21 11 2009


This is the sweet chicken we will adopt on Tuesday.  Note the blue tape–her wing was splinted in an attempt to rescue it after she was attacked by a raccoon.  Unfortunately, the infection spread to her bone and she is now a one-winged bird.

That is ok with me.  She is sweet, and chickens are walkers and runners for the most part–though they will fly to roost.

They are like quail–with their small heads and large beautiful feathery bodies.

This chicken may or may not lay eggs. She was “donated” to our Bird and Exotic Veterinary clinic when the folks who owned her did not want to pay for treatment.

That is OK–I understand and I am lucky because we now get her.

Here is the difficulty.  My husband is not particularly fond of birds in general and if we have chickens, he would like have fresh eggs.  To be honest, I am tired of buying eggs from provinces unknown–free-range never means what you think it does, nor does humane.

I do not want to order birds through hatcheries, I do not want girls that exist as a result of the inhumane death of roosters (a charge leveled at hatcheries such as McMurray’s) or chicks that have to be sent through the mail.  I will not “just not think about what happens to the roosters”–something posted time and again on “backyard” or “urban” chicken discussion boards.  But in Seattle, we are not allowed roosters, and currently, the local animal shelters do not have birds for adoption (the flush is usually right after Easter when folks discard their cute little chicks by the bucketfull) and I need a friend very soon for this girl.

I have mentioned to people that I would like another bird or two. Unfortunately, I also said I wanted a rescue bird, which I now know was a mistake.  I received an email last night from a local chicken person suggesting perhaps I am “into rescue” and that I might want to rescue two chickens that are currently nonproducing and due to be “sent to the slaughterhouse” in a few weeks.

Of course, I should not “feel obliged.”

Please explain to me what being “into rescue” means?  Sounds a little like being “into bondage” and would I like some handcuffs (they aren’t working but look good). Alternatively, it is yet another demeaning way of talking to a person committed to the emotional and financial burden of adopting animal others in need and of being aware of all of the details of how, where and why we have particular types of  animal others in our lives.

Here is what makes me feel terrible– I want one chicken at least that lays eggs.  And because of that I feel I am trying to square the circle ethically.  I should just suck it up and take the two hens.

But this is what I also feel:  if you are in possession of your own backyard flock you owe the birds that produce your eggs the respect to see them through to the end–whether it be by your own hand or not.  Otherwise, all you are doing is smoke and mirrors without real commitment.  (I will add that serious financial constraints change the dynamic in my eyes but that then you must seek a rescue organization rather than send your birds to a dubious slaughterhouse to be killed)

So what should I do.  We have room for 3 birds right now, and I can buy a laying chicken from a local who doesn’t cull anyone.  But what about those two girls–I hate the thought of the ride to the slaughterhouse and what the slaughterhouse itself is like.


I am sure you are not particularly horrified by this.  Our take on chickens is that we don’t treat them or see them the way we do “our pets.” Our dogs and cats in particular.  “It’s a chicken” people always exclaim when I talk about the splint on our California chicken’s leg after we saved her from a predator (she and her friends moved to live with my parents when we came up to Seattle and they wouldn’t give them back after we bought a house).  Like that should explain why taking her to a vet is silly.

The logical extension of the argument that we should treat chickens differently than dogs because they are less intelligent is that we should treat people with cognitive disabilities differently, assume they suffer less, provide less care for them, from people without apparent cognitively difficulties.

Of course, there is always the argument that having our backyard flocks is far more humane than buying our eggs and meat from factory farms–and of course I have to agree with this.  But, at the same time, I do not think the horror of factory farming releases us from our own ethical considerations–just as the fact of all the raped and killed as a result of the horribly brutal war in the Congo doesn’t mean hitting people that annoy us (including family members such as children) with a stick is OK because we are not gang raping them in front of a four year old child.

But now I’ve pissed you off, haven’t I, because I’m talking about “people” and “animals” in the same breath so I am a crazy misanthropist.  (This despite the fact that–horror of horrors people ARE animals). (and by the way, before you go off on me, how many of you have donated time, food or money to your local food bank, or fostered a child through CARE or given your time to help local children, or talked to the guy panhandling on the corner rather than turning away because you don’t want to get involved).

So now you’re mad, and so am I– I’m still angry about that innocuous email, about the two sweet hens headed to the slaughterhouse.



Birds near me

19 11 2009

She creates and federates

Without a syllable

(Emily Dickinson)

All the little psittacines in my office sleep.  Like little balls, the cockatiels fluff their feathers  and tuck their heads while Wiggie, the blue-crowned conure, alternately watches me write and closes his eyes.  They are rimmed in white skin–the eye ring–with bright orange irises and, like all parrots, remarkably expressive pupils.  What he does with his eyes stands out as when he pinpoints his pupils in apparent excitement or pleasure over a particularly good piece of food, or as now, when he closes them and all I can see is white.

I have been working at home at my little desk in the room with the birds.

Do you believe they feel grief?

And is this grief?–is this missing a creature that you trusted to preen your head–to sit close?

And when Wiggie releases his head and simulates regurgitation is it for me?  Or is it for Redbird whose ashes we just received.

I’m not burying him in the rain.  And bulbs are peaking up in the little pet’s graveyard–just in time for the first frosts.

There is, by the way, a little wren, outside the window, on the cypress.  No she/he’s gone.  Bye!

Bird in bird out bird in bird out–without

I am writing a paper about embodying an animal other in a fictional other.  It makes me cranky because it is such an elusive thing.  I am afraid that I am asking too much because I can’t find it in any living texts.  I am not talking about building a story through empathy–like Watership Down, perhaps–nor am I talking about the human watching his/her animal other of  choice–nor the totemic human in animal others skin.  I am talking about producing a piece of work that sees through the eyes of the tetrachromatic, UV viewing, oil droplet exploiting, strange little parrot that sits cleaning his foot on the perch just over there.

Without parrot, without eyes, without oil, without human, without skin

Wouldn’t it take a sort of impossible language?  An impossible leap of the imagination?  Or could it be done?

without heart, without Homo, without language, without word, without constraint, without capture, without tree

I believe its shape would be one of mysterious, difficult proportions.  It would be a written work that would take some patience and some overcoming of fear because it would not be written the way anything else has ever been written.

without nest hole, without father, without mother, without hair

would you please write this narrative and prove that it can be done? (Preferably in time to include it in my paper…)

without feather, without skull, without little beating heart