Animals

Lobsters and the 7 circles of crazy

The descent into madness comes quickly.

One month, you’re sitting around the breakfast table scarfing down bacon and sausage links. The next, you’re badgering the bewildered cheese guy at the deli counter about the lobsters; specifically, about how many people are buying them every day.

It has come to this, because it had to come to this.  You care for a hermit crab for a year, and eventually you start to think about lobsters.

And when I think about lobsters, this is where I inevitably wind up:

Live Lobster Tank, Seafood Section, Wegmans Grocery Store, Westwood, Massachusetts, USA. Image shot 2016. Exact date unknown.

Meaning, I’ve had it with the supermarket lobsters.

I’m sick of walking past the cloudy tanks of miserable, bound creatures, and averting my eyes, or worse, looking them in the eye.  And I resent having to do this so a handful of people who aren’t bothered by the treatment of lobsters can have an opulent meal that they want but — let’s be honest here — don’t need.

Moreover, it’s not like my comrades at the Stop & Shop are having lobster every night or even every weekend. In fact, I’ve never seen anyone picking out a lobster, and I go to the grocery store more often than most people brush their teeth.

Who are these people? Do they only come out when the moon is full? And why do their preferences matter more than mine and maybe yours?

To be fair, I’ve eaten many a lobster over the years, but it’s always been in restaurants where I never had to select the victim. If I’d had to, I would have ordered something else.

It’s one thing to eat an animal that’s already dead; quite another to point a finger and say imperiously, “You there! You shall die so I can eat!”

I’m not a vegan or an activist for any cause. I’m just an ordinary mom who feeds birds and the occasional feral cat, and enjoys straightening bent trees trapped in the snow, and kidnapped a hermit crab once by mistake. I’ve tried to be a vegetarian before, and it has always lasted about 10 days.

But I am troubled by the practice of boiling live lobsters and keeping these solitary, long-lived creatures in crowded, miserable conditions with no food, sometimes for months, as they await their fate.

To admit this publicly is to invite ridicule, to risk being thought of as a sentimental, anthropomorphizing fool or worse, one of “those people” – zealous animal-rights activists who operate on the edge of propriety. They do so because that’s the only way to get anyone to pay attention, because so many of us spend our lives in a food coma, and have neither time nor desire to think deeply about what happened in an animal’s life before it wound up on our plate. And for that, many of us “normal” people call them crazy.

Similar to Dante’s seven circles of hell, there are seven circles of crazy:

  • Runners
  • People who are still playing Pokemon Go in the middle of the night
  • Smokers
  • People who believe they have the universe all figured out
  • People who chain themselves to doomed trees
  • Peter Singer
  • People who care about what happens to lobsters and crabs

Even Singer, the controversial ethicist and the thosiest of “those people,” has written that he’s not 100 percent certain that lobsters feel pain. And I hope that C.S. Lewis and some of the imperial scientists are right, that the rudimentary structure of animals contain the letters A, P, N and I, but “since they cannot read they can never build it up into the word PAIN.”

But given that lobsters’ behavior when tossed in a pot of boiling water looks suspiciously like that of a creature in agony, and given new discoveries about animal intelligence, Singer (and many other super-smart people whose views are not as controversial) believes that human decency demands we give them the benefit of the doubt.

Sweden recently joined New Zealand in making it illegal to boil lobsters alive; chefs have to stun them first. Lobsters in Sweden headed for the dinner table must also be transported in salt water, not on ice.

It’s a start.

Fourteen years ago, the late David Foster Wallace wrote a probing essay about lobsters and pain that, astonishingly, was published in Gourmet magazine. It’s worth reading if you’ve never thought much about your long-standing habit of eating animals. As is Matthew Scully’s provocative book Dominion, which every meat-eater who professes to love animals should carefully read and consider.

Meanwhile, back to the supermarket tanks.

Can we agree that, if Stop & Shop and Publix were stringing up live lambs or chickens in their meat departments and making shoppers tell the butcher which one they wanted, most of us would soon be militant vegans, or at least buying our groceries somewhere else?

The lobsters are there because A) they’re not cute and cuddly and B) because we’ve all been told ad nauseam that they cannot feel pain, even though nobody knows that for sure, and some studies of crabs exposed to electric shocks suggest that they do.

There’s also a C):

The lobsters are there because it’s never occurred to those of us bothered by the tanks to inform the manager of our displeasure and ask the store to stop carrying live lobsters.

