Lost, Recovered, and Reintegrated

What makes a scavenger?  It makes sense that people who lived through the Great Depression or post-War reconstruction would find uses for things that were discarded and cheap, or that they would store and save things, being used to rationing and want.  I was reading a book titled  Art Making, Collections, and Obsessions recently and there was a story about a family cleaning out their grandmother’s house after her death.  They discovered an envelope whose contents were revealed by the label: “pieces of string too small to use.”  Now that really points to a reluctance to discard even the questionably useful!  However, the mentality behind it is one that sprang from calculated frugality and rigorous control over scarce resources.

Keeping bits and pieces can make sense symbolically too.  Think of the brilliant Dadaist collagist Kurt Schwitters, a prolific force in Hanover.  When faced with the loss of faith in humanity, technology, and “progress” many people felt due to W.W.I and its mechanized slaughter, he picked up and saved detritus: ticket stubs, old newspapers, pieces of wood, rusted metal, cardboard…”merz” he called it.  He was the original dumpster diver and trash connoisseur.  From those recovered and prized fragments he created sophisticated and stunning works of art.  It’s as if this restoration project, this reintegration, helped him become psychically whole again.  Quite a poignant project really.  

So, depression era scavenging, post-War hoarding – these are understandable.  But scavenging in contemporary times?  Perhaps now it’s more of an anti-capitalist imperative.  A counter to planned obsolescence and massive waste.  There is a French film titled (in translation) The Gleaners and I (directed by Agnes Varda, 2009).  It documents the age-old practice of gleaning after the harvest, but also looks at people who arrive at public markets after they close and eat their way through mounds of discarded produce and bread, taking discarded yet unspoiled food home.  

Some people are just more willing than others to embrace the patina of life, things that have rusted, things that have a history that resonates in the marks made upon them, imperfect beautifully distressed things, things that are awaiting repurposing.  And some people embrace the treasure hunt.  I’ve seen those people trying to haul down the road the pieces of interestingly shaped driftwood they’ve found on the beach.  I am one of those people.  I see something and I think “even if I can’t use that, some sculptor somewhere could…”


House of Forty “Paws”

 The positive power of pets…the total number of legs belonging to the animal creatures that live in this house is forty, which often astounds other people.  One dog (Chica), two cats (Gracie and Rolo), two bearded dragons (Frida and Diego), one leopard gecko (Mango), and four fire-bellied toads (Squeak, Eggroll, Little Little and Little Big).  

All of them were rescued except for the toads, although we raised two of the toads from eggs laid by the females. You could call this last fact a survival miracle, but what it really took was a huge amount of work and research. Example: me running around outside with a butterfly net trying to catch small insects like aphids to feed them, because even one week old crickets were too big.

Regarding the reptiles – we are quite hardcore about this – they are not an advisable hobby, particularly for kids.  It takes a great deal of knowledge and money to care for them properly.  One actually has to maintain various ecosystems — cricket houses and containers of worms — in addition to the habitations of the pets themselves (as well as coming to terms with their deaths as a food source — imagine being eaten alive).  A back-up plan must be in place in case the power goes out (they’ll die without the appropriate lighting conditions and temperature control).  They have to be taken to the vet if they’re sick.  Reptile vets will tell you that they often don’t see reptiles until they are far too ill to be saved.  

We do not condone reptiles living in captivity, but we want to give them the best possible life while they’re in existence.  Most reptiles survive one to two years in captivity.  Ours have been living with us (and they didn’t come to us as babies) for eight years!  We never realized how much of a commitment this would truly be. During that eight year period one toad (Bubble) and one leopard gecko (Chutney) have died.

People are much more willing to take cats and dogs to the vet, but the way veterinary medicine has changed, they now have to make choices about surgical opportunities, chemotherapy, and other advanced interventions that can be life-saving, but are so expensive that people sometimes resist treating their pets as they would themselves.

A few years ago our cat Gracie was diagnosed with hepatic lipidosis, a serious and potentially fatal illness.  She recovered – both of us had to learn how to administer numerous drugs, inject medications, and monitor her progress. Needless to say, our work lives were disrupted.  There was no surgery necessary for Gracie, but a feeding tube was temporarily inserted in her neck through which we had to put blended food.  The diagnostic tests and frequent veterinary visits added up to $10,000.  Sometimes when people learn of that sum they think we are out of our minds.  Yet, everyday Gracie’s amazing personality and laugh-out-loud antics make that substantial cost diminish into a mere memory.  We refer to her as “the golden cat.”  We like to keep our vet on retainer!  

Sometimes an intervention or more testing might cause the animal additional pain and suffering.  When that happens, you need a vet who will be there for you when you decide to have the animal euthanized.  This is what happened to us when our cat Flora had numerous health complications and further testing was no guarantee of her recovery.  We let her go, but had to take her to an emergency facility that would accommodate our wishes as soon as we decided.  Waiting longer would have been unbearable. 

So why all these pets people ask?  Yes, it makes it next to impossible to go on vacation, because just thinking about arranging proper care for all the creatures can be mind-boggling.  Yes, we’ve probably spent an entire mortgage on their veterinary care, food, environments, and entertainment.  And yes, sometimes it’s a pain when we’re tired and have other things we’d rather do, yet we have to clean out the toad tank, or give Mango olive oil drops because he’s constipated, or remember to give Chica her thyroid medication and ear drops, or make sure the cats are offered the chance to go out in their “Catio” and watch the birds and squirrels in the back yard (they have a safe enclosed outdoor space so they do not get abducted or eaten by raccoons and coyotes).  

Pets can be time-consuming, expensive, and inconvenient, but that is the price of having them that people need to be prepared to pay.  Nothing is more tragic and agonizing than seeing sick animals that are being neglected, or animals who need, but are not receiving, medical attention, or animals that are beaten or abandoned.  No wonder that sometimes animals are far easier to love than people.  

I strive to be a good citizen of the world, but find it hard to approach the level of my role models.  I’ll paraphrase two of my favorite quotes: 1) we are judged not just by what we do, but by what we do not do (Moliere), and 2) evil can only exist in places where good people do nothing (Gandhi).  I fall short of living this advice every day, but I do my best to work toward it in incremental steps.  

Animals in the world should expect nothing less from us than our good will, respect, concern, support, and unconditional love, particularly since they have no voice with which to demand it as our responsibility.