothes and keep your thoughts."

Those are words for me to try and live by. We are too busy watching cable news, obsessing on angry blogs,  reading our FB messages, following the dogma of the left and the right,  to think for ourselves. I don't know anyone who watches cable news who had much of interest to say to me.

We have lost that Thoreau idea in our society, I often think.  People speak poorly of their lives all the time, because they are frightened to do otherwise, to lose all of the things they are constantly told they need to be safe. Cable news commentators, bureaucrats, regulators and health care professionals tell us what to think every day and so do millions of people on Facebook and Twitter. Social  media is a good friend of busy bodies, know-it-all's and alarmists. Thoreau wouldn't have lasted an hour at Walden Pond if he read his Facebook Page and considered all of the alarms about animal welfare and health, food preparation, cabin-building, wood stoves or germs.

I have been working for many years on my instincts, I want to trust them, I wish to make my own decisions. While Sunday's decision was difficult, I also realized that it was a victory of sorts, a step for me. We all take risks of one kind or another every day of our lives – getting in a car, walking across the street, eating food other people have prepared, turning on a light switch, walking on ice, watching the news.

Sunday, my instincts told me Maria's sickness was not life-threatening, even though it was painful. They told me to wait. I looked in her eyes, felt her forehead, listened to her speak. Much of our culture – almost obsessively risk averse – would have done otherwise, that is what almost everyone in the vast apparatus of fear and alarm, most of it profit-making, would have told me. My instincts guided me, and I listened to them.

The message of the Fear Machine is don't ever trust yourself. You know nothing. Listen to others. Make sure, run to the experts, hear the warnings. That is not the message of my life. Or of Maria's. We share a commitment to living life creatively, independently, and fully. We have lived in fear, we don't care to live that way again

In many cases, the people who would have called 911 would have been right. I would never tell anyone else what to do, their instincts might be different from mine, but that doesn't mean they are not as good.

It is as important to ask for help as it is to know when not to. I am learning about both.

I am learning this about myself: one of the things I fear most is a joyless life lived in fear and warning and alarm. That is a kind of death. I wish to meet life and live it, and not to ever call it hard names.

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Farmer’s Farmhouse, In The Morning Mist

Farmer's Farmhouse, In The Morning Mist

Farmer's Farmhouse, In The Morning Mist

In the morning, before the wind, the mist comes and settles on the dwindling snow pack, the sun begins to pressure the. It is a particular feeling, not like any other.

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Who Will Blink First?



Red and Liam had a classic standoff on the mud path today by the big barn. Liam was trying to get past Red, as he often does, to get to the food Maria was giving the donkeys – stale pita chips. Red's job is to keep the sheep off of Maria and also to keep the donkeys from kicking Liam into the next world. They do not care for sheep to take their food.

Liam pressed his head against Red, tried to push him back, that did not work, Red held his ground and then gave Liam the super eye of the border collie. Liam took it for about 30 seconds, then backed up a bit. I released Red and he chased Liam back to the pasture. Liam is resolute, he doesn't give up on the it. And he never wins.

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Windowsill Gallery: Daffodil, Gee’s Bend Quilt

Gee's Bend Quilt

Gee's Bend Quilt

Whenever Maria and I  return from a trip, we stop and get some flowers in Cambridge at the Garden Shop. Yesterday we got some daffodils and we put them next to the small Gee's Bend Quilt Maria brought home from Alabama. One opened up this morning and I was inspired by the quilt and the flower.

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Saving Animals, Saving Animal Rights, Saving The Rights Of People. You Can Help.

Saving The Rights Of People

Saving The Rights Of People

If Henry Beston were alive today, I believe he would be at Blue-Star Equiculture, realizing his vision of a new understanding of animals.

Nearly a century ago, the author and naturalist Henry Beston wrote a book called Outermost House, the book recounted a year he spent alone on the then-pristine beaches of  Cape Cod studying  nature and animals there. Beston was not an especially gifted writer, but the book is touching and haunting,  it was one of those books that struck a very deep chord, especially among animal lovers.