This is what I want.  I want to take my stack of store receipts, and the stories about Sweden and New Zealand, and tell the butcher and the store manager of my local supermarkets that I will not shop there again until they stop carrying live lobsters. It’s not like I don’t have options. There’s always Whole Foods, which stopped stocking live lobsters in 2006, and Safeway (according to PETA), in addition to superstores like Target and Walmart.

I haven’t done it yet.

But I did take the tiniest step, summoning enough nerve to ask the guy behind the deli counter where their lobsters came from and how many they sell a day. Just starting the conversation.

Uh, a dozen? he said, although it was clear he really had no idea, and he was looking at me somewhat nervously, as if I was about to smear blood on the counter and chain myself to the tank.

Just by asking a few benign questions, I’d become one of “those people.”

I’m not. Not yet.

But I am increasingly aware of the hypocrisy of loving animals and eating animals, and cognizant that those of us who love animals (just not enough to stop eating them) should be grateful for Singer and all “those people” who’ve been doing the heavy lifting on the front lines of animal welfare all these years.

I’m also aware that, if the loathsome tanks are ever to disappear, all of us “normal” people are going to have to join them.

 

Life finds a way

As possibly the only person on the planet who has grown grass on the floor of a Corvette, I shouldn’t be surprised when life emerges in improbable places.  Like a dry, dusty stall floor with no sunlight or water. corndogstick 022

These weeds will get water now (at least until they’re noticed and eaten by the creatures that share their space). I admire their spunk and defiance and am happy to help out with their resistance against circumstances that would wilt lesser plants.

The woods in New England are full of things that shouldn’t be alive, starting with every single tree.  Each spring, when the snow melts, I’m awed by the fragile pine seedlings that still stand resolutely, even after being buried by a couple of feet of snow for a month or more.  New England winters can break people, but trees are made of stronger stuff, it seems.

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When I walk the dog in the woods, I look for young trees that have been trapped at odd angles when other trees fell on them; often you can pull them free so they can grow tall and straight.

I get no appreciation for this; in fact, for every tree I “rescue,” there’s another one ready to point out that they can manage just fine on their own, thank you very much.

Even trees that get clobbered by other trees when a Nor’easter blows through find a way to endure and thrive without my help.  Like this one, flattened, but growing beautifully on its side; horizontal but still green: cubbook 033

And this one, my favorite: an impressive young pine that somehow managed to grow its trunk into a loop a roller coaster might envy. Nevertheless, it persisted, you might say.cubbook 042

I still straighten bent saplings when I can, but it’s only for the rush of endorphins the act gives me, the so-called “helper’s high” —  not that they need me to live. Although that grass in the stall is looking kind of thirsty.

 

Mamas, don’t let your puppies grow up to eat corndogs

If hotdogs are bad for you, corndogs are worse – they’re carcinogens on a stick, breaded and fried.

So I hate to admit that you’ll occasionally find a box of State Fair corndogs in our freezer. Or, you did until one nearly sent us to the Animal Emergency Clinic.

A couple of teens were eating corndogs around the TV and one set his plate on the coffee table for approximately 3 seconds, which, as it turns out, is the exact amount of time it takes for a bad border collie to lunge across the room and attack an unattended corndog.

Much shrieking ensued, and half a corndog was wrested from the bad border collie’s mouth. The rest vanished down his throat, stick and all.

If this ever happens to you, don’t Google “My dog ate a corndog.”

This happens with some frequency, it turns out, and the resulting vet visits, x-rays and stomach surgeries don’t always turn out well. Plus, some of the advice on the internet seems downright suspicious, like feeding the dog bread.

Jason was breathing normally and didn’t seem in distress (unlike the teen who lost his corndog). We offered him a little rice a half-hour later (the dog, not the teen), and he took it happily. So I recalled the advice of my longtime farrier who once gruffly told me, when Foggy was limping, “Well, you can panic if you want to, or you can wait and see what happens.”

This has turned out to be a good mantra for much of life.

So I decided to hold off on the panicking and monitor Jason closely, having neither the time, desire nor trust fund to spend the night at the animal ER.

The next day, Jason walked, frolicked and ate normally. There was no hint of difficulty in swallowing or breathing, no behavior that seemed abnormal.  I started to hope, as improbable as it seemed, that somehow he’d chewed the corndog properly and it broke into pieces and was digesting normally. We started poking through his poop, looking for evidence. But no corndog arrived, no corndog stick.

