I used to be a very active animal activist. One of the things that I and my comrades would contend with was charges by others that we liked non-humans better than humans. “Why aren’t you doing something for people?” went the seemingly pre-recorded announcement from passing strangers at our demonstrations. And whenever you probed the loudest mouth of them all you’d find that he — inevitably a he — wouldn’t be donating his time to anybody, human or non-human. We activists were always calling up a list of things that we either did or were (nurses, therapists, teachers, social workers, etc. ) or feeding vegan meals to the homeless or earnestly enumerating the many personal health and environmental benefits from not exploiting animals. Always trying to justify compassion and mercy to stone cold barbarians.
A couple weeks ago my girlfriend and I spent four days at the White Pig Bed and Breakfast, a 175-acre nature sanctuary in the Blue Ridge Mountains near Charlottesville, Virginia. Soaking in the outdoor hot tub one night, we saw a shooting star and, later, turned off the jets and listened as various creatures walked about unseen in the dark woods. In the daytime we rubbed the snouts and bellies of the sanctuary’s resident pot-bellied pigs, hiked up to the top of the cascading Crabtree Falls (where it seems to rain lady bugs) and enjoyed all manner of trails in the splashy glowing Shenandoah Forest. Walking one day deep in a sunny valley there was nothing but stillness — and a four foot black snake lying zigzag across the trail. We walked right in front of him and he never moved. I turned around and took a few pictures, capturing his angular pose, and then he finally slid on. It made me feel good that this creature was apparently not afraid of us. This was his land, his home he seemed to say. Why should he live in fear here? He and we seemed to be starting at ground zero with each other. And I like that feeling a lot. I like meeting creatures who have neither been terrorized nor tamed by humans.
But what’s nature without a little “red in tooth and claw,” courtesy of human shock and awe? Many of us hiking in the Blue Ridge, or standing on the magnificent overlooks, would occasionally hear gunshots ringing out, reminding us that hunters were playing army against the animals we marvel at or gearing up to do so in the weeks ahead. It was the reminder that some people enjoy watching the light and life go out of an innocent creature’s eyes. No empathy or appreciation of what it’s like to be unarmed, defenseless and shot, to be raising your family or searching for food or simply having a pleasant glorious day and then have someone come into your home (when their home of superior comfort and ease is far away) and perform the profoundly cowardly act of shooting you. Practicing cowardice over and over again is utterly emasculating.
Sometimes you explore to get lost and surprised and other times to find a setting for a jug of wine, a loaf of bread and thou. And sometimes all you get is a hearty satisfying loathe of THEM. Climbing the Humpback Mountain trail we found that the summit was grand central nature chock-a-block with “humanity” jostling for the highest bestest view near the edge of the giant Humpback Rock outcropping, complete with children falling on the slippery slanted rocks and their parents screaming after-the-fact warnings, all the while bumping others with well-provisioned voluminous backpacks and ski poles (used as walking sticks) as they pin-balled yupward to the absolute top (civilization, i.e., the parking lot, was all of 20 minutes — downhill — away.)
A great place to contemplate nature as you can see — human nature. It didn’t matter that the entire view was spectacular wherever you stood, the humans already at the top wouldn’t budge so the new climbers could take their place and that didn’t stop the newcomers from pushing their way through the madding crowd. Peaceable me preferred a compromise where they embraced and then took a lovers’ leap. Remember, this is all on the edge of a 3,000 foot mountain.
There didn’t seem to be any appreciation by the conquerors that nature can be hazardous as well as beautiful. It was a jumbled pointless “rock” concert minus the music and dope. I fantasized that we might go one purple-assed baboon (thank you, William Burroughs) over the line sweet Jesus and the whole overhang would give way and we’d tumble into the valley below. That would teach us.
Well, no, it wouldn’t. Disaster doesn’t teach humans anything. If it did, we wouldn’t be starting a new war in the Middle East every little whipstitch or give money to too big to fail banks so they can scarf up their competitors and become even too bigger to fail in the future. I’ll stick with the quiet sunlight on the dignified blacksnake. I could watch him for hours, but I couldn’t stand the humans on the peak of Humpback Mountain for 30 seconds. Sayonara. “What’s it like up there?” asked one ascending hiker on our way down. “It’s like Market Street in Philly — except there’s ski poles.”
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After my first night back at work — I work in the automotive industry — I was driving home through Valley Forge National Historical Park at 11:30 at night and the car in front of me swung into the oncoming lane to avoid something. And that something was a young deer sitting in the road, looking back and forth with her legs tucked under her. I stopped, put my flashers on and got out.
She was very afraid and tried rising on her front legs and dragged herself near some grass at the side of the road. Both of her back legs were badly injured. She looked around for help and I could hear her mother or another of her tribe snorting nearby in the darkness. I didn’t know what I could do for her so I walked over to her, knelt down, started petting her and talked to her. She eased up and didn’t try to get away. After a few moments, I got up.