It contains a very powerful passage, one that is widely credited with launching the animal rights movement.

"We need another and a wiser and perhaps a more mystical concept of animals. Remote from universal nature, and living by complicated artifice, man in civilization surveys the creature through the glass of his knowledge and sees thereby a feather magnified and the whole image in distortion. We patronize them for their incompleteness, for their tragic fate of having taken form so far below ourselves. And therein we err, and greatly err. For the animal shall not be measured by man. In a world older and more complete than ours they move finished and complete, gifted with extensions of the sense we have lost or never attained, living by voices we shall never hear. They are not brethren, they are not underlings: they are other nations, caught with ourselves in the net of life and time, fellow prisoners of the splendor and travail of the earth."

This passage of Beston's is one of the truest and most eloquent writings about animals ever. Sadly, his wish has not come to pass. Animals have largely been forgotten in our culture, pushed aside by greed and deveopment, most of us have moved away from them and no longer have any understanding of what they are like.   Our understanding of them has shrunk, we see them as helpless and frail, child-like victims of human cruelty.

It seems that only the Native-American culture has, perhaps not surprisingly,  retained a true sense of what animals mean to the world. In New York City, the mayor and the animal rights groups seeks to ban the carriage horses but keep the buses, taxis, cards, pedicabs and condos.

More and more, we can only understand animals in terms that make us feel better about our battered selves, the real exploitation of them. They are abused, mistreated, dependent. People cannot be trusted with them. Work is cruel and abusive. They should never be permitted to uplift or entertain us. In this joyless vision of the animal world, there is no magic or mysticism,  they must be taken away and hidden in fortresses,  protected from human beings, even though human beings are the only creatures who could really ever save them.

I am sorry to see that the animal rights movement, so necessary and important, has increasingly become a destructive, even hateful,  force in the animal and people worlds, taking animals away, making it harder to keep them, pitting human being against politician, animal against people, animal rights advocate against animal lover.

If the domesticated animals of the world are to remain among us, we must make it easier to keep them, not more difficult. We must share the burdens and travails of life with them, not treat them as pieces of crystal that cannot endure real life, walk our streets or breathe our air. We are their partners, they are not our dependents, we cannot promise them a perfect world any more than we can have one ourselves. And we do not owe them a perfect world, just the right to share ours as they always have.

This means we must find more work for them, not less. It is very clear that this is the message of Henry Beston, he never dreamed of an animal rights movement that would drive animals from the earth and separate them from people and work.


And this is why Blue-Star Equiculture has become so important. They are the answer animal lovers have been seeking, they do have a wiser and more mystical understanding of animals. Their idea is the salvation of animals, for all they are endangered at the hands of people who claim to speak for animals and their rights. Their idea is also the salvation of people who love animals.

I've been writing recently about Blue-Star, a remarkable farm located in the center of Massachusetts. It is a rescue and retirement home for working horses, an organic farming center, a loving and charismatic place, it is a frequent target of animals rights organizations who believe it is cruel and immoral for animals to work for people and who relentlessly assault people who hold a different view. it is ironic to me that such a loving place – a place that has rescued countless horses abandoned by people – would be attacked and persecuted so relentlessly.

This week, a rescue farm in Dorset, Vt. messaged me and told me that Blue-Star has agreed to take in Sarge, who is blind in one eye and who has been rejected by a dozen rescue farms, none of whom would even return phone calls. Does he still have his spirit intact?, Pamela of Blue Star asked Jennifer: Yes, he does, they replied, he is sweet and beloved. We will take him, Pamela said.

But in a sense, I suppose, the hostility is sort of the point, it underscores how they are radically different and why we need them. They do not attack anyone, they have no lobbyists, they give no money to politicians. They do save animals. We desperately need the new and wiser understanding of animals Beston called for – half of the animals on the earth have vanished since 1970, according to the World Wildlife Fund. We  need a true animal rights movement to help save the rest.

Abuse is a crime in every state, abuse is not the only issue facing animals. It is their very survival. The greatest abuse is their elimination from the world.

