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Friday, January 24, 2014


Last night's movie was an eye-opener, in a way an awakener. It held my interest every minute, at the same time had such great sorrow as to wound my heart. I was pulled through the hour and a half by interest in what I was learning and grieved seeing, again, the human indifference to consciousness. I'd seen an ad while watching football for the film Blackfish, a documentary concerning Orcas, killer whales, in captivity performing at Sea World. I checked netflix and they had it. It largely involved interviews with trainers, the people you see fly up out of the water standing on the Orca's nose; a couple of them had been killed over a period of years by one of the killer whales, and it was "the best" of the trainers in those and other cases. The Sea World corporation blamed the trainers, said they made mistakes. The makers of the documentary found video and eye witnesses of the Orca attacks. Analysis of what triggered the attack was not trainer error, but came to a twist in the brain from living in a bathtub in solitary confinement for so many years. The behavior was attributed to frustration. In captivity they have half the life expectancy as in the ocean with their pod of extended family. Decades of research reveal that Orcas are family-oriented, like crows, live in their families and are never weaned from the mother; they don't continue dependence, though the bond is for a lifetime. They learned, too, that the dorsal fin in captivity tends to droop over to one side. In the ocean, the dorsal fin stands straight up all the time. All the signs of the whales' despair in captivity were showing, but who noticed? The Sea World corporation made billions off of them. The corporation doesn't care how the Orcas feel, redundant as it may be to say it.
It took me back to a moment in childhood standing in front of a black leopard's cage in the Kansas City Zoo, watching the beautiful black cat pace back and forth, about three of its body lengths each way. It was kidnapped from life with its family, probably taken as a kitten after its mother was killed. The kitten was boxed, sold, bought, and ended up with a life sentence in solitary confinement being stared at and taunted by shrieking humans. I couldn't stand it for the cat. I felt the same about the tigers and lions. My trained mind said this is good, they're kept in cages so we're safe from them, and it's a zoo where this is what they do. Who ever thought about how the animals got there, esp in the late Forties and early Fifties? I read adventure comic books about a well-known African safari hunter of the time, who captured animals for zoos. He was a hero. I had been trained up in the mind that animals don't feel, don't think, don't love, only exist. Mr Big Game Hunter was brave. He went up against water buffalo and lions. Killed them with one shot. If he'd missed, they'd have killed him. Big man. I also watched Marlin Perkins' Zoo Parade, which later became Wild Kingdom. I saw that show every time it was on. A few weeks ago, I saw on YouTube a Wild Kingdom show about the Kalahari bush people in southern Africa. It took me into realizing I had forgotten Marlin Perkins as an influence in my early life, a daddy figure who knew something, who appreciated the world around him, who appeared to care, who wasn't bragging and berating when he spoke. Watching the show, I was thinking he was one of the great unacknowledged influences on who I am. While I went to a church where the preacher said animals have no souls, I listened to Marlin Perkins tell me and show me that animals are at least sentient beings. I refused to believe animals had no souls. It didn't make a lick of sense. The deal is, they can't get saved because they don't know right from wrong. I laugh at that now.    

The blurb advertising the film said the Orcas were a danger to the trainers. All I could see through the course of the film was the danger the whales were in. The Orcas are gregarious, fun-loving people who live their lives closely knit with their families. They need the affection in the family circle. Like donkeys, they are herd animals. Circled by their families, the Orcas flourish. Separated from their families, they decline and fade into despair. They do the tricks for a snack at a time, the trainers get to know them personally, become attached to them like we do with a dog when we get to know one. I was seeing the intelligence in these water people and thinking about the intelligence in donkeys. Every morning taking hay to them, I look into their eyes and talk to them. The intelligence in their eyes is on the order of what the trainers see in Orca eyes. Like donkeys, the Orcas are conscious, have intelligent minds and complex behavior. They feel, are animated by love, and respond to respect with respect. I am confident that the donkeys will never attack me. By now, I have the trust of both of them. I give them only gentle, loving behavior and they return the same. If I were to keep each of them in solitary confinement for several years, I could anticipate waxing frustration to the point that one day I might be attacked by surprise, out of the blue, me saying, "What got into you? I didn't do nothin." Some of the Orca researchers in the film said that in the open sea they have never been known to kill a human. Another researcher who knew they'd never hurt anybody, said he is not jumping into the water with them. He said the old belief about them is they are sacred, not to be meddled with.

The film caused me to reflect on a lifetime of living in a world, the entire world, that regarded the sentient beings that live around and among us as no more than a rock or a fencepost that could walk. In early childhood I believe it because the grownups taught it to me. It never seemed right, but all the adults knew different. Even though it did not make sense, I questioned myself instead of everyone around me. Then I came to the mountains, completely changed from the cosmology I grew up in. My first dog, Sadie, was my teacher. She came to me when she was 3 and already named. I did not want to make her have to learn to go by a new name. She taught me that I was the dense one. She understood me in everything I said and did. I understood very little of her attempts to communicate. By the time I lost her, I felt I was just getting to know her. Next dog was Aster, came to me about six months old, starved unto unable to walk. I took her in and she never needed training. She was the second one to teach me that the soul is the life force in us, what Dylan Thomas calls "The force that through the green fuse drives the flower." I can't say, When is the world going to wake up and understand the animal people are driven by the same fire within that we are, love? Maybe "the world" is unable to understand love animates us. We are dominated by belief that love, spirit, God is out there, not in here, despite the Bible saying in red letters it is within, our very life force that drives the flower through the fuse. As long as we believe God and heaven are the other side of the clouds or beyond the universe, or wherever in the beyond, we'll never get it that the squirrels and snowbirds are people too. Killing animals and destroying their lives without conscience will go on. I always come back to my responsibility is my own behavior. I see them sentient beings like myself, respect them as I respect another human. Makes it difficult to see Orca suffering in corporate hands and just as much the world of humans out of sight in desperate poverty in slums around the dumps in third world cities, that get their fuel from leaks in pipelines. I was heartened in the film to see so many people care.


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