Cars and cars and cars are going by. I’m offered all kinds of advice: “Don’t go near it, they’ll kick ya!” Others asked if I needed some automotive help. Yeah, I need for you and me to get the fuck off this planet, I thought. I need for cars, these slaughterhouses on wheels, to die. I wave the cars around. Why aren’t you people home in bed? Why are you and I on the roads at midnight on a Tuesday? Why do country roads have interstate-sized traffic on them? Why are there two busy roads right in the middle of what should be a 3,600-acre nature sanctuary?
I called my girlfriend and she gave me a couple numbers of wildlife rehabbers, one of whose recorded announcement said that they weren’t taking any calls that week and another whose recording advised calling the game commission. I left messages anyway and then decided there was no good answer for this deer so I called 911.
After about 15 minutes a couple park rangers pulled up behind me and I asked if anything non-lethal could be done for this creature. One said they would take care of it and that I should go. The ranger acted like I was a crazy person and this was a big joke. I was finding it hard to leave. I got in my car, started to drive then rolled down the window and, not knowing exactly what I wanted to say, uttered, “This is all very sad.” “Will you go now,” he said. And after about five seconds of driving I heard a gunshot as they killed her.
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There’s a good chance, even without getting hit by a car and then shot, that that deer might have only lived two more weeks. That’s because Valley Forge National Historical Park is now in the first week of its first-ever deer kill, a $3 million four-year plan to kill 1,100 of the park’s estimated 1,277 deer. After the formality of “democracy,” a bogus public comment period which had all the effect of an antiwar sign on Dick Cheney, the park did what it was always going to do from the beginning.
In every park deer kill the cover story is always the “understory,” the saplings, seedlings and shrubs that deer have the audacity to eat. These plants, plus ground-nesting birds and tulips (deer Tofutti), don’t compete very successfully with deer and that is something the Dr. Frankenstein park managers aim to change. The managers “manage” and disdain mere wilderness and wildlife sanctuaries where animals work out their own destinies. The hell with evolution or survival of the fittest. And all of this nature vivisection is done at the expense of the deer and must never inconvenience the humans, their tourism, their cars, their parking lots, their roads, the chemical run-off from their nearby farms or their high speed commerce.
Even compared to other parks, which have much less resources, Valley Forge park officials acted in very bad faith. Park officials admit that the deer population peaked in 2005 and has declined and stabilized, proving that the deer can be controlled without shooting. How many deer are in the park is also an open question because the park extrapolated its count from several “eyeball” surveys done by volunteers instead of conducting more accurate infrared aerial surveys before and after last year’s hard winter. Even working within their own murderous logic, park officials could choose not to shoot bucks so that the natural one to one ratio between bucks and does can be re-established faster and result in less deer being killed overall. Instead, the park’s plan is to kill bucks, does, young, old, healthy, unhealthy, whatever it takes to kill 500 deer this winter.
Beyond the understory cover story, the real story is this: it’s many people’s perception that there’s too many large disobedient rebel animals who will not be contained by the average fence and who do not recognize capitalist property rights or the rules of the road which state: get the hell out of the human way. Valley Forge Park has been under pressure for years from wealthy land owners adjacent to the park, a noisy kind of Hostas Rights Movement, who lose thousands of dollars each year (they say) to deer eating their ornamental plants and shrubs. These money patriots love living near the park — they just don’t like the wildlife that comes with it. Do I relate to people who have thousands of dollars to spend each year on ornamental plants? Do I give a damn about their money or their mistaken view that they own the outdoors? I don’t recognize their “property rights” over nature or the illegitimate laws used to enforce them. I’m not “civilized,” thank God. Bambi and Proudhon believed the same righteous thing: all property is theft — and I’m with them.
The deer are also unpopular with many motorists who are far too busy and important to slow down in the park. Presented with no stop signs, traffic lights or speed bumps, their perception is that “nothing’s here.” So, if they can, they blow through the park, often at 50 mph, because they know the frustration that awaits them on Routes 202 and 422 and the mordantly named Schuykill “Expressway,” one of the best monuments to civilization anywhere in the world. No, nothing’s here, nothing except all these deer, foxes, raccoons, chipmunks, skunks, opossums, squirrels, turtles, snakes, frogs, birds and, yes, a bona fide predator of deer, a few coyotes.
Lowering the speed limit in the park from 35 to 25, and enforcing it, would probably eliminate nearly every deer/vehicle collision. For a brief time every day I bring the revolution to the park by going 25 mph. Since it’s clear that you, O working class, aren’t going to perform your historic mission, your real work of overthrowing capitalism, I don’t give one little damn about you being on time to your bogus work, your make-believe work, your slave work, your artificial world work, your obedient ass-kissing keep your head down work, your life-wasting soul-draining work, your manufacturing of death work, your unquestioning anti-Earth work. I don’t care about interrupting your lifelong inertia dream. Don’t get behind me because I will lead you nowhere, slowly. I’ll make you watch the black snake indefinitely or stand in a lady bug blizzard and I’ll comfort your enemies, like the deer.