"Shepherd with Cows on the Lakeshore" by Christian Friedrich Mali
“Shepherd with Cows on the Lakeshore” by Christian Friedrich Mali

The process of becoming a vegetarian acts like a spark to consciousness, and as you journey down this path, you become mindful of the connection between the living, breathing creature and the package of meat or fish neatly wrapped in the supermarket.
~ Jennifer Horsman & Jaime Flowers
(Please Don’t Eat the Animals: All the Reasons You Need to be a Vegetarian)

In the past, the idea of being a vegetarian has always appealed to me, but marriage is about compromises and I married a devout meat-and-potatoes guy. Our children had to put up with a few episodes of me trying to convert everyone to my way of thinking, but my lack of cooking talent and the lack of helpful information made for many unappealing meals. They all remember, without fondness, the TVP debacle – the cookbook didn’t mention that the textured vegetable protein needed to be soaked until soft before adding it to spaghetti sauce! No one appreciated the crunchy spaghetti and TVP sauce…

A little background of my journey from omnivore to herbivore…

My mom loved all things Native American. I remember her telling me that Indians worshiped nature and believed they should only take from her, with gratitude, what they needed to survive. With her words, she painted a picture for me that I still see to this day, of a hunter respectfully kneeling over the animal he had killed with his arrow, thanking its spirit for the sacrifice of its life for the benefit of his family or tribe.

One day I asked my father about hunting. He told me his story about a gun his father gave him as a gift so he could go hunting in the woods. Not wanting to disappoint his father, he set off to find some game. He found a squirrel and shot it on his first try. When he went over to retrieve it he found himself devastated and sick to his stomach that he had taken its life. He never hunted again.

But, Mom’s knowledge and Dad’s experience did not stop them from eating the all-American died of meat and dairy products! And while my paternal grandfather lived us, until he died when I was 8 years old, he regularly used his ax on a stump in the back yard to chop the heads off of chickens for dinner. It was very disturbing to me to see the decapitated chickens running around for what seemed like an eternity.

You have just dined, and, however scrupulously the slaughter-house is concealed in the graceful distance of miles, there is complicity.
~ Ralph Waldo Emerson
(A Political Companion to Ralph Waldo Emerson)

Over the years I got an inkling that animals were suffering terribly on factory farms and in slaughterhouses, so Tim & I agreed that we would only eat meat that was naturally raised, cage-free, and slaughtered humanely. A friend, knowing my sensitivity to violence, warned me not to watch the documentary, EARTHLINGS, but I did watch it, in August, while Tropical Storm Irene was raging outside. It did deeply disturb me, and removed all doubt from my mind about how bad things were in these torture chambers.

In one scene there was a pig who had spent its whole life squished in a cramped pen and had never seen a ray of sunshine or a blade of grass. Now it was time for it to be slaughtered. The worker opened the gate and started poking the terrified pig with a sharp prong. It fell down repeatedly and was pierced over and over to make it get up and move on. All the while the merciless worker kept shouting at it, over and over, “Come on, mother-f—-r, move.”

And a sharp contrast appeared in my mind between these two images: one, the cruel words coming out of the mouth of that heartless factory farm worker; and the other, much different picture: the sincere words of thanks coming out of the mouth of the respectful Native American hunter.


along came a spider

"Little Miss Muffet" by John Everett Millais
“Little Miss Muffet” by John Everett Millais

This morning started off with a blood-curdling scream – mine. I was minding my own business, loading the dishwasher, when I turned to glance at the clock – and there, dangling right in front of my nose, a spider hanging from the ceiling on his thread. Now I won’t tell you how big he was because I have no objectivity when it comes to spiders, and anyway, as far as spiders are concerned, size makes not one iota of difference. They all loom large in my consciousness!

