Photoblogging: Kurdish Turkey II: Village Life

Hounds, houses, house partridge, sheep, field pigeons…

 Partridge, called “Keklik” are kept as pets and for calling their wild relatives, which they catch with fine nooses… demonstrated below

 These “swift” pigeons are bred for show in the west but fly free here. The one on the ground had just evaded a wild Peregrine and was feeding on the ground again.

 The Lebanons below are big enough to eat though also handsome. They are probably ancestor to the Carneau, a squabbing and show breed, in the west.

The New York Carriage Horses

Jon Katz is doing such a serious, informed, and fundamental service in documenting what may turn out to be the landmark Animal Rights case of our time* that anyone who breeds, trains, or otherwise is involved with all our ancient ways and “memes” of human- animal interaction should subscribe to Bedlam Farm Journal and get it in their box every morning (and there is a lot of beauty, humor, and poignancy as well, not just his continuing defense of the horses and their owners– Jon’s animals, his recovery from open- heart surgery, his photos, and more).

My own battles so far were helping the California coursers, and I think my best column helped (though meanwhile we lost an important fight in Albuquerque, our own back yard, on breeding dogs). Those interested in the coursing column, which I think contains enough material of more than local interest that I plan to recycle it in my dog book, can find it here.

But the most important public battle over us and our animals is going on now. One group of people has the whole of history, of human and domestic animal evolution, training, learning, adaptation, work, and even love on its side (though like many “animal people” or country folk they may not be able to articulate it like members of the chattering classes). The other side consists of a Marxist, uninformed, callous mayor (and I feel bad about insulting Marxists here– photos of Trotsky and his dogs suggest that even Marxists usually know more about dogs than DiBlasio– all right, he is Italian too, and I hang my head in shame); a billionaire real estate developer; and, because Manhattan is just MORE than other places, some of the most unhinged, hysterical, fanatical, and near- violent Animal Rightsers in the United States. They have lied outright; DiBlasio sounds positively Aspergian every time he opens his mouth (he told a child of one of the carriage drivers that his father was “immoral”). They seem to think that killing the horses would be better for them than letting them work; the mayor seems to think that a godawfully expensive electric vehicle would be a more “environmental” solution; can you see tourists, maybe a couple coming to the city for their honeymoon, stepping into a romantic scaled- up golfcart to drive through central Park?! As  somebody said (who? — and Magdalenians please refrain from saying “Tom Kelly”!), only an educated fool could possibly believe something like that.

Against that, we have the thoughtful essays of Jon Katz, who has written a couple of them every week on the subject, full of old- style wisdom and kindness. Read him if you care about the Old Ways, as I suspect most of the readers here do. Here are a couple of thoughts from October 11 “What are People For?”:

“In New York City, hundreds of people live in fear and uncertainty as the future of the carriage trade is suddenly in doubt because a millionaire real estate developer decided it is abuse for horses to work.The carriage drivers have been the victims of almost continuous and slanderous assault and cruel condemnation and abuse for years while the mayor who seeks to end their work and way of life refuses to even speak to them in the name of being humane to animals…

“Countless animals suffer every week in America as the movement that calls itself a protector of animal rights claims  that people are not fit to live with animals, care for them, or deserving of help in keeping them. Everywhere – in farmer’s markets, on pony rides, in carriage horses, circuses, movie sets, agricultural schools, small farms, private homes – it is becoming too complex, controversial, expensive or complicated to own and keep and work with an animal, especially those that are not pets. Animals are disappearing everywhere, just as the carriage horses will disappear if they are banned from New York City…

“Is there dignity and compassion in losing one’s livelihood, in being publicly and cruelly dehumanized. Is our goal to remove animals from the lives and consciousness of human beings?  The horses are awakening us to understand that there is much work to be done, those of us who love animals have abandoned them to the awful fate of having their fates decided by people who hate people. When we dehumanize people, we dehumanize ourselves, when we dehumanize ourselves, we cannot possible build a world that is humane to animals. Compassion is not selective, we don’t get to choose who deserves it, we either offer it or we do not…

“Animals can only thrive in partnership with people, without animals people are broken and disconnected from their lives, their past and the world. We cannot be compassionate for animals as we become increasingly cruel to people.

“If you want to be happy,” says the Dalai Lama, “practice compassion.” Do we really wish for the unhappiest people in our world to decide the fate of animals?”

