Every since I became a photographer, I acknowledge my lifelong worship of color. Color is holy to me, a stirring affirmation of life, and a central element in my pictures. This week November, the grimmest month where I live has arrived, and sun and color have vanished. I suffer when color goes away, and so does my photography. Color worshippers suffer when the world turns gray, and I browse back through my photo libraries for something to restore my soul. I find a photo of an Iris that did it for me, and I hope it does it for you.
I’ve long felt and often written that the world is being destroyed by men, by their anger, wars, greed, competitiveness and drive to dominate. In the Kabbalah, God warns that if the poor are given no reason to hope, if the creative spark is abandoned or ignored, if Mother Earth is not loved and cared for, then he will return and wreak havoc on his creation. In my mind, nations and governments led mostly by men have violated all of these sacred obligations, again and again and watching Sandy wreak this biblical and prophesied havoc, I heard the echoes of these mystical prophets.
I wrote earlier today that men seem responsible for much of the anger and violence in the world, yet I also wrote about this curious phenomenon I’ve seen in recent years In my writing, on my blog, I rarely get an angry message from a man, almost always the angry voices are female. They are instantly recognizable – strident, unyielding, implacable. I got a lot of response to that brief observation and it got me thinking about women, anger and the animal world, the realm in which I dwell. Like our corrupted and dysfunctional political system, the animal world is also bristling with anger and hostility, and I have to say despite my harsh view of men in the world, I have seen that the overwhelming majority of that anger in this culture seems to be coming from women.
The angriest messages are almost always familiar, they always have to do with the idea that I have not treated my animals well, kept them alive as long as I should, protected them more intensely, done more to keep them safe. I am well aware as a parent that these notions relate very powerfully to children and ideas of responsibility. We all were children or had children.
In recent years, the animal world has become overwhelmingly dominated by women. Most vets, trainers. handlers and breeders are now women. The rescue culture which did not exist a generation ago now numbers in the tens of thousands – it is overwhelmingly female. So are most shelter workers and volunteers.
Why would there be so much anger in these sub-cultures, evident almost everywhere online? I wonder if some women project resentment of men onto the mistreatment of animals and see animals dominated, abused and mistreated in the way some men have long mistreated women. Projection is epidemic in the animal world. If you do not treat animals in a particular way, then you become evil, an abuser. It is the same kind of ethic that dominates politics, a reason I can’t participate in the process.
A long-time reader and follow was outraged by my decision to put Rocky and Simon together for some part of the day. “You are just a monster. This is abuse!,” she wrote. I do not answer hostile e-mails if I see them because I know they are not about communication, but something else, something that has nothing to do with me or my animals. Anger needs anger to thrive, like a car needs fuel. It can’t go far on its own.
One factor, I think, is that we are increasingly looking at animals through the intense and narrow prism of rescue and abuse – many people think it is actually immoral to buy a happy and healthy dog from a good breeder when there are so many needy animals in the world. The no-kill shelter idea – institutionalized life imprisonment for animals to me – emerged from this idea.
I think we all know that rescue, as opposed to adoption or purchase, is emotionally laden and can sometimes breed anger and self-righteousness. I stopped referring to my “rescued” animals as rescued, it seemed self-serving. They don’t see themselves that way, and have no need of the label. This new idea of animals can foster disconnection from people and encourage people to feel morally superior to others. We seem to need animals to rescue. How many people with dogs do you meet who say their dogs have always been happy and well treated? In New York City recently, I met a dog who sneezed on my shoe and his owner apologized, assuring me he had been abused.
And there is the Internet, a breeder of anonymous hostility, an incubator of anger. For me, disagreement is nourishing and valuable, anger just another form of mindless violence, a replication, in fact of the awful damage men have done to the world with their wars and notions of attack and conquest. I am morally obliged to ignore it.
I think women are more sensitive than men to ideas relating to nurturing, care and loving treatment. These are generalizations. Plenty of men love animals and care about their treatment. Most women in the animal world are not angry. But I am drawn to issues relating to anger and fear in the animal world, especially on the Internet, where both are overwhelming and disturbing. And, I sense, growing.
Everyone I know who deals with animals or writes about them has noticed this anger. They have all seen, as I have, how many issues relating to animals are shrouded in anger and hostility, especially at time when there is little anger or attention focused on the evident mistreatment of people.
A friend – a female writer who loves animals – says it is so much easier to save a dog than a human that many people – especially woman – are drawn to it. The anger, she says, comes from a rich and deep female history of being abused and mistreated. She agreed that it is easier to be angry at people who mistreat animals that at your spouse or boss. Women know what it is like to be pushed around. I like that explanation, it makes sense to me. We project all kinds of things on the animals we love, but we rarely look at ourselves, our own contributing emotional histories to our lives with animals. I understand well that the strong bond between my donkey Simon and me is a shared sense of abuse and mistreatment. And a powerful anger about both.
One day I will write a book about the extraordinary dialogue underway in America between women and animals. It will mostly be a book about love and nurturing, about communicating. Anger will definitely be a chapter.
Maria and I and Red went back to Bedlam Farm today to pick up some things left behind. I took Red up in the Pole Barn and a whole movie of evocative images went swirling through my head. I saw Rose and I at the top of the hill when I read St. Augustine to here. Orson’s grave. The fox den. Donkeys and dogs, coyotes and storms, lambing and herding. Awful blizzards, lonely winters, love lost and found.
I love my barns, all empty now, waiting for someone else to come and love them, for other animals to graze. The fences are closed, the waterers turned off and the farm looked to me like a great and graceful ship, waiting to sail again. It will, it will.
It is hard for me to go back. Nostalgia is a trap for me, a path to nowhere useful. It was good to remember, but not dawdle there. Red looked everywhere for sheep, scouring both pastures, on alert, and I kept telling him that they were not there, that he would not find anything, but he could no stop looking.
We went outside today to skirt the wool taken from our sheep in last week’s shearing. Skirting is simply the removal of hay, dirt, and feces from the wool so it can be cleaned and spun into yarn. Maria plans to sell Bedlam Farm yarn next Spring. People who are interested can sign up and get on a waiting list for the yarn through Maria’s blog, www.fullmoonfiberart.com. It was a beautiful and grounding thing to do together on our new farm, it is hard to hear and see the stories of suffering in New York and New Jersey and to listen to the endless angry blizzard of arguments coming from the political campaigns.
People who experience fear often are porous, the fear and anger outside comes inside. I have never understood anger, I see it as a mostly male problem, yet almost all of the angry messages I receive come from women, so I am not sure how to process that. I don’t want to be a person who doesn’t care about our civic life, yet I simply can’t participate in the idea of politics as a perpetual argument between warring factions. For this reason, and in order not to support this idea of politics, I have tended to not vote. I am not sure what I will do this year. I do not believe I am obliged to vote in a system I believe is broken and unhealthy. To me, it’s like supporting violence. I will think about it. The combination of Sandy and politics have tested me, I feel as if I am living in a massive system of fear, suffering and anger, not unlike the storm itself.
I felt better after skirting, an ancient and creative ritual. I recommend it to anyone as an alternative to watching the news.
It was sweet to take an hour in the cold and skirt the wool although my fingers ached in the cold. Red and Lenore kept us company. We got it done and we are taking it to Vermont in a week or so, details on Maria’s website.
We have a new layer, Sandy, from Common Sense Farm. She loves the new coop and is following Strut around, although she is independent and curious. The four chickens have settled in comfortably to the new farm, they hop in and out of their coop all day and we lock them in at night. It is predator proof, ingeniously and well built. Sandy is the white leghorn on the left.