Saturday, May 27, 2006

Wring-neck pose

Q: So how does a recently-minted vegetarian, long-standing yoga practitioner wind up wringing the necks of chickens?

A: An hour ago, I stood in a dusty chicken coop, breathing and noticing the fight/flight drumming of my heart, hard enough to make my entire chest cavity rattle with each beat.

Two roosters, ten or twelve hens scattered around me. Each of the hens bore unmistakable signs of rooster scars -- bare patches of skin, pecked raw, cut by spurs. One rooster half torn up by the other, tearing, in turn the hens. My nephews and niece unable to gather eggs, as the roosters (both the gorgeous and pristine alpha, as well as the torn-up beta) attack them, too.

My brother is a physician -- a healer. A person for whom death is anathema, let alone killing.

In shoulderstand earlier today, drishti focused on my feet, I looked past the roll of fat around my middle, then shifted my gaze to it -- to the scar on my belly where I'd been clawed by the spurs of a rooster who seemed big enough to me, at 9 or 10, to eat me alive.

How do I reduce suffering in such a world?

I'm currently reading Animals in Translation, by Temple Grandin, an amazingly insightful animal behavior scientist. She describes in some detail the results of breeding programs aimed at developing a particular characteristic. Emotionally defective animals result. In particular, she describes rapist roosters, roosters that not only mate with hens, but brutalize them continually. I'd never heard the phrase before last week. This evening, my brother reports on the way the two roosters mount and mate, again and again, with a particular hen, never letting her even stand up.

I go into the coop, heavy gloves in case the roosters are not interested in going gently into that good night. I make a grab for the pristinely feathered alpha. He dodges away. I realize my heart is pounding, and I stand to breathe and be present.

Eventually, I corner him, grab him around the neck, and -- feeling the warmth of life through the gloves -- twist my hands in opposite directions. He spasms. I twist farther, breathing. Warmth. One more twist. A flutter of wings, and he's dead.

The beta is no more interested in gentle departures. I catch him and kill him, this time more quickly, as I've learned from the first pose how to deepen the twist more readily. I act with greater surety, muscle memory aiding.

Then the matter is done. The hens are disturbed. They calm. My heart, trