Sunday, November 11, 2007


Cassie the cow didn’t jump over the moon for your entertainment. She jumped a six foot fence at a slaughterhouse in a desperate attempt to save herself. And compared to most cows, she got lucky. In her case being lucky has involved post-traumatic stress disorder, anti-depressants and sedatives, agoraphobia (fear of going outside) as well as fear of people and being with other cows (slaughterhouse memories). Attempts to socialize her have mostly failed but she has become comfortable being in her own stall with an open window with other cows on the outside. Though her history was detailed on a sign, I’ve recalled it from a few notes and memory so may be off on some details.

After another sanctuary couldn’t handle her needs, Cassie now lives at Maple Farm Sanctuary, formerly a dairy farm for three generations, which is located about ten miles from my father’s house and run by a constantly busy couple of approximate age 60 with the help of never enough volunteers. Their MySpace page includes a newsletter and the heartbreaking/warming story of the life journey which led to beginning the sanctuary. The 150 beautiful rolling acres are home to llamas, cows, goats, chickens, turkeys, ducks, horses, a miniature pony, and two piglets.

I attended a benefit to raise funds to build a better home for Cassie at the sanctuary a few weeks ago. Peter Young, who served two years in prison for releasing fur farm minks, spoke about how actually seeing chickens being slaughtered was what changed him into someone who had to act directly. He said he’d heard all the Starbucks jokes; I wrote one myself in an old column: “After years living undercover, Young was caught shoplifting CDs from Starbucks and I certainly can’t condone that. Everyone knows you shouldn’t go to Starbucks.” Seriously, I completely agree with the goal of putting furriers, fur “farmers”, and trappers out of business. But I don’t support releasing thousands of mink into the wild to kill native animals and where almost all the mink quickly die themselves. If a habitat were capable of supporting thousands of native mink, they’d already be there. This is just an alternate version of humans acting as if they have the right to do whatever they please with the natural world. There weren’t any questions following the speech so I approached Young later to discuss this but he was deep in conversation with a couple adoring fans, and since I was from 1000 miles away and thus the stranger (i.e. the FBI guy) to everyone there, I let it go and walked away.

I’ve always been the stranger: an only child who started school early, then skipped a grade. Academically, the school wanted me to skip two years; socially, my father decided one was enough. Maybe I might have been an oceanographer or another worthless millionaire if I hadn’t absorbed the values of the 60s, but at age 11 I was first published, a letter in Newsweek supporting the American athletes who raised their fists in a Black Power salute during the national anthem. Growing up, I hiked through nearby woods beginning my love of nature and explored an old graveyard where the inscription “Died from wounds received at the hands of her husband” led to my first attempt at fiction.

In my mid-twenties, I joined Mensa for a year. My partner at the time berated me for being an elitist. It’s true that I am somewhat of an elitist in dealing with people, but hey, at least I don’t think my species is better than all the other species on the planet. No, that’s all the supposed non-elitists who think that. In any case, I didn’t join Mensa because I wanted to feel superior; I joined because I was looking for community I didn’t find in the everyday world. Nor did I find it in the group; I remember some good games of Trivial Pursuit and a rainy hiking weekend in the mountains of New Hampshire where I gave myself a mild case of hypothermia (what a genius!) but I found the same mix of beliefs and values and attitudes that existed everywhere else.

I deeply believe this is a contemptible culture, not only because of how we treat other species, but because of how we treat other humans and ourselves. When someone asks what you do, they’re not wondering if you meditate, read the classics, walk in the woods observing phenology, or volunteer at a homeless shelter or wildlife rehabilitation center; they want to know how you earn money. Tell someone you’re going to college to learn or follow your passion for art or history and you’ll get a strange look because you should be training to make more money. It’s the obsession with money which assigns a cost to other species and steals their true value.

I’ve marched with tens of thousands against wars and for abortion, been to stadium sized sports events and concerts, but always knew we had just an issue or song in common. The only time in my life I’ve been in a crowd of hundreds and known we all shared basic core values was at Maple Farm Sanctuary. That was a powerful day, and that unusual feeling of peace lasted through the two quiet weeks I spent at my father’ the past it hasn’t taken two days before we got into an argument.

