Saturday, February 26 2005
I spent the daytime hours helping build a pig barn at a farm animal sanctuary just west of Woodstock, not the one for which I normally do volunteer computer work, but a newer one that's sort of an offshoot of a mothership sanctuary in Watkins Glen. I don't know if it's such a good idea having two completely separate farm animal sanctuaries in such close proximity to one another competing for volunteers and donations, but the people running it are fun.
The major task today was the attachment of green pine siding to the previously-erected pole-and-beam framework. The major complication was several piles of earth from the excavation of the poles' footings. These piles stood in the way of the bottom-most parts of the walls but were frozen solid. We had to beat at them with wrecking bars. We attempted to thaw out one particularly large pile using boiling water with only minimal success.
As we worked, we observed a traditional break down of gender roles, with the men toiling outside with the hammers and power tools while the women (the wives of the other men there, with the exception of Gretchen, who hadn't come) running errands and cooking a hearty vegan lunch. Despite the cold conditions (circa 20 degrees Fahrenheit) working outside wasn't too miserable because the sun was shining brightly and there was no wind to speak of, at least not until some point in the afternoon. It was good to be away from my computer and working with my hands.
It bears mentioning at this point that I'm somewhat conflicted with regard to support for farm animal sanctuaries. On the one hand it's good to support well-meaning idealism and empathy for our fellow creatures, even those bred for millenia to satisfy specific human needs. On the other hand it feels like a naïve luxury and I'm continually nagged by the sense that resources would be better allocated if they were spent preserving natural environments populated by creatures that haven't been shaped by our species.
I suppose part of the motivation for doing right by farm animals (as well as cats and dogs) is the sense of guilt from our having "done this to them." At this point in their evolution they depend on us completely, whereas Wood Ducks and Fishers can make it on their own as long as we leave them in peace. But it's easy for people obsessed with domesticated animals to lose sight of the bigger picture. Farm animal enthusiasts can't always be trusted to be aware of or consider the rights of wild animals. As an example, I've heard vegans talking about new houses they're building in places that didn't used to have houses. Just today I was helping to build a new barn (where pigs will be allowed to live to old age) in a field that surely feeds a population of wild deer, all of whom would also like to live to old age. And what about the creatures who used to live in the big pine trees that were felled and cut into the siding that I spent hours nail-gunning into place?
This evening I went with Gretchen to the annual Ulster County SPCA Fur Ball, a massive fundraiser held at the Kingston Holiday Inn. It was a much bigger and classier event than I could have imagined, with seating for over three hundred $50/plate participants. (Gretchen and I only had to pay a total of $25 because she is a volunteer). Everyone was all dressed up in snazzy outfits, penciling in their silent auction bids on various items. Normally we'd be inclined to bid on stuff, but every raffle box was bursting with tickets, indicating a long odds on winnings. As for the silent auction items, pickings were thin-to-nonexistent within our æsthetic. "If I see one more painting on a frying pan," Gretchen was heard to vow rhetorically. Much of the featured art had an obnoxious patriotic taint to it, but this didn't keep people from bidding on it. I think there are a lot of boneheaded conservatives in Ulster County who nevertheless love animals and support their local SPCA. I don't know what such people do when they pay $50 for a plate at a benefit and no meat is served.
The highlight of the ball was the showing of a short film made at the Ulster County SPCA. It featured many familiar cats and animals being cute or getting adopted. For us the best scene was the brief one in which Pitunia was being led away to her new home. (Gretchen had sent out an email into her "network" advertising Pitunia's plight and eventually she wound up in the home of a rescue Pit Bull lover up in Catskill.)
Dinner was vegetarian but was comprised mostly of deep-fried eggplant, a vegetable for which Gretchen has a deep-seated aversion.
Despite the generous $5 glasses of wine, I wasn't having an especially good time because I knew almost nobody there and Gretchen kept going off to talk with others, most of whom, it's interesting to note, were lesbians.
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