Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Birth, Life, Death And Rebirth

I mentioned in my last post that lately, there has been a lot of death and loss around us, be it physical, emotional, or material death. Between loosing loved ones, possessions (at times, all of them), old ideas, old selves, everything seems in a flux right now.
The first few months of this year were all about birth, then some sort of watershed came and there has been a lot of the opposite. I don't know if it's because the Year Of The Horse, the forward momentum pushing those on the edge of things onwards, causing carelessness and enabling odd circumstance. 

Maybe it's nothing new, just the same old cycle repeating itself. Or perhaps, I'm still not used to it, I'm still struggling to fathom exactly how this works, how people and things and ideas, come in and out of the circle, stay awhile, move beyond the horizon. They are, after all, the most natural parts of life, birth and death, they occur to someone everyday, and sometimes to the same people (but let's not dwell on that) and yet there's something strange and magical about them, the two short moments on the edge. That seems the perfect metaphor for life really, how its whole, long mundane existence, is determined that which we know nothing about at its beginning and end. 
There was this long moment in my life when death and birth were in no way a part of it. The years I lived in the city at the end of my teens and through my twenties. It's not so unusual really, in this day and age, to lead a life where no one you know dies, or is born. Our grandparents were mostly gone, almost none of my peer group were having children. Living in a world where everyone is young, doing the same thing, living the same life, seemed normal, even though, of course, it is completely odd. 
Now that I live in a community where I'm constantly faced with different stages of life; birth, coming of age, finding yourself, finding a mate, mid-life, aging, growing old and dying, it seems unthinkable to not be exposed to the experience of people of all ages all the time. It seems like the natural way we should live, close to both ends of life and everything in between, always aware of the fact that something new is about to happen and someone else is coming up behind us. There's a strange satisfaction to it, as sense of continuation that I imagine, perhaps folks with kids sometimes feel. 
But  I wasn't going to wax lyrical on life and death. I don't exactly know why everything I write these days turns into a pseudo-new-age-y ramble on the basics of life. I guess that's just where my thoughts are at right now. Maybe it's the season of rebirth, reassessing everything, looking at the mundane facts of life in a little different light.
There are a few things I haven't told you about over the past few months, mostly because I haven't wanted to dwell on it, or because, well, I simply forgot, in the hustle and bustle of daily life. 
For one thing, my chickens died. We had had Smoky, Toasty, Dusty, Rusalka and Emeralda for a long time in a chicken's life, three years. It's always odd when fowls die, because you're not supposed to mourn for them. They're a farm animal, livestock. The hardiness in the face of  a livestock animal's death is considered a toughness test in 21st century homesteading. We seem to imagine that our great grandparents, or the imaginary real farmers of an earlier time, didn't flinch when they had to chop of the head of a rooster, or end the life of pig. That imbuing all animals with the personality and emotion we afford our pets, is somehow a sign of weakness. I think that's bullshit. The reason why I like the term "animal husbandry", is that it implies a connection with that animal, a commitment to its well-being, a commitment to a swift death and maybe even a commitment to love it while its alive. Maybe it's my religious bent, or maybe it's an over-sensitivity, but it seems to me that everything deserves to have its death mourned. 

I think this is particularly the case if the relationship you have with your animals is the agreement that in the end you will have to kill them, or if they die because of some failure in "husbandry" on your part. Our chickens, for instance, died because we failed to adequately check to make sure the roof on the coop was weasel proof.

Those five chickens had a happy life up until the point they died. That's a point of pride to me. They had good food, room to roam, they were cared for and as free as a domestic animal can be. I'm hoping to provide the next twelve the same. They run around the yard trying to catch bugs with erratic flight patterns, as though they've always done so. They know how to make and give themselves a dust bath, they don't have to be taught anything, or read any books on how to live.

On sunday we watched a baby goat be born, open its eyes and try to stand up. The birth was hard, the baby, Calypso, was huge, the mama goat mewling in pain, the people delivering her pulling with all their might, fearing that the kid would die, or the mother. Within hours it was walking around on its own wobbly little legs. Presumed dead, now very much alive.


