Sunday, July 31, 2011

Celebration of Nature

I've noticed that, at least in my time and place, people tend to pick up the philosophical principles according to which they run their lives as package deals. I think this has probably been true for most people most of the time from when humans were first able to think about running their lives according to anything other than instinct.

Since I dislike inelegant sledge-hammer types of technology, people often mistakenly assume that I am against all forms of advanced technology. They also mistakenly assume that I am a vegetarian and a supporter of liberal politicians (liberal as in the modern USian usage of the term). If I tell them I do not give blanket support to the Democratic Party, they assume I like Republicans. And so forth.

One of the things people tend to assume about me, since I enjoy spending time away from the city and since I like to try to work with nature rather than against it, is that I am a tree-hugging nature-lover. I don't so much love nature as appreciate its amazing complexity. I work with it rather than against it out of laziness and the desire for efficiency. One thing I know about the way nature works: every contestant in the game of life is fighting a dangerous, constant battle. Rich city people can thank advanced technology for their ability to forget about the fight for days, weeks, even lifetimes. By rich, I mean anyone who can afford a constant source of electricity, clean water, temperature control, food, and medical technology. Rich people can pay someone else to fight the battle for them.

I am a rich person, by the above definition. There have been periods in my life when I was not rich, when I was not completely sure I'd have enough food, when I could not afford to pay for medical help, when I did not have an entirely secure shelter from the rain. The periods when I was not rich were real eye-openers with respect to nature.

The grasshoppers that have devastated my country garden are a reminder, and I've just had a particularly gruesome reminder due to misplaced trust in a building contractor.

This man, who came highly recommended and whom I trusted, recently built two chicken pens for me. After the first one was built, I noticed there was a gap at the top of the pen. The contractor used a method similar to the one I used at Altamira when I built pens and pole barns, except that I attached the wire to a wood frame on the outside of the poles, so there was no gap between the wire and the roof of the pen. The contractor had his men attach the wire directly to the poles and cross pieces. This leaves a gap at the top of the wire, large enough for my cat to crawl through.

I pointed out the gap to the contractor, and asked him to be sure and not leave a gap on the second pen, and to fix the gap on the first one. He told me he would. This is where I made my big mistake: I trusted the contractor when he said the work was done and did not climb up to inspect the tops of the pens with my own eyes.

Relying on the contractor's word that the pens had been properly constructed, I put 4 mature hens, 10 pullets, two roosters, and 17 half-grown guineas into the pens. When I arrived at Tilmon last night, I caught a possum and a raccoon enjoying chicken dinners, inside the second pen. These two, plus probably all the other small predators in the neighborhood, killed all 4 mature hens, 8 of the pullets, both roosters, and all the guineas.

I've buried the bodies to get rid of the death-smell, and sent an email to the contractor with photos, to give him a graphic demonstration of why I asked him not to leave gaps at the tops of the pens.

The scene last night, viewed by by flashlight, was worthy of a horror movie. Here are a few photos of Nature in Action. Imagine seeing this in brief, disjointed glimpses in the beam of a flashlight while breathing the odor of decaying flesh. Dark cavities with ragged edges, wet with blood serum. Maggots like glistening, squirming grains of rice. I wanted very much to run away and never come back. But I stayed to clean up the mess. It was still horrible in the morning, but not nearly as bad as it was at night.

It occurs to me that what a good horror movie does is make the viewer see what it would be like if one were dropped into the jaws of Nature, without the protection of human technology. Of course, the slaughter of my birds was not really completely natural, since if they had not been penned, they would have been roosting high in trees instead of on roosts that possums and raccoons can reach with ease (in the trees, owls could have been added to the list of potential predators), and absent their association with humans, the birds would probably have had sharper instincts. But still ...


  1. I'm very sorry about your hens.

    I hope those contractors regret what they did and try to make amends. Have they?

  2. Hi Dina. So far, the contractor has done nothing. But I am confident that he will take care of this. It's a small community, and this guy has a good reputation that he won't want to tarnish. Also, the pens are related to another, larger job. I'll keep enough of the final draw to cover completing the pens, and possibly to replace the birds as well. I haven't decided about that. In all fairness, I probably need to accept some of the responsibilty for the death of the birds. I should have checked to make sure the gaps were closed before putting them into the pens. I feel very sad about the birds. I raised them from hatchlings. Hatched some of them in an incubator.