“Look steadfastly with thy mind at things though afar as if they were at hand. Thou canst cut off what is from holding fast to what is, neither scattering itself abroad in order nor coming together.”
Crossing the frozen Charles. The old crooked river that winds through crooked cities retires its tumultuous caricature for the winter months – slows its raging, murky flow with the aid of frigid January air. The guise of firm tundra masking the flotilla of illegal dumping beneath, and so early this year.
Ten thousand cattle dead in Vietnam, too cold, too early for them. Did we do this? Who did this? Or what did this? Let’s skip out of the East, go westward.
A man sits in his South Dakota home on his $5,000 couch, watching his $2,000 television, sipping on single malt, fifteen-year scotch. His name is Boreas Anemoi. His well-being is feed, bird feed that is. A spitting image of the American dream. His life, a picturesque view of simplicity most days – breakfast with the wife and kids, then out on the farm for nine hours with a one-hour lunch break and nap when the sun is at its highest point in the sky.
He is most happy most days. So long as the Great Engine of Commerce rattles on, sputtering or not, it works for Boreas. Today, however, he is bothered. His simple life is being threatened by the very creatures that inadvertently, or at least unwittingly, built his entire career.
This season, perhaps because of the direction of the winds, or other unfortunate factors unbeknownst to Boreas, thousands of starlings began to inhabit his silos and defecate on his feed meal. Boreas’ business had always been good enough to live comfortably but, in a down economy and with a rapidly decreasing margin of error for farmers like himself, losing shipments to falling bird droppings would be fiscally disastrous.
In addition, the hapless falling feces are a danger to his own health, as well as that of the various animals he has on his farm, his wife Rosemary, and daughters Patricia, 14, and Madeleine, 8.
Breakfast that morning had been particularly troubling.
“Honey, how are the eggs?” Rosemary inquires.
“Fine Rosemary, just fine,” Boreas responds while pushing his breakfast around with a fork, the same way Madeleine fiddles in procrastination with Brussels sprouts.
“Just fine, Boreas?”
“Yes Rosemary, the eggs are just fine, thank you.”
Patricia sits, hiding her discomfort with large bites of breakfast and overly expressive gestures indicating to her mother: delicious.
Madeleine, unfazed by the awkward tension at the table, looks at Boreas and asks: “Daddy, are you sad because of the bird poop?” Rosemary smiles with melancholic eyes.
“Yes sweetheart, yes I am,” says Boreas like a disappointed child at Christmas.
“You know Daddy,” Madeleine says between very adult-like bites of breakfast, “some people say that bird poop is lucky for whatever it falls on.”
Boreas looks at his daughter with tears building up, “Not for me it’s not, Maddy, not for me.” Boreas rises to his feet, “I’m done with breakfast, thank you Rosemary.”
Boreas’ daughters and Rosemary watch, close-mouthed, as he walks to the cabinet, grabs a bottle of scotch and a glass, and proceeds to the living room. He thinks to himself something like, “what am I going to do?”
First lesson to those lower members on the food chain: don’t agitate Man enough to get him to plotting. His irrational side is notorious for arising in situations as such.
To the USDA Boreas shall go. In the waiting room he shall patiently watch the news, limply listening to the talking heads on the screen. Certain cues he catches, certain cues he does not.
Cues that stick in his mind: “Thousands of troops fighting blind in Afghanistan,” “Senate poised to repeal National Health Care,” “Sandra Bullock is back in the dating game, with a vengeance.”
Cues that pass through his mind’s plasma without effect: “Bath salts new growing drug problem,” “40,000 crabs wash up on cold shore in the U.K.,” “2 million juvenile croakers and spot fish found dead in The Chesapeake Bay.”
The secretary breaks through his daze: “Mr. Anemoi, our representative will see you now.”
Boreas rises to his feet, tips his hat to the secretary, and enters the office. As Boreas steps through the door, the first thoughts to cross through his head go something like “what lovely decor,” “wonder how much he makes a year,” and “wonder if they are hiring.”
“Good afternoon Mr. Anemoi,” the representative says while giving Boreas a firm handshake and looking in his eyes, “my name is Demeter, Larry Demeter. I’m the USDA Representative for all the land from Rapid City to Sioux Falls, east to west, and from Wounded Knee to Deadwood, north to south.”
“Good afternoon Mr. Demeter, it is an honor to meet you, and please, call me Boreas.”
“Larry shall do as well, Boreas.”
“Thanks,” Boreas says while adhering to Larry’s gesture to ‘make yourself comfortable.’
“So, Boreas,” says Larry, “I see here that you are having a bird dropping problem with your crop and feed.”
“Yes sir, I am. I haven’t been able to salvage anything for three months now. The season is almost over, and every day thousands, must be more than four thousand starlings choose to perch and defecate on the very same places I keep my feed.”
“And how many acres do you have, Boreas?”
“Just about seven hundred, sir,” Boreas states with a hint of pride.
“And are you having any other problems with the rest of the property?”
“No sir, the starlings, oddly enough, all go to this one place.”
“And have you ever had this problem before?”
“No sir, never, nothing of the sort. As a matter of fact, up until this year we had been doing well above average.”
“I see, I see. And have you made any changes to the property or the crop this year?”
“Well we relocated the grain silos and feed storage to be closer to the house. They’d been on the other side of the property and, with these winters worsening every year, my wife Rosemary and I decided that we should bring them closer to the house.”
“Well Boreas, it sounds like we need to take some action then.”
“Larry, I couldn’t agree with you more. I just don’t know what to do.”
