About 20 years ago, I lived on women’s land in Arkansas for a couple of months, and that’s when I intentionally murdered a spider. That event still looms in my mind as one of the worst things I ever did to another animal.
At one point in my stay, the women who lived there permanently had to go to the Bronx for a couple of weeks, leaving me alone with their gardens, their chickens, and their goats.
Arkansas is one of the most fertile places I’ve ever been. When I first arrived on my motorcycle at dusk, the dragonflies thudded in scores on my leather jacket. I’d never in my life seen so many insects, really huge ones — so many armadillos and other enormous mammals hanging around all over the wooded mountain upon which I was living — the trees, vines and bushes so thick they felt impenetrable. One man commented that when he’d been in Colorado the week before, he’d missed the LIFE, the thrum of insects and the hum of other animals, while he went hiking in the relatively sterile under-pine spaces. (Interestingly, this was the man who first showed me how to shoot a gun – a 38 special. I knocked over a tin can.)
I stayed in the womens’ house while they were gone instead of the trailer I otherwise occupied. The first night, I noticed the largest spider I’d ever seen hanging out in the corner of the ceiling above the bathroom tub. Again, not an uncommon sight in Arkansas, an enormous spider, but I felt she had no right to occupy the same space I did.
Now, that corner was at least 20 feet away from the ceiling of the room where my bed was, and the chances of her getting over to my side of the house were minimal at best. However, as I laid on my bed, the full moon streaming through the skylight that had been installed in the slanted adobe wall of the roof, very stoned and very in tune with the sounds of the night, all I could think about was the scary spider making her way over to me. What she would do when she got there was a bit fuzzy, but I knew it wouldn’t be good.
After about an hour, I knew I’d never get to sleep. I got up and rummaged through their cleaning cabinet to find a can of spray foam cleaner. I went over to the spider and sprayed her with the entire contents of the can. She fell from the ceiling when I was about halfway through, and, still spraying, I watched her crawl along the floor, more and more slowly, until she crawled no more. I looked at her and suddenly my fear turned to horror. I’d felt bad before I did the deed, but that wasn’t relevant. I went through with it and murdered her anyway; to have the gall to stand there after the fact and feel bad about my actions made me sick to my stomach.
I had done other horrific things to animals before that time, and did many more before I went vegan. I ate and loved every kind of animal flesh; I bought a leather jacket when I got my first motorcycle; and I went to the zoo every few years or so. But for some reason, that particular incident stuck in my head for years; the memory still haunts me. It makes sense to me now, of course. I murdered her, and for no reason other than my own fear of something that never would have happened. I’d murdered her because she wasn’t furry like a rabbit; she wasn’t four-legged or two-legged like a dog or a human; she belonged to another kingdom altogether. It was stone-cold killing, and that’s what set it apart for me.
Years later, when I was beginning to see the horror of my ways, I was painting a dresser in the back yard of a house I rented with Pattrice, and some of the yellow paint spilled on the ground. I thought nothing of it until I saw a small garden spider walking through the spill, completely coated in toxic yellow paint. I watched in horror as she walked among the tall green (and bright yellow) blades of grass until, finally, she came to an end. I cried for what felt like hours, and felt the (then-fresh) feeling of loathing the human species, myself not exempted, suffuse my entire body.
Active rage and grief were my daily companions then, during that time when I lost so many friends because they couldn’t understand my new awareness of speciesism, let alone the corresponding changes I was making in my own life. It took me many years to learn to bear the burden of being a species-traitor without eroding my ability to find peace of mind, the strength of mind, to keep going.
The point of juxtaposing these stories – one murder, one manslaughter, neither acceptable – is to cast the debate about factory farming versus happy meat and milk in a new light. And by debate, I don’t mean (in this blog post anyway) the endless back and forth about the quality of life animals have when they are factory farmed versus when they are “happily” farmed. I’m talking about the inevitable murders that end all of those lives. The assertion of the happy meat people, of course, is that they murder their animals in a “humane” way, which is of course interesting since they would never apply the same standard to humans; hell, we can’t even agree to have the right to murder ourselves to end terminal illnesses.