  1. I think Spring in particular just really brings to mind thoughts of life and death. Here especially when you look out, you see this dead landscape of bare trees and brown grass, but when you look harder, there are baby birds and the odd new butterfly and tiny spiders and young squirrels, coming into life despite things and rowdily proclaiming their life to the world in the their birdsong or lonely night frog song.

    When I was young we raised pigs, turkeys and ducks, and the one season a raccoon with rabies was picking off our ducks no matter what we did to try and 'coon proof their enclosure. I was maybe 13 at the time when our first baby duck hatched out and I was so taken with that little ball of fluff, defiantly springing forth even though its parents hadn't really tried to help it hatch at all. It was taken by the raccoon too, and I was pretty heartbroken, but the ducks had only been kept for food, like our pigs and turkeys, and as attached as I was to all of them I knew that eventually they would die by our hands in order to help sustain us. Even my father, who has been raising farm animals for decades doesn't take lightly the process of taking their life. It really helped me learn to value all life, and now I thank fish for their life and their flesh when I clean a catch, and stroke a deer tenderly and say words of thanks before cutting into it to begin the butchering process. That connection is what makes us really human and keeps us grounded in the reality of things, in my opinion. (and that was enough of a text wall comment, so I leave it at that :P )

  2. What a perfect ending to this post.

    I just finished a book a friend lent me called "Farm City", about an urban farmer who raises chickens, waterfowl, rabbits and pigs on her small, rented Oakland, CA, property in the middle of the ghetto. Her relationship with her animals is one that has been lingering in my mind since finishing the book last week - her animals were here sustenance, but also, they were sacred. When her turkey as killed by an opussum, she grieved. At the end of the book she takes her pig to a slaughterhouse and has a bad feeling about the woman, but chocks it up to inexperience. She stresses to the woman that she wants to be present at the killing, but then receives a call to say her pigs are ready for pick up. The scene where she finds out her pigs' fate is so haunting, so gut-wrenchingly heartbreaking that it has stuck with me. Your relationship to you chickens remind me of that sacred relationship between animal and person, and you are one hundred per cent justified in mourning.


  3. I really agree Milla, every living thing deserves to be mourned (children has a strong sense of this, and it's one of the aspects of my childhood I have never outgrown) and it also deserves to live fully, to be free it they are wild, to be loved and seen if we are raising them, to die a proper death. This topic actually makes me way too emotional for me to write, or talk, about it, since I start not just thinking about, but feeling, how many wrongness is going on in our world today, among humans and non-humans, who are not allowed to live fully, or freely, or to be seen at all.

    But I am so happy for Calypso and her mother, and for your new pretty, curious chickens. They are definitely seen, and watched, and even photographed, in a special loving way. The whole fowl and duck family always make me want to paint them right here and now :o)

    Love you Milla.

  4. i love when you wax lyrical on life and death, and no one is more apt for the job! your island perspective is especially illuminating, surrounded by such diversity in age and life experience. down here in our robust community it is mostly babies, babies, babies these days and i rue the day that we face death. but trying to see the whole picture, the whole big rolling wheel of LIFE with these opposite cushioning ends of the spectrum, makes it all a lot more beautiful and a lot more cohesive. and i agree with what cel said, springtime brings these things to mind. i remember the season i watched the birds nest, the eggs then the hatchlings then the fledglings, and then...they all were found dead. i kept desperately hoping the others would be okay, but none were. one by one they died and i never knew how or why. it seems a bird's life is a fragile thing, a reminder that really all life is a fragile thing. which is why, like i wrote today, i treasure the very basic but so fulfilling feeling of feeling Alive.

  5. Such beautiful, poetic language to deal with a very real part of this existence of ours. x

  6. Ah, when one of my pullets died at the beginning of the year, I felt a little silly telling people how much it affected me, but I figured I couldn't be the only one who would cry over a bird. I agree that everything deserves to be mourned. I don't think I could help it if I tried.