An old family story is in my mind this week. The one about Great Uncle Walter shooting Great Aunt Sarah. Those are real names, this really happened. Swear to God.
The family won’t have my hide for exposing this skeleton to the light of day. That bird has flown. The story appeared decades ago in the Duncan Star.
Uncle Walter was hauled to jail, had his trial, got away with it. He was old and three-quarters blind. From the porch of his Vancouver Island home, so his testimony went, he mistook Aunt Sarah, who was hanging the laundry on the clothesline, for a deer. All that flapping white fabric they carry around was a dead giveaway. And of course all deer need to be shot. Case closed.
We relatives know he did it on purpose. From all accounts, Aunt Sarah deserved it. What a blind man was doing on the business end of a gun, that’s not so clear.
When I read about the shootings of two red-tailed hawks here on Whidbey and five sea lions in West Seattle, this story naturally came to mind. I wondered what defense the perpetrators would mount.
Investigations into both cases have been called wasteful; apparently many support the shooters. These animals, the argument goes, deserved to die.
The seals eat salmon and their voracious appetites are blamed for the sad state of the fish supply. We humans, of course, have no such appetite for fish and could not be the cause of the decline. The hawks are rumored to make off with backyard chickens which, naturally, would not get eaten otherwise.
The idea behind these arguments is that all resources are reserved for humans. Human interests trump the interests of animals. Get rid of all the animals, and life will be good.
I’m not so sure.
I have an ongoing battle with one of my best friends about rabbits. When my cat catches a rabbit I chase her down, pry it from her jaws and give it CPR. My friend wings rocks at each one she sees, apparently believing that aversion therapy will keep them from eating the veggies out of her garden. She has strong arms.
Another friend rhapsodizes about the natural beauty of Whidbey one minute, and the next brags about shooting squirrels because they mess up her landscaping. She’s forgotten cause and effect. She removed the native forest that provided just enough sustenance for a balanced squirrel population and replaced it with vast quantities of tasty ornamentals and imported bulbs.
In yoga class one day, I heard a couple discussing which one of them would stop by Cenex on the way home to buy poison for the raccoons. Ohhmmm.
After the untended beaver pond took out Glendale Road last year the cry went up — get rid of the beavers! — ignoring the fact that the whole problem started when the beaver that God and/or Mother Nature had put in charge of the management of the pond was run over by a car.
OK, hold on a minute. Engage the safety. Holster the firearms.
Let’s take a deep breath of the clean, fresh Whidbey air and a different look at all this killing.
Is it any wonder that some kids get a little gun-happy and take out a few protected animals after watching their parents and grandparents hating and killing all things wild? When they hear over and over that those damned coyotes will steal Chi Chi the pocket poodle, and that salmon habitat restoration is getting in the way of our enjoying the beach?
The hysterical way people talk about animals, you’d think their view of the natural world is based entirely on Disney cartoons. “Those pethky varminth are alwayth after my petuniath.” As if the rabbit’s goal is to denude the flower beds out of spite. He’s only trying to survive, procreate and provide for his family, just like the rest of us.
What we don’t understand, we’re threatened by. Uncle Walter and Aunt Sarah were proof of that. Or maybe he was just pissed at her for eating his chickens. But we’ve come a long way since he picked her off. We know a little better now how ecosystems work. We’ve seen that killing everything in sight leads only to grief — imbalances, extinctions and other problems we can’t foresee.
Think about holding your fire and making an effort to get along with nature. That means enclosing the chickens and keeping Chi Chi inside at night. Plant a few extra carrots for the rabbits and tulip bulbs for the squirrels at the perimeter of your property, away from main display gardens. The extra effort will pay off because nature, which includes animals, is what makes Whidbey such a wonderful place. It’s what makes the New York Times print headlines like “Want a Nice Vista? Just Glance Anywhere on Whidbey Island.”
We may have far more to gain from deciding to like animals than we can ever know.
I’m just sayin’.
For more information:
Glendale Creek: A series of talks about the history, ecology and future management of the creek that wiped out Glendale Road is on alternate Thursdays, 6:30 to 8 p.m. to April 15 at Clinton Community Hall. Click here for info.
For more info go to my Tidal Life Blog.
Questions or comments for Tidal Life? E-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.