Well, it didn’t take long for the knight-in-shining-armor, well, the knight-still-in-his-pajamas, who had been minding his own business working from home today – thank goodness! – to scramble down the stairs ready for battle. What he found was a woman cornered by the sink, wielding a dirty spatula most ineffectively. He performed the required deed swiftly and promised the poor spider an honorable burial at sea. After giving a warm hug and some soothing words to the lady-in-distress, he went back upstairs and a moment later I heard the toilet flush.

As I returned to cleaning up after breakfast and waiting for my adrenaline to stop pumping, I decided that perhaps it was time to share my spider saga with my readers – one never knows from where inspiration for a blog will come!

It all began when I was about three years old, although my parents are a bit hazy about the time frame. We had moved into the house they built in the woods when I was three, and I was still young enough to be playing outside in the summer with no shirt on… I was sitting on the front porch when a spider let itself down on a thread from the gutter, landed on my bare back, and started to bite me. I started screaming and running away and around the house, my parents chasing after me and trying to figure out what was wrong with me. When they finally caught me and discovered the problem, one of them said, “Oh – it’s only a spider.” I’m not sure I ever saw the culprit on my back, but as I’ve mentioned before, I’ve always been highly sensitive, and from that moment on developed a profound fear of spiders. In my childish brain I couldn’t understand how “only a spider” could inflict so much pain and terror.

Unfortunately for me, spiders are strangely attracted to me and they actually do seek me out. Must be my pheromones or something, but as anybody who has ever spent any time with me will affirm, they do manage to come to me while ignoring all other humans in the vicinity. They usually drop down from the ceiling, but once I was lying on my bed reading when one popped up at the foot of the bed and started charging straight for me. Once I was on a treadmill at the gym, where the ceiling was at least two stories high, and one dropped down from it, right in front of my nose, causing me to panic and stumble and make Tim, on the treadmill next to me, wonder why on earth I was suddenly flailing around.

Now I know spider encounters are supposed to be messages from the universe that I need to pay more attention to my creativity. Believe me, I have the best of intentions to stay calm and appreciate the message the next time I see a spider, but they always startle me and the outcome is always irrational panic.

The spider nightmares began in 1972, when I was 15. I suppose they were an expression of the anxiety I felt about moving to a foreign country with my family. I had never moved before, and had never been overseas, not even for a trip. We were to take an ocean liner from New York City bound for Athens, Greece the next day. We were spending our last night stateside in an aunt’s one-bedroom apartment in Manhattan, and we were packed in like sardines sleeping on cots – all the women in the bedroom, all the men in the living room. Many relations had come to see us off.

Well, in the middle of the night I “woke up” to see a spider coming down from the ceiling toward me. Naturally I screamed! The light came on and I pointed to it. A bunch of groggy aunts, my mom and my sister were asking, “what? where?” I pointed and pointed but no one could see it and they finally concluded that I was having a nightmare. Eventually I didn’t see it any more and realized it had to have been a dream. These spider nightmares have been with me off and on ever since.

It’s amazing sometimes that no matter how well you think you may know another person there is always something new to learn. Tim & I were married in 1975 and that is when I met my sister-in-law, Fran, and we have been as close as sisters ever since. Somehow one evening in 2007, 32 years after we met, Fran and I got to talking about dreams and made the startling discovery that we both have had the same recurring spider dreams! While having this dream we are both convinced that we are awake and keep pointing (sleep-pointing?) to the spider as it moves across the wall or ceiling, trying to convince whoever is in the room with us that it is actually there and being frustrated that the other person can’t see it. If alone in the room, a blood-curdling scream brings someone in soon enough. Only half-jokingly I theorized that in past lives we must have both been eaten by a spider and were somehow destined to be linked in this life, too, by marrying two brothers. Fran decided that we had been flies…

So those are the highlights of my spider tale. There have been too many real encounters and dream encounters to ever possibly tell them all, but that’s enough of this subject for one day!

Little Miss Muffet
Sat on a tuffet,
Eating her curds and whey;
Along came a spider,
Who sat down beside her
And frightened Miss Muffet away.