Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Neil Young & The Ferrets

Tonight, for my last night of television for as long as I live here, I plan to watch a couple PBS shows, one about Neil Young and one about ferrets. Neil Young & The Ferrets--definitely sounds like one of his electric phases to me. And Neil sometimes has a bit of a rodenty look himself. I do realize ferrets are actually part of the weasel family, but somehow it seems more derogatory to say Neil looks weaselly, so just play along, OK?

I didn't buy that many Neil albums over the years but Decade belongs in every collection, and in the years after college when I shared a house with a few alumni Comes A Time and Rust Never Sleeps were in heavy rotation on the turntable. Playing with the street address, we called our place The 420 Eastern States of No-Mind Institute and sent out holiday cards recounting our fictional adventures during the year. The younger sister of one of my housemates wrote a song about the place which included a line about Neil Young wailing away on the stereo. She wrote one for me too, but we never got the chance to find out if our attraction might have lasted as a long term relationship. Having reread some of her old letters recently, I'll put that one in the regrets column.

In 2003, I paid attention to Neil for the first time in many years when he came out with Greendale, a bluesy collection of related songs which by the final track, Be the Rain, led to some eco-warrior behavior on the part of character Sun Green. I wasn't crazy about the electric version which came out on CD but it did include a DVD of one of the European shows where Neil performed all the songs solo and acoustic with lots of additional info on the characters between songs. At the time I accumulated copies of many of those shows and thought the material really shone in that format.

About the same time, I was spending a year as a zoo docent here. I've never been a huge zoo fan--even without considering the ethical issues, my main reaction when I visit one is intense sadness, and I lived here several years before I even visited the zoo. When I finally did, I started feeling a strong need to have some connection with animals in my life and I wound up volunteering.

For the most part, I don't think zoos accomplish the education mission they like to publicize, and most zoogoers didn't seem to really have much respect for the animals. But sometimes I'd speak with someone who got the big picture or who had a lot of enthusiasm about what they were learning. I stopped being a docent years ago but I still sometimes make a similar connection when I'm in the park downtown watching the peregrine falcons, and it still feels great to get someone excited about the natural world, more so in the falcons' case because there aren't any cages involved.

One of my favorite connections during my time at the zoo involved the ferrets in the education room. This was a room with animals which I would take out of their containers so people, mostly kids, could get a better look and maybe touch the animals. The critters ranged from millipedes and cockroaches to snakes and rabbits and ferrets. Ferrets are prone to cancers, and that was what led to a conversation I had with one young girl.

I don't really remember the circumstances which led to it--whether she missed one of the ferrets she was used to seeing, or if I told her I couldn't take one out because he was sick, or if I was having a conversation with an adult about issues with having a ferret as a pet. Whatever led to it, she began passionately talking about how we should take just as good care of ferrets with cancer as we do humans with cancer. And I felt proud to realize I had a little eco-warrior/animal liberator in training on my hands. My very own little Sun Green. I hope you're still being the rain, Sun.

P.S. Black bears frequently wander around Duluth but it's quite rare to see one back in my old southeastern Massachusetts area so the one who is wandering there now has been the subject of an article in the Boston Globe. After a couple posters made ridiculous comments about the ACLU and socialistic gun control, someone with the user name of George Heyduke (sic) posted about bitter right-wingnuts finding any excuse to turn every article into one of their wacky diatribes. In the interest of protecting the bear and amusing Monkey Wrench fans, I replied that we always have bears wandering here, but sensible bitter right-wingnuts are seldom seen.


Jackijo said...

I have never liked zoos either because of how uncomfortable they make me feel and your words "intense sadness" say it well. I think the mission of zoos may be part education, but display and entertainment for humans is what seems to attract the crowds. Then perhaps a few will be touched as the girl you met. I decided to be a docent at the Desert Botanical Garden but somehow that has led to my learning more about birds that live in the desert. So this year I have found myself educating the public about birds and their relationships to plants. Sometimes a Cactus Wren, a Verdin, or a Gila Woodpecker will show up when I am speaking. For some reason, when I put name to the bird and show people a nest, their eyes are opened. Perhaps I am dreaming, but I think they go home a little bit changed inside.

greentangle said...

There are definitely times you can tell you've had an impact. Last week one guy got very excited about the falcons and told me I'd made his day by pointing them out and telling him about them. Said he and his wife watch Animal Planet and such but hadn't realized stuff like that was going on right around him. And I think if you can show relationships like you're doing with birds and plants, that's even better. I should have a good post about the falcons within a few days.