“It is good that you came to us,” Larry says while throwing his arm around Boreas. “This is what my office and I propose: we use a potent poison bait, one that shows no negative effects to people or larger farm animals, lace some feed with it and see what happens.”
“Poison the birds?”
“Yes Boreas, we’ve run into this problem before, and there really is no other solution. Either we kill the birds, or the birds will kill your business. It is your property though, so it must be your decision to take this action or to not.”
“Well, Larry, I suppose I have no other options, and I have Rosemary and the girls to think about. I would like to go forward with this as soon as possible.”
“Outstanding!” Larry states, exuberantly. “A few colleagues and I will be over tomorrow to facilitate the process, and by this time next week your troubles will be behind you.”
“Thank you so much Larry, you are a life saver.”
“Not necessary Boreas, I’m just doing my job,” says Larry with a smile, gesturing at the USDA emblem on his chest.
Boreas returns home, the table is set and the girls are all waiting for him patiently. He’s noticeably but only slightly lighter in the step.
“Well you seem chipper,” Rosemary says, apparently pleased with her husband’s body language. The girls’ shoulders seem to relax a bit as Boreas takes the first bite of his pot roast. His face expressing to Rosemary ‘delicious.’
“Well, Rosemary, girls, I got some good news today.”
“That’s great to hear honey!” Rosemary responds. “Things went well at the USDA office?”
“Indeed they did Rosemary. Mr. Demeter, a big time representative, will be here tomorrow with a couple of associates, and he said by this time next week things will be back to normal for us.”
Rosemary lights up, “that’s great to hear honey! What are they going to do?”
Boreas lowers his voice a bit, eyes on the pot roast, and responds “poison the starlings.”
Rosemary’s face becomes slightly grim as she rapidly glances at Madeleine and then Patricia. Patricia begins to look sick, while Madeleine looks confused. Madeleine inquires, “Daddy, what does poison the starlings mean?”
Rosemary looks at Boreas in an attempt to halt the explanation, but Boreas, with his eyes still on the pot roast, doesn’t catch the warning from his wife.
He says, still under his breath, “Mr. Demeter and his friends, sweetheart, are going to put something in the food that the birds eat that is bad for the birds but not bad for us. They will eat it and go on up to heaven.”
“You’re going to kill the birds!?” Madeleine questions, shocked.
“Yes sweetheart, it’s the only way.”
“Don’t kill the starlings Daddy! They’re just being birds!” Madeleine says, while Patricia begins to silently cry.
“They’re being bad birds sweetheart, and we aren’t going to be able to survive unless we do this.”
“It’s just not right though Daddy! I won’t ever talk to you again if you kill the starlings!”
Boreas grows impatient, Rosemary and Patricia shrinking into their respective upholstered chairs.
“Well then suit yourself Maddy! You don’t understand now, but you will someday.”
“I’m not talking to you,” Madeleine says as she walks away from the table.
Boreas yells, “get back here and finish your dinner young lady!”
Madeleine runs up to her room and slams the door. Nothing else is said at the dinner table.
The next day Larry and his associates come to the property, and mix the poison-laced feed with the other feed. To Boreas’ dismay, Larry refuses to come in for a drink. Madeleine stares at the men and her father with what adults would probably see as ignorant, immature, glossy eyes.
The men leave, Boreas enters the house, goes straight for the scotch and couch. Madeleine stays in her room.
Second lesson for those lower members of the food chain: fool me once, shame on you; fool me twice, shame on you. If Earth is Mother, then Man is the self-proclaimed Father.
Our gift, the gift of consciousness, helps us to make conscious decisions that help all the supposedly non-conscious beings around us. A race of shepherds, albeit shepherds with flaws of lackadaisical carelessness and otherwise, but shepherds none the less.
That night Boreas slept the best sleep he had in months. That night Rosemary slept with a bittersweet comfort. Patricia read her favorite Tom Robbins story, Still Life with Woodpecker, to take her just-matured-enough-mind off of the starlings.
Madeleine, however, poor Madeleine’s not-yet-matured mind could not be taken off of the birds. She heard the starlings near the silos, happy, sociable, unsuspecting.
Knowing their fate, Madeleine sat in an upright fetal position and rocked, crying, shaking, as the birds began to fly away. One by one, she hears them scream their final recitatives as the poison courses through their veins.
She runs outside, and within one step out of the doorway a starling drops at her feet. She screams, runs farther out as she sees the starlings falling from the sky, she cries, they cry to her for help, but she can’t do a thing but attempt mourning at an age when death does not yet make all that much sense.
Eventually Madeleine runs back to her room, slams the door, and hides under the covers.
Boreas awakens to his entire property covered with dead starlings. Hundreds, maybe thousands clutter the ground. The still starlings look like little prairie dog holes from the perspective of the house.
Boreas grabs a cup of coffee with the closest thing to a smile he has had in months, and heads out to clean up the mess.
The Anemois, as you could probably guess, ended up alright. Over the next few months they would have to repeat the poisoning again two or three times.
They recovered financially, Rosemary returned to her normal self, Boreas got his simplicity back, and Patricia never pulled her head out of the books.
Madeleine hasn’t said a word to Boreas, or anything or anyone for that matter, since that night.
Our nets of technology and technique keep the unknown out and the known in. Be it man, beast, or otherwise, our fences make good neighbors. Our skills provide for efficient harvests and our humanity shadows the meek creatures haplessly caught in the sun.
Madeleine mourns, Boreas rejoices, and the Cosmic Egg remains.