The feeling came without any big dramatic moments with people or other animals at the farm. I did some small talk, ate some processed veggie food, mostly ignored the music being played, got a cookbook at the silent auction. There were a few goats and cows in an area where they could come over to a fence for human touch if they wanted (and at least one of them usually did), a mix of llamas, goats, and turkeys in one less accessible fenced in area, and five more cows to watch at pasture far beyond a temporary fence to keep the humans out. More animals were in a barn which could only be visited on a tour...I went on one of the early tours and then again on the last tour of the day. This is where Cassie could be found in her area at the end of the barn. Among other animals along the way were a llama who removed my hat to smell my hair and two piglets who, before arriving at the sanctuary, had already had their tails docked and bore blue dye to indicate to the dockers which pigs still needed to be mutilated. The feel of their snouts against my hands was the most interesting sensation of the day because I’d had no previous experience with pigs. Throughout the day, I know many people were sharing my desire to spend more time touching the animals and it was hard to remind ourselves that this was not a petting zoo but a rare place where these animals were fortunate to find life.

If living in Duluth for six years hadn’t put me in debt that requires an income, I’d ask the folks at Maple Farm if they wanted a full time worker in exchange for room and board. Instead for now I’ve been compiling a list of sanctuaries and studying websites. Maybe when I’ve broken free of my own imposed obsession with money I’ll become a traveling volunteer, knowing that sanctuary is always just ahead.


Lisa J. (aka Oboe-Wan) said...

This was a great entry. You've really inspired me to try to make a visit to some farm sanctuary in the near future.

I'm so happy to hear you had such an interesting experience with the piglets! I LOVE the feel of their noses... unexpected & unforgettable. And their eyes look almost human.

Tell someone you’re going to college to learn or follow your passion for art or history and you’ll get a strange look because you should be training to make more money.

Yeah, I got a lot of snide comments when I was in college studying music. Apparently, if you're "smart" you should be chosing a career that guarantees you'll be rich. And if you're "smart" and choose a passionate career path, then really you're stupid. People treated me like an idiot for years before they ever got to know me. I started the process of joining Mensa a year or so out of college, but I realized that it was just to "prove" to people that I wasn't stupid just because I was a musician. So I never joined. Because what's the point?

Of course, this may have something to do with the culture of east coast vs. west coast or rather the "wild west" here in Nevada. People treat me so different here when i tell them what I do. I think it has a lot to do with the city.

Lisa J. (aka Oboe-Wan) said...

Oh, by the way, thanks for adding me to your link list!! If you want, you can list my blog name instead of my screen-name : I'm in the process, if you can call it that, of changing it over to my real name instead. I am just taking it slow because I don't want to confuse me!

greentangle said...

Blog name being Dragonbird Sanctuary? I just took the URL. I was doing a thing where blogs had no capital letters and websites did to distinguish between them but maybe I'll drop that.

I don't think I'm clear on what you mean about the east/west/city stuff and how you're treated differently. Explain?

Lisa J. (aka Oboe-Wan) said...


Blog name being Dragonbird Sanctuary? I just took the URL.
Yes! I was using the screen name "Oboe-Wan" before because I originally joined blogger with a gang of Star Wars fans & that is my screen name over in the SW world. :) But now... I'm sick of it!! LOL!!

I don't think I'm clear on what you mean about the east/west/city stuff and how you're treated differently. Explain?
It's a GROSS generalization, ok, but what I found living in the wee western corner of MA was that people truly judged you on what you did for a living. If you were a doctor or professor, those were the "top" jobs & your opinions really resonated with the town. But if you were something like a teacher or musician or artist of some sort, you were disregarded in many respects. Even the musician's union didn't want much to do with us out there! Which was why I resigned for many years before moving to Vegas.

Famous "Lisa Story" : I called the director of this chamber concerts series in our town asking how I could get involved - could my quintet be booked a gig at a museum or reception of some sort? And she said (This IS a quote I will never forget my whole life), "We only hire professionals." I actually hung up on here right there & then. I've never spoken to her since and she was a family friend of my in-laws!!! Bitch.