In any case, let’s apply this assertion to the two deaths I caused. Was my manslaughter of the second spider any better than my murder of the first because I had no intention to do harm? To me, absolutely. To her, not at all. Both spiders were dead, both smothered by chemicals wielded by my own hand. Their journeys were halted forever, their projects ended, their progeny quashed, for no reason nature would agree upon. Death is death, in that it’s final. Some death is good, like the death of an old, old, raccoon who’s led a long life, and some death is understandable, like the death of a zebra in the claws and mouth of a lion. And some death is inexcusable, like the murder of chickens who have a happy life for years with humans they trust, never knowing that the ultimate goal is having their heads cut off by the same caretakers they had come to trust.
Take a minute and check out the latest blog at Hazel Tree Farm (www.hazeltreefarm.com). The title is “Premeditated chicken murder: Our chickens need to be culled. I’m not looking forward to it.” The gist of the piece is that these people, purportedly loving souls who give their animals the most luxurious and happy of lives, feel the need to murder some of them when they get too old, or too numerous, or too whatever the hell else they think is a problem.
However, that is not the problem. The problem is that these people have decided that killing animals is an indispensable part of human life. They LITERALLY cannot imagine life without exploiting and murdering other animals, I suppose because of some deficiency in their brains, and because of that, they go to patently absurd lengths to justify their own actions.
I mean, come on. If you’re not looking forward to murdering chickens, THEN DON’T DO IT. It’s not brain surgery here, guys. Eating eggs isn’t essential to your life. Eating the flesh of birds isn’t essential to your life (and in fact, the blog writer makes a point to say the chickens, by the time they are murdered, have such tough flesh that they give the corpses to the neighbors so they can feed their cats). So why are they doing it? It’s the particular insanity of the human species; the inability to say gee, THIS ISN’T A GOOD IDEA SO I’LL JUST STOP IT NOW.
But instead, as we know, all sorts of twenty-something neo-hippie hipsters have decided that learning to kill other animals is a good thing. While professing to love the animals they care for (sometimes well and oftentimes not), they participate in activities that are horrifically abusive to those same animals (including MURDERING THEM).
Furthermore, even the chicken situations that seem the most beautific to us might not be how the chickens themselves would prefer to live. How can we know? We look at them through our eyes, not theirs. For all we know, all those fancy breeds humans have created down the years might well wish to die off so their wilder cousins could eventually revert back to their original state. Over our twelve years of living around chickens, we’ve noticed that of the hens who go broody, none of them are so-called broilers, and very few of them are the highly overbred kinds like Buff Orpingtons. Most of the broody ones are either feral or one step away from being feral. Maybe this is their collective way to tell us they know they don’t belong here and they’ll allow the real chickens to come back.
Sounds insane? It might be. Or it might be a sane explanation, but still incorrect. The bottom line is, we just don’t know. So, we have to give our own observations a grain of salt and at least entertain the possibility that they might not be thrilled with the lives we have set forth for them, and might well choose something very different.
And we certainly have to give credit to the possibility that they might not wish to be killed at our whim.
In some ways, death is death. It’s an end. But in other ways, death is not death. Death either comes as a natural part of the cycle of life, or it comes as an unnatural betrayal at the end of an obscenely one-sided deal created by the abuser. If we wish for an equitable life for all species, we need to wish for an equitable death as well. We need to ensure that everyone has a death brought about by a cycle of life that not of our own devising. Spiders need to fall from the ceiling when they’re old and shriveled up, not when they’re sprayed with poison by a scared, twisted city girl. Chickens need to live the lives they choose, dying when they get sick, or caught by an owl, or are old and tired and ready to die — not when their trusted human caretakers have had enough of them, or want another interesting experience to blog about.
We need to do nothing more than stay out of the way. Is there any chance of that, people? Any chance at all?