New York Carriage horses and their enemies

Like Joel Katz of Bedlam Farm Journal, I think that the case of these horses, well- kept but attracting the attention and money of —  I can’t soften it,  deranged animal “Rights” activists,  possibly backed by the money of cynical real estate interests– is emblematic of our “rather stupid time” (Ortega), and a preview of what every one of us who lives with ancient human- animal memes– dog breeders, houndsmen, pigeon racers, falconers, sheep herders, ranchers, dog trainers– faces. Name it– there is some fanatic in a city near you who has never kept, never mind bred or worked with, any animal, and that person  is determined to take your animal away and “rescue” (or kill) it,  to at best, a puzzled life behind bars with no work.

Some recent Jon Katz; first from September 16

“Have you ever been absolutely hated by an animal rights
activist? I mean HATED so much that they wish to obliterate your very
existence. HATED so much that they vow to destroy you and your kind no
matter what it costs, monetarily or in decency? HATED so much that your
very humaneness and your families identity and legacy and traditions and
whatever else you hold sacred and dear are threatened with a campaign
to destroy any trace of your existence? What is it about this kind of
activism done in the name of loving animals, that loathes humankind to
the point of what appears to be utter insanity?”

And this, from yesterday

“The next thing that surprised was learn that the campaign against the
carriage horses was not  a debate about the horses, or an argument
about animal welfare or the future of animals in the urban world. It was
an ideological assault – personal, brutal and relentlessly cruel –
against the people who owned and drove the horse carriages. To
understand this unnecessary controversy, it is first essential to
understand that. It has always been about attacking and dehumanizing the
drivers, who have been called thieves, torturers, abusers, immoral,
callous, greedy, liars and inhuman or less than human beings.

“This is always the language of hate, the precursor to persecution,
the ugly advance work necessary to demonize people to the point that
their freedom and property can be taken away by the so-called moral
community around them. Earlier this year, one of the gentlest and most
beloved of the carriage drivers approached the mayor at a public event
with his young son. He asked the mayor why he was do determined to ban
the horses, and the mayor said “because your work is immoral.” He said
this right in front of his son, and then turned away. He did not speak
of the horses, he spoke of the character of the people who drive them.

“There it was, from the mayor’s mouth to our ears. It is about the
people, not the animals. The story has never been about the welfare of
animals, not one animal on the earth will lead a better or safer life if
the carriage horses are banished to rescue farms and slaughterhouses.”

This not young photographer, recovering from open heart surgery and for no reason but that he understands working and domestic animals and can see and think and feel, is the most eloquent defender of our Old Ways on the web. I check him every morning, and you should too. Thanks, Jon, and keep up the good fight.

UPDATE in progress. I am writing this out of saved material.  Libby informs me that Jon is apparently putting his farm up for sale, as his health is shaky. I hope he continues writing and making beautiful photos, but our hearts are with him whatever he does. His eloquent defense of working animals is something we can mine as long as deracinated urbanites try to deny us contact with (CS Lewis phrase) “other bloods”.

Pigeons vs Humaniacs

Chris Landauer of Border Wars sent me a note a couple of weeks ago on the ARista’s war on pigeon racing. Since then I have been roaming the Internet, too busy and too pissed off to to write a calm essay on the kind of people who would persecute old men, some of them who have made real connections to youngsters of different cultures, for being “racketeers” for betting on races. They claim it is cruel because some don’t make it home (they don’t know most ferals are more homer than not), and that some substandard birds are “culled” (and eaten), a practice and term that they seem to think unique to pigeon keepers….

It would of course be easy to sue the sport out of existence, of course; though the Queen of England and some wealthy Belgians fly birds,  the old working class cartoon character Andy Capp on the other side of the channel and ancient ethnics like my late grandfather in the US are more typical, as are young blacks and city Hispanos. And given its nature as a HOMING sport, its targets are stationary, unable to go underground. Add irrational fears of diseases that pigeons don’t even carry, the latest being bird flu…

And then I thought, to hell with reasoned arguments; better to go with my initial reaction. So here are some of the calmer parts of my reaction to Chris…

“God, Chris, I get so sick of it all.

” ‘It’s so crooool, but they are all old and they’re going to die soon so we’ll LET them’…

“And another human- animal hybrid culture, another meme, another selected association of unique genes goes back into the undifferentiated pond; another joy is taken from us, there is one less thing to distract the young from the all- flattening difference- ending locale- killing biophobic Almighty Screen. How many youths in how many places once took baskets of pigeons miles to ‘toss’ and raced them home, as I did? No more pigeons, hunting dogs, ferrets, horses but for the rich, ratting, snake catching. Oddly my grandson probably WILL do many of these, but will he be a social outcast for it? And WHERE will he do it?