I am excited to visit Blue-Star and the people who run it – Pamela Richenback-Moshimer and Paul Moshimer. They respect the human-animal bond, they understand animals, they also love and understand people. Those are the true elements of a genuine animal rights movement, one that does not enrich politicians but gives animals their most basic right – the right to survive, and does so in a nourishing and compassionate way.

At Blue-Star they also grasp the very urgent need of any animal rights movement to help people keep animals and treat them humanely. They seek out the kind of work that animals have always done with people, and which keeps them alive and among us. If animals like horses and elephants continue to be driven from our world rather than helped to remain in it, our children and grand-children will never see them again, they will vanish from the world.

Many animal rights organizations have lost sight of the need to prevent this, Blue-Star sees it very clearly. Animal lovers have been led to believe that the most urgent issue facing the animals of the world is abuse. It is not, the most urgent issue facing animals is their extermination. Disconnected from the natural and animals world, more and more people are seeing animals only as dependent pets, not as separate nations, unique entities.  There is traffic in New York City. Ban the horses. They use bullhooks on some elephants. Ban the elephants.  Ponies pull children in the sun. Ban the ponies.

I am  drawn to the community of creatives, artists, misfits and animal lovers who also love the Blue-Star farm and support it. They are my tribe for sure. You can go here to see if they are yours. I believe they are making history, they are the new animal nation, the social awakening those of us who love animals have been seeking.

The farm attracts and welcomes people, they do not attack or anger or repel them. They are already the destination of many pilgrimages.  But more than that, I am drawn by the realization that they are the true protectors of animal rights, they know animals and love them. Their task is keeping them alive and with us, not removing them from us.

And something else that is important. They understand what abuse of animals really is. It is not pulling carriages in Central Park, it is not working in circuses, it is not giving pony rides to children, keeping horses on farms,  or working in Hollywood movies.

Abuse is a crime, not an argument or accusation on social media. It means  being starved, injured or neglected to the point of grievous injury or death. At Blue-Star you can find animals who have been starved, nearly frozen to death, blinded, fed poisoned water, who were reduced to eating sand, have been beaten nearly to death. You can see their stories here and you can see the horses, they are there for anyone to visit or see. In New York, there are wealthy animals rights groups who have never saved an animal, they give vast sums of money to politicians and lobbyists instead.

Blue Star also practices the love of people. That is critical because people who can't love people cannot love animals.  At Blue-Star, they are transparent, they welcome people, they attract passionate and dedicated volunteers who work for free, and young students and interns eager to see animals and learn about them. They seek to keep animals and people working together whenever possible. This is the only real future of domesticated animals in our greedy and oblivious world, if there is any – restoring the ancient and historic bond people and working animals have always had.

At Blue-Star, this is not an argument, they know it to be true.

I believe Blue-Star is the future, a way past the angry morass that has engulfed the animal rights movement and left animals with no true protectors. They have found a way there to save animals, protect their rights, and respect the rights and dignity of people. Blue-Star is the new and true animal rights movement, the money they collect goes to animals, not politicians, lobbyists and marketers. They do not believe in cruelty, the understand that it is not possible to love animals and hate people.

There are many different ways to look at the world, I never think mine is the only way. But I am happy to support this farm, to join this nascent but still fragile movement. I want to answer Beston's call. I do not care to live in a world where children can never see animals outside of a remote preserve, if there. I do not care to be part of an animal culture that batters people and frightens them. For me, animals are about love and compassion and our frayed connection to Mother Earth.

Blue-Star  seeks 1,000 members in their "herd," you can look at for yourself here. Increasingly, I am seeing the power of my blog to do good – to help George Forss publish his book, to help the farrier Ken Norman survive the surgery on his knees. I have it in my head to help Blue-Star's herd grow to the 1,000 members they seek and beyond. They need us, but if you love an animal, you need them even more.

You can join the wiser and more mystical understanding of animals for a very small amount of money. You can be part of the new social awakening triggered by the New York Carriage Horses. You can save animals, protect their rights, and  nourish people as well.

Animals need the right to survive, and the Blue-Star idea offers the best idea that I know of.

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