Today in Works: a new chapter
of Disconnected. See below.
I was reading a blog entry the other day about chickens, Kentucky Fried Chicken and PETA. The consensus among the author and most of the commenters was that chickens are stupid and/or soulless, that KFC is being unfairly criticized for its choice of chicken slaughterers and that PETA is “crazy.”
Now I come from a family of farmers, and I hold no brief for chickens. I had a pet chicken once, and he was stupid, not to mention the most unaffectionate pet I ever had.1 And I certainly hold no brief for People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, which I think could use much of its time more wisely and effectively.
But I cannot disagree with its purposes. All animals, humans included, deserve to be treated as kindly as possible, and I said so in my comment. You know, I’ve previously corresponded quite cordially with some of the people whose thoughts were in that blog entry, and I have great respect for them. So I want them to understand why I feel as I do — and have for some years.
I wrote about it nearly two decades ago:2
Charleston, South Carolina. January 22, 1989.
North of Charleston, where Route 17 expands to four lanes again, the highway is divided by a greenbelt that rolls wide and gentle like a golf course fairway. Except that here, the divots are caused by empty cans, bottles and any other detritus that was smaller than an open car window. One of the things I have learned from walking the highways of America is that roadside trash has become not only a permanent part of our landscape but apparently a permanent part of our consciousness. As motorists, we have become so accustomed to litter along our highways that we notice it only when it is not there. In fact, it’s not so much a matter of noticing it as it is a vague feeling that there is something different about a clean roadside. What’s different is that there is so damned little of it. That’s especially apparent when you walk rather than drive along our nation’s highways. There is no movement to blur the roadside into the landscape. Every piece of trash is there, fixed clearly in your vision.
This section of Route 17 skims between the Intracoastal Waterway and the Francis Marion National Forest, two of the most beautiful assets of South Carolina. Yet here, on their fringe, the trash spreads away from the highway and invades their wilderness, a wilderness that in the past three years has become part of my yard.
These bastards are trashing my yard. Just who the hell do they think is going to pick up their shit?
A final indignity: On the way back to the truck, in a narrow clearing at the edge of the Francis Marion National Forest, I find the mangled remains of a deer squashed into a garbage bag. It was apparently a small animal, and most of it seems to be here, but I can’t tell its gender. There are no antlers, although they may have been cut off, and the internal organs seem to have been gutted. A roadway accident victim? Maybe. But there’s also the other possibility.
I’m so tired of arguing with hunters. Sorry, boys, there just isn’t any sport in killing an animal at the height of its vitality and freedom. The hunters, of course, always counter with the argument that I eat meat that also has to be killed. Yes, I do, and too much of it at that.
Maybe we should reinstitute mealtime prayers by saying thanks not to some deity but to the animals we are eating. And to the fish we take from the sea and the plants we take from the earth.
Expressing gratitude and respect to the living things we put to death would force us to examine our reasons for killing them. Maybe we would eat less meat. And maybe we would raise the animals we do eat on farms that would treat them not like livestock but like demigods, ending their lives mercifully, sacrificially. Maybe we would stop poisoning our crops with chemicals. You don’t think this could happen? It could if we made farms rather than churches tax-exempt.
We could say thanks to the trees that give us air. And to the earth that gives us trees and crops and fish and animals.
Saying thanks seems so little, but as I look at the rotting deer and see the beauty that still shows through its gnarled corpse, I am grateful it has lived. And I realize that after I’m dead, the best I can hope for is that someone will thank me, in spirit if not by name, for having lived.
I pull the garbage bag away from the shoulder of the road until I find a hollow in the grass. I empty the deer’s remains into the hollow and cover them with pine boughs. The dripping, foul-smelling bag I drag away with me.
Within sight of the truck, I find a cluster of empty beer bottles and pick up one. With the beer bottle in one hand and the bag in the other, I return to where I have been parked since last night and deposit my totems in a nearby garbage can.
In the years ahead, I will rarely go for a daily walk without returning with a piece of litter in each hand. And I will never find a two-mile stretch of roadside America where there aren’t at least two pieces of trash. In fact, I will find many stretches where there is so much trash that hundreds of walkers like me couldn’t make a dent in it.
I suppose it’s like a religious ceremony. I know it’s virtually meaningless, but it makes me feel better.
And I do feel better. I guess I have decided there isn’t much difference between a person who throws trash out of a car and a person who stands on the roadside bitching about it.
Today’s new offerings in Works:
• Chapter Four of Jeri Cafesin’s novel Disconnected. Rachel joins family members for a Thanksgiving dinner that reopens old wounds and brings back the tensions and grievances that have alienated her from them.
• Chapter 13 of R.J. Keller’s novel Waiting for Spring. As their weeks of living together progress, Tess and Brian begin bumping elbows and working out the more mundane aspects of their romance. But it is still there, its flames transforming into a glow.
• Chapter 25: Kentfield of Gerard Jones’ nonfiction novel Ginny Good. Gerard and his friend Elliot move in together in mid-1968, and Ginny spends most of her time with them. But her old demons find her before Christmas, and they all go their separate ways, Ginny eventually into a hospital.
– Sid Leavitt
1. You know, old Cluckity was just doing the best he could, surrounded as he was by humans who eventually ate him. I’d had chicken dinners before, and I’ve had them since, but that one was different.
2. The excerpt is from Chapter 65 of Adrift in America, a book found in the nonfiction section of Works. The truck I lived in was camouflaged to look like a sanitation vehicle.