“And me- my salukimorphs are wanted, and my hawks. But who will pick up my unique genetic stream and crosses when I am gone, my wild hawk- evading homers, my crossbred and reconstructed old Spanish pouter breeds? Eli is too young, and his parents still live in the city; US cities are banning them outright by name (Chicago, Bozeman) or just making it  virtually impossible to keep or God help us FLY them.

“No answers but… Pigeon racing CRUEL? What absolute bullshit. The only beings that never suffer are– DEAD.”

A last thought: vegetarian and fine writer Sy Montgomery, who wrote beautifully about them in Birdology, knows better, and has more wise biophilia in her little finger than all of HSUS…

Photos from Scotland and Turkey, where pigeon culture still not only exists but thrives. The last pix including the cupboard loft are in the restaurant in Urfa where I used to eat lunch.

“Carrier” Pigeons and Pigeon Paraphernalia

So- called Carrier, ie messenger pigeons (sophisticated bird folks know they are Racing Homers, not the heavily wattled show bird of that name) have been in the news a lot lately.

Reid sent this article about a lost WW II messenger from the legendary Code and cryptography center Bletchley Park discovered in an English chimney; Tim Gallagher sent still another version. The “Weekend” Wall Street Journal reports on the French debate about maintaining a flock for disaster relief (I had thought the Swiss were the only recent European bird “employers”). Perhaps the fact that the Chinese fleet is large and expanding might give us a clue to their continuing relevance..

I have always fooled around with messenger pigeons and believe they are useful. The late great Grand Canyon guide Wesley Smith used to use them to carry film out of the Grand in the 70’s and so discovered the resident Peregrine population before the ornithologists (“Takes three birds– one for the falcon, one for the tiercel, and a good one for the film!”) I also collect pigeon paraphernalia and tools from all over the world. Here are, first, a bunch of message containers, both WW II US and modern Swiss high tech versions with Red Cross markings given to me by (excellent) filmmaker Jim Jenner (Google him), including a “backpack” for heavier loads; some Indonesian tail whistles, and a melodious Chinese gourd flute beside a flute- bearing stuffed bird from the Pitt Rivers Museum in Oxford. Finally, some bangles as worn by birds in Turkey and Arab countries and a flying dewlap by Sir Terence Clark, wearing earrings.

I continue to insist, with Darwin and David Quammen (see “Superdove on 46th Street”), that even “street” pigeons are among our most interesting commensals…

What “Exotics”…

… did Dr. John Burchard keep? He writes:

“The ‘exotics’ I myself have kept at one time or another include a wolf, coatis,
corvids large and small, raptors from sparrowhawk and merlin up to and including
Gyrfalcon, Goshawk and Golden Eagle (the latter quite capable of killing
someone, especially a child), boa constrictors up to 12 feet, crocodiles, large
monitor lizards, nearly all large North American nonvenomous snakes, African
venomous snakes including Gaboon viper, forest cobra, spitting cobra, saw-scaled
viper, green mamba, mole viper and many others, Black Widow spiders (as a 12
year old schoolboy), a Long-tailed Weasel (trapped in the act of massacring my
homing pigeons, and then tamed), any number of young skunks, dozens of species
of tropical fishes, many kinds of ants … well, you get the idea. Beyond that
I have interacted at more or less length with “exotics” owned by others or by
our Departmental zoo, including Lowland Gorillas, chimpanzees, various monkeys,
a half grown lion, a 19 foot Rock Python, etc. etc.

“Among the more dangerous “wildlife” I have dealt with are the fighting bulls of
Spain – beautiful, magnificent animals but to be treated with great respect,
especially the cows with young calves (I worked for the better part of a year on
a ranch in Spain that bred fighting bulls). The trouble with banning
bullfighting is that it would mean the extinction of the most wonderful cattle
in the world. There’s a book by Robert Vavra. Try to find it, it’s amazing.

“All risk is relative (you can break your neck tripping over a small dog
underfoot, without any aggression at all on the animal’s part) and the key
factor determining the acceptability of keeping such animals must be whether
their management is conducted with a degree of knowledge and responsibility
commensurate with the risks of the particular species and situation.”