Anyway, I'm just saying that out there, things were much more snooty, musicians weren't respected the way they are here. People felt perfectly at east trying to barter their lesson fees with me, too! That got annoying.

But out here... let's just call it a "Vegas Thing" then, but people really light up when I said, "I'm a musician" and then I get asked at least 10 more questions about what exactly I do. Once they hear that I play in Phantom of the Opera they are all over it. YEah, back in MA I played in the professional symphony, but it never received the gasps of "wow!" like here, and I think being in a symphony is more impressive than a show!!

Whatever. People don't argue about lesson rates or why they should pay me when THEY skip a lesson... it's a different culture here, one based on entertainment so we're valued differently.

I'm also very paranoid about what people think of what I do - comes from years of people telling me I was "too smart" to be a musician. Ugh!!

Lisa J. (aka Oboe-Wan) said...

Also, I hit "publish" without proofreading & noticed some cool typos like "here" instead of "her" and "east" instead of "ease"!

Thus proving that musicians are DUMB!!!

greentangle said...

Thanks for the explanation. I think it's great that you followed your interests, and I'm glad Vegas has worked out for you. I have to admit that it would probably be at the bottom of a list of places I'd want to go...I don't like (polite understatement) glitz or casinos or that kind of entertainment.

Obviously I've been big on New England lately, reacknowledging it as home. The first time I lived away from NE for an extended period of time, I became aware of the inherent attitude of superiority the northeast had toward the rest of the country. On this, my second extended period away, I've decided that it's justified. :)

Lisa J. (aka Oboe-Wan) said...

I can definitely appreciate your thoughts on the "Vegas lifestyle" because we went back & forth for about a year whether or not we wanted to live here. College friends lived here for several years before we moved & they simply said, "come visit, then decide." So my husband flew out here for a job interview & stayed with them for a few days. He loved it. It's funny, "The Strip" is all of about 2 streets 15 miles from our home. Up here in the suburbs, this could be any city on the planet! You wouldn't know it was Vegas unless you looked south to the horizon & saw the casinos in the distance.

Anyway... I grew up in Western NY and was never quite happy there either. We moved to western MA right after we got married, to my husband's home town. I never quite fit in: a "suburban girl" I didn't function well in the "small town" mentality. I'm not sure how we lasted 9 years there. Well, Matt lasted 9 years, I think I lasted about 3. After that, I was just unhappy.

I like the idea, though, that people function differently in different situations! I loved the scenery of living in Western MA, but not the attitude. I love the wide-open spaces here in Nevada & being back in a suburban/urban setting. I like having people around me, I have to admit!

Most of all, I like living in a place that needs musicians!!

Stephanie said...

This was a really lovely post, greentangle. Thanks for sharing all that you did.

To touch on or reply to every(varied)thing that struck me in this post would be impossible at the moment, so I'll just stick to the part about the sanctuary for now. The first one I visited was Kindred Spirits Sanctuary in Florida, and though I didn't get to spend the time that you did or have the depth of that experience, even just walking through that safe haven with the amazing woman running it was a beautiful experience. Happier and more loved cattle, pigs, horses, goats, and sheep I'd never seen. I can easily relate to your wish that money were no object; I desperately wanted to go back down there for a couple months and spend what time I could volunteering there and at the Suncoast Seabird Sanctuary. But alas, at least during this stage of life, that is not yet a possibility. Someday, someday. :)

greentangle said...

Thanks, Stephanie. These little oases are great places to be for people as well as the other animals. I just got an email today listing many more sanctuaries; between them and wildlife rehab centers, there's sure a lot of good volunteering to do out there.

kerrdelune said...

I love it - I just love this post. I've always thought that if I ever do have any money, I am going to create a sanctuary for creatures like Cassie. We do it now in a small way by rescuing animals and finding them homes (either with us or friends), but I'd love to be able to rescue many more of Gaia's creatures and give them good homes.

greentangle said...

I'm glad you found something to like here. I'm too grouchy to have as lovely and calm a blog as yours, but sometimes a good mood strikes.

Good luck with getting that sanctuary going.