Visitors and Other Animals 

We’d climbed high into the Rockies struggling at first to keep up with my son’s long-legged stride and my daughter’s nimble step, and were quickly grasping that we’d soon be gasping if we didn’t settle into our own  pace and rhythm.  It was joyous up there.  As I breathed I felt as if I were inhaling sunlight.  The sky was so clear it evaporated all possibility of storm clouds.  We had traversed crystal bright snow fields to reach fertile pastures flecked with Alpine flowers.  Across the valley, range after range of still snow peaked mountains reached toward the future.  We sat, quietly munching the sandwiches, so mundane at ground level, so delicious up here with the gods, when a little, bewhiskered god stuck his head up from behind a rock.  It was a marmot, intent on discovering who or what had intruded on his isolation.  After a prolonged perusal, he must have decided we posed no threat and he descended to his burrow.  Although a type of rat, we were enchanted.

Our town is home to many deer.  They amble up and down the streets eating the garden vegetation with impunity. Sometimes they nestle on the grass, sleeping or feeding their young.  Stags crowned with a full rack of antlers stroll laconically alongside the busy highway. Only the tourists swerve suicidally at the sight. Our recent visitors fell in love.

We took groups of visitors up the forest roads to see the mountain goats – or were they mountain sheep? – we had found burrowing for salt in an ever widening hole in the track.  Twelve of them were so intent on their quest that they did not flinch as our car inched by.  We clicked many pictures, mainly of their rumps  as  heads down they craved the salt. Together with our visitors we were enthralled.

We went with our youngest guest, a six year old boy, first to feed chipmunks, to a fish hatchery. A heron and a hawk wheeled high above us in ever widening gyre waiting for us to leave, so that they could dive for their dinner. 

As we cast handfuls of fish food into the holding tanks, the water boiled with young fish, their scales aflash as they leapt for the food.  The little boy giggled in delight – and so did we.

Following a fishing trip the next day, the boy leaned out over a sink to help gut and clean four trout.  We were a little grossed out!

I salivated as the fresh caught trout grilled to perfection and I thoroughly enjoyed my lunch, but the juxtaposition of one day cherishing the fish and the next killing and eating it made me wonder about the bizarre ways we interact with animals.

Cute, unusual, endangered and especially if we can project human traits on them, then we treat animals with respect, indulgence, even reverence.  Whenever Chris talks “baby talk” to our cat I chant my mantra, “He’s a cat, not a little person in a fur outfit”. Chris’ temporary deafness overtakes him as he surreptitiously slips the cat a treat. Yet often when animals are less attractive, threatening, or common place we treat them with a lot less empathy.

When our visitors were here, as well as sharing some marvelous adventures we shared mouthwatering meals; the subtly spiced chicken tortilla soup, a large smoked brisket, and some oversized ribs. For all but the vegan amongst us these were great feasts!  I don’t think any of us spared a thought for the cow who almost certainly didn’t roam the grassy plains, or the chicken caged in a factory without the space to turn around.

This isn’t a plea for mass vegetarianism, though such a diet can be healthy and delicious, as well as environmentally friendly. After all I was raised on fish and chips, bangers and mash, and roast beef and Yorkshire pudding. Nevertheless, I do hope that an economic way can be found for us to respect all animals especially those that we intend for our food and our celebrations.

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