10,000 things

by Terry Plotkin

I can’t help but feel shame for some things I’ve done and haven’t done. Things that are close to me and things that are far away, things that belong to my family, my tribe, my community, my country, my people, my race. I feel shame for things I can control and things I cannot, for people I know and those I have never met. For meager contributions, sins that run deep, stupidity anchoring us in mud, cold wars, Sharia Law, Civil wars, meat eaters, self-righteous vegetarians, homophobia, white people, missionaries, Muslims, Christians, Jews, Hindus too, trivial lives, shabby reforms, intolerance, and too much tolerance, arrogance morphing into hubris, weakness, abuse of animals, poisons on plants, nuclear weapons and waste that never goes away, incivility, obesity, genocide, ignorance of our karma and our place in the universe, agent orange, slavery, bullying, sexism, pollution, elitism and the sense of entitlement that goes with it, ingratitude, Arabs, Israelis, imperialism, Russians, Americans, British, French and yes the Germans, Chinese, Japanese, old Spain, plastic everything, consumerism, materialism, bankruptcy, southerners, jails and who is in them, leftist, evangelists, so-called conservatives, Republicans for sure but Democrats too, and the 10,000 things.

You’d think I, we, all would at least develop a little humility.

The day of the Cow – Part 2

by Terry Plotkin

The afternoon festivities were about to begin. With the elder residents assembled and sipping their milk shakes, the announcement was made; the cow has arrived. The cow turned out to be a calf, a very unhappy one at that. Walking from the entrance of the building to the courtyard meant crossing the shiny floor, something a cow’s hoof is not engineered for. She slipped, flopping to the floor 3 times while trying to get to the courtyard, even as the owner dragged the resisting cow along, pulling its harness. The anticipation of the elder crowd changed to an audible sigh of compassion.  Thankfully, everyone’s discomfort, most of all the calf’s, was calmed when the animal got to a patch of grass and was put in a cage. The old people just sat there and watched, and we got up to leave.


A few days later, I found myself at a friend’s party held on his small farm with all manner of growing crops and a pen full of goats. The goats were as curious about us as we were about them. They climbed on all the available stumps to get a better view. Then, out of the little goat house, a young male sticks out its head, looks right at us, and let’s go a long, loud BAAAAH that drowned out all the other animals and people sounds. He seemingly was yelling at us and kept on with his audio assault. I had no clue as to his fury until the owner told me he was mad because he had just been weaned. Ohhhhh, that explained everything. My friend said he was “going to college in the fall” and would be in the freezer by October. I can’t imagine what else the goat might have said and done that evening if he had been privy to that information.


The next day we went to the local, small, town fair and wandered into the barn where the cows were being kept, waiting for their moment to be judged. They were all tied to a railing that gave each of them enough tether to either stand up or lay down and no more. That was how they were spending their day. None of them were complaining though except for one young cow who’s wailing MOOOOO echoed through the barn and would not cease. My friend went over to the young boy who was sitting next to the bellowing animal and asked him why the cow was so distraught. The boy said that she was upset because she had a companion back home whom she likes to spend her time with and she missed him. He said that her friend, who did not make the trip to the fair and was back in the barn at home, was carrying on in the same way.


These animal stories I witnessed over the course of 4 days are all linked in my mind. All 3 animals were obviously sentient beings with complicated feelings and emotions, and they knew how to express them. Fear, reluctance, anger, betrayal, loneliness, friendliness, and loyalty were all on display. I believe the owners of these animals had real affection for those they were caring for. I find no fault with any of them. I am not the one who raises them, and I know it is a tough business. The teenage girl and her father who brought the calf into the elder residence were donating their time as an act of kindness to the people there. The same is true for the farmer who brought his cows to the fair. And the goat farmer I know to be a kind and generous man.


These animals have it very good compared to the animals raised in giant, overcrowded, confined spaces where they live, suffer, and die in horrible conditions in the name of efficiency and profit. Treating animals as if they are nothing more than a resource to be exploited cannot be considered humane or in any way honors their true nature. It also diminishes ourselves. Suffice it to say, we can do way better.


The day of the cow. Part 1

by Terry Plotkin

It was a big event at the assisted living home where my mother lives. The afternoon entertainment was a cow coming to visit. Milk shakes to be served as refreshments. It was all the buzz during lunch when we arrived, as was our entrance into the dining room. In a place filled with elderly women (and very few men) our entrance caused most everyone to stop eating and take a long look. A couple in their 50s must seem an anomaly to them.


We shuffled (most residents use walkers) to the enclosed courtyard waiting for the cow to make its appearance. The whole thing seemed surreal. There is something alien about bringing a farm animal into the middle of a manicured courtyard so old people can gawk at it, like going to a cheesy zoo. As the crowd gathered, my mother was anxious to introduce us to her peers, as if to show off what she had reared. I asked one woman if she was staying for the cow and she gave a firm, “No”. She said she and her late husband had started a dairy farm and at one time had 75 cows. When they started the farm they knew nothing about dairy farming, and they built it up. She had helped birth and milk them. She had seen enough of cows. Looking at her frail form standing stooped over her walker, I never would have guessed she once strut around a barn caring for a dairy herd.  Another fragile, but sharp thinking woman, stopped to chat, and said she and her husband had a chicken farm. They raised 7000 birds at a time! When the chickens got to old to lay she said they went to the “pot”. Her job was to make food out of the chickens and sell eggs at the farm stand. She didn’t go into the coop though. The business was a lot of work, and she was glad to be done with it. No more farm animals for her. She wasn’t staying for the cow.  Who knew? Before she spoke I just saw a kind faced, unsteady woman bent with age.  Next, a group of elderly people came in and sat near the walls in a row. No one talked to them, and they did not talk to each other. They sat there with vacant stares on their faces, victims of Alzheimer’s. It was hard to visualize anything about what their lives once were.  While we waited for the cow, which was now running a bit late, we drank our milk shakes, and another friend of my mother’s sat down to converse with us. It turns out she and her husband had a huge garden that was once the talk of her neighborhood, and had been on many an adventure including riding a mule down the Grand Canyon. She was 97 years old and very present. All of these women’s husbands had died sometime back. They were, at one time, strong, vital, accomplished people, yet now it is so easy to just see them as old.  Also, it is tempting to overlook the sobering fact that we will likely share their fate. Tis our folly.

Report from Nova Scotia

By Terry Plotkin

Here is my report from twelve days in Nova Scotia. It is not a good place to live if you want to get rich; mostly you see old cars and small older houses.  This is probably the reason the people have the very attractive trait of being unpretentious. Many people in Nova Scotia seem to smoke a lot and have expansive waist lines similar to what you see in the states. Nova Scotia moves at a slow pace that you can feel. The people are not wound up tight, don’t drive aggressively, and are as polite as can be.


It is quiet there. Even in the city of Halifax, where we stayed for 3 days, we did not hear a single siren from cop cars, fire trucks, or ambulances. This was a welcome relief from Massachusetts where the sirens so often rob us of our peace and quiet with their piercing, ear hurting bursts. Also, there is no litter anywhere. There are public bathrooms in all the likely and unlikely (like in the middle of a remote hiking trail) places. Nova Scotia has many gorgeous beaches, and there is no fee. Most of the beach frontage is undeveloped so the scenery is beautiful and endless. Also, the absence of lists of rules, signs of warning, no trespassing, threats of arrest, disclaimers of liability are all blessedly not there. On the down side, the province has narrow roads, with no bike lanes and no shoulders. One of the strangest things was that although people are very willing to help and there are tourist information booths in most every town, the signage is terrible. Even the most attractive places are difficult to find.


We were thrilled to see 3 bald eagles circling overhead while we rafted on the Bay of Fundy, 40 seals sunning on a rock just off shore on the Atlantic side, and 4 hump-back whales way out to sea, one of whom leaped out of the water in a spectacular show. These hearty animals live in this beautiful area without having to pay rent, obey laws, or go to work. Compare this to the workers on the ferry that we met going from Portland, Maine to Yarmouth, N.S. and the reverse on the way home. None of them appeared to be from Canada or the U.S. so we asked a woman, who was working making drinks for the patrons, where she was from. She said the Philippines, like most of the other workers. I asked her what it was like to work on the boat. She was not shy to tell me that she felt like a prisoner. The boat sails back and forth from the two sites for 7 months, only stopping long enough to unload and then pick up a new batch of people and take them across the Bay of Fundy. She is not allowed off the boat. For 7 months! She works 10 hour days, with no days off. She has a tiny cabin to sleep in. She says she has a headache every day. I asked her if she had children. She said she had 2, and that her mother cared for them in her absence. She sent all the money she made home to support the family, but her relatives complained that it wasn’t enough. I asked where the father of the children was. She pointed to the other end of the boat and said he was over there.  She went on to say that this year is better, as the two previous years her employers put him on a different boat.  She ended by saying; at least I have a job.


I know there are many people in the world who work like this far from home. My heart goes out to them for their exile, low pay, trials, and suffering. As for the Nova Scotians, I remember what one man, who lived in a tiny village, was about 60, had not a trace of bitterness or fatigue about him, and ran the historical society, when we asked why he lived there and he said, “Here, you own your soul.”