Tag Archive 'morality'

Jun 08 2009

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Wild Things

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I read in the paper the other day that Alaskan state officials have cracked down on a guy named Charlie Vandergaw for feeding the bears.  Evidently, he’s been doing this for quite some time now.  Vandergaw lives by himself in a remote cabin and has befriended large, wild browns to the point where he can pet them. He’s been featured on a cable television network called Animal Planet.  No doubt he has plenty of fans.  But officials at Alaska Fish and Game can’t abide by it, so he’s been charged with illegally feeding game and could face a $10,000 fine or a year in jail for it.

Anyone who has a bird feeder in the back yard or who has tossed a nut to a chipmunk creeping into camp can relate to Vandergaw, I’m sure.  We all know we’re not supposed to make wild animals dependent upon us for food, but it’s hard to resist feeding them.  They’re so cute.  Besides, there’s something about the tentative approach of a cautious creature that urges us to share our abundance.  But a bear once fed will look again to humans for a free meal.  What happens if an unsuspecting picnicker doesn’t comply?  Everything is all very warm and fuzzy on Animal Planet, but sometimes our furry buddies get ugly off camera.  That’s what the Alaskan officials are thinking about, anyhow.

Cockeyed libertarians look at the situation and see the government oppressing a gentle, old man who’s not hurting anyone.  Calloused Alaskans believe the grizzlies will eventually turn on Vandergaw.  Still others see this as a strange form of profiteering.  After all, someone had to pay for the ton and a half of dog food that our TV grizzly man has provided.  All this misses the point, I think.  My question is this:  When does the wild cease being the wild?

We’re all guilty of it.  Nature lovers have their preserves.  Scientists have their tranquilizing guns and radio collars.  Hunters want the wild managed to optimize conditions for their prey.  Urban planners have their green spaces.  Even materialistic, money-mad developers, who clearly don’t give a damn about wild nature, still like manicured gardens and golf courses.  We all want a piece of the wild under our thumb.  It’s hard to leave it alone.  And why should we?

Heaven on earth is often depicted as a place where the lion lies down with the lamb.  This biblical notion has infected all of us more than we realize.  One could argue that it’s written into the very definition of civilization.  “Peace on earth” and “dog eat dog” are mutually exclusive concepts, aren’t they?  Why not turn the entire planet into a garden and make all creatures our pets?

I don’t want to belabor this point.  I’m sure that you can see quite clearly where I’m going with all this.  I read about some guy chumming up to Alaskan browns and a part of me, having been exposed to them once, wants to do the same.  Then it occurs to me how easy it is to love something to death.  Truth is, in order for something to be truly wild it has to remain beyond our control.  And that’s a concept we all find difficult to accept.

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Jan 19 2009

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Passing Judgment

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I got out of bed yesterday, dressed in thermals and wools, then stepped out the door while it was still dark.  I woke up in a bad mood for some reason – maybe I had been pondering the human condition in my sleep.  All I know is that I felt a powerful urge to go for a long walk and air out my stinky thoughts.  Since my wife and dog were visiting a friend for the weekend, there was nothing to prevent me from breaking the morning routine.  So out the door I went.

At first I kept to the sidewalk, but snowdrifts made walking there difficult so I moved to the street.  On a wintry Sunday morning before daybreak, it didn’t matter.  A car cruised by every once in a while, but I had the street to all myself for the most part.  I imagined trying to explain to some policeman why I was prowling the town.  But that was only my stinky thoughts creeping to the forefront of my consciousness, so I let it go.

I listened the other day as our outgoing president made his last speech, justifying eight years of ineptitude and that, I think, is what put me over the edge.  He passed judgment on himself as a way of setting the record straight, before anyone else could do so.  He passed judgment on everyone and everything in sight, seizing the moral high ground.  Or so he thought.  But history will not be kind to him.  I’m sure of that.

We all do it.  Passing judgment is as common as passing gas.  It’s an integral part of being human.  But there are times when it seems to me like the root of all evil.  I recently read several books about the Eastern Front in World War Two and was appalled by what the Nazis and Soviets did to each other there, along with anyone else in the way.  Tens of millions of people died, combatants and non-combatants alike, as each side pursued its morally righteous agenda by sheer force.  80% of the war was fought on that front and none of it was pretty.  To what end?  Misery, cruelty, death, destruction, and ultimately back to square one:  the Cold War, taking sides again, us and them.  And so on and so on . . .

Where does it all end?  According to those passing judgment, it never does – not until heaven on earth has been firmly established.  All we have to do is stand tall against the bad guys and good will prevail, right?  This is precisely what our departing president believes and why the world is such a mess.  I pray that the incoming president has more sense, but there’s a stink in the air as the victors of the last election celebrate.  Is that the smell of moral righteousness?  It smells to me like something dead.

As I finished my frigid walk, I flushed a murder of crows from a long row of conifers lining a side street.  They whirled about the bleached landscape in predawn light, cawing with unusual menace before settling into a few naked maples.  I was cold, achy, sweaty but feeling much better than I’d felt an hour earlier.  Walking is like that. I was tempted to read something into the sudden presence of so many carrion-eaters, but quickly jettisoned the thought.  “Give it a break,” I mumbled, reminding myself how easy it is to pass judgment and how little good comes from it.   Then I went home to a hot cup of coffee and breakfast.  And the day began in snowy stillness and beauty despite the endless gray sky overhead.

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