Then, on the third day, with no notice, he suddenly threw up this: corndogstick 027

Half a corndog stick, intact, with a scarily jagged end.  How it didn’t puncture his esophagus, I can’t tell you. In fact, looking at this depiction of a dog’s digestive system, I don’t know how it got into his esophagus at all, or came back up.

In his terrific book, “If Our Bodies Could Talk,” James Hamblin talks about how humans could theoretically die from swallowing a tongue ring. If the point punctures your bowel, the bile and intestinal flora would trickle into the abdominal cavity and cause sepsis, which kills more people than cancer.

All I know is I have never been so happy to see a used corndog stick, and as long as we have a dog, I think we’ll stick to eating corndogs at fairs.

Note to anyone who found this post by Googling “My dog ate a corndog” — if your dog is in distress, please take him to the vet. We were lucky. My farrier’s wise advice not withstanding, sometimes panicking is entirely appropriate when you have a bad dog.

Thoughts on the turkey death cult

So, about that pagan turkey circle of death….

In case you missed it, it’s a 24-second video filmed Thursday by a Boston man who came across a band of wild turkeys circling a dead cat. The only way it could have been creepier is if they’d all been wearing black robes with hoods. Stephen King wishes he’d thought of a scene as spooky as this. Helpfully, one YouTube user set it to music from “The Shining.” turkeygoround

As the video ricocheted across the planet, wildlife experts weighed in with theories on what the turkeys were doing. Most agreed on a sort of “cat scan” theory — that the turkeys were carefully assessing a threat.

Anyone who has ever seen a turkey attack will be skeptical of this. More likely is that one turkey started circling, and the others fell into formation and didn’t know how to stop.

There are other YouTube instances of turkey-go-round: this one of turkeys running around a tree; this one, of a female turkey running around a male; and this one, of a solitary turkey circling a headstone at a cemetery.

As much as the internet would like to believe that the circle of doom is a sign of the impending apocalypse, it’s probably just a sign that turkeys, with their acorn-sized brains, aren’t very bright.

Also, it should be noted that human beings, whose brains are significantly bigger, also engage in bizarre circling behavior, like this.nascar

A dirge averted

We come home from church a few weeks ago to find that Atlas had died.

Or so it seemed.

There was, outside of his shell, a limp, still Atlas.  Katherine looked in the aquarium and screamed.

We knew that hermit crabs molted, shedding their exoskeletons occasionally, but this was not a skeleton but a whole hermit crab, intact: antennae, claws, eyes on a stick.

It appeared that Atlas had succumbed to terminal depression. Or that the Pacific seawater that we buy in a box was contaminated.

We should have been ecstatic. We were free, free, FREE from hermit-crab bondage! We no longer had to worry about whether he was eating, whether he was lonely, whether he was suffocating because we hadn’t changed the water frequently enough, whether the cats would notice there was free food for the taking in that strange glass box on the kitchen counter, whether Atlas was still angry and plotting revenge.

Oddly enough, we were crushed. It seemed a personal failing that we couldn’t keep a shrimp of a crab alive for even a year with the finest accouterments that PetCo had to offer. We’d kidnapped him, and then we’d killed him. It was a sad end to a sad life.

Only it wasn’t.

Katherine believed.

Doubting Thomas that I am, I departed the death scene after a few minutes, but like Mary at Lazarus’ tomb, she weepily remained there, looking for any small sign of life. And after about 20 minutes, she shrieked again.

Damned if there wasn’t a hermit crab in that empty shell.

Again.

He had molted. It was the most astonishing thing. Unlike a snake that sheds a skin that is clearly an abandoned outer layer, Atlas shrugged off a second self that was an exact replica of himself. It was as if there were twin Atlases, and one killed the other. They were indistinguishable except that one was dead and one was alive.

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The now joyful Katherine went to Google and learned that, gross as it seems, hermits eat their exoskeletons, so we left the body in the tank for a week. Atlas would have none of it, so one day, I reverently lifted the remains out of the tank with a spatula and buried them in the planter on the deck. Old Atlas will fertilize spring flowers.

New Atlas seemed tired for a few days; miracles take energy when you do them yourself.

But soon he was back to clunking his way around the tank, and like marathoner Ryan Hall, he seems a little beefier these days, a little more capable of withstanding his miserable captivity until we can return him to the waters off Sullivan’s Island.

As we learned from his death and resurrection, that eventual parting won’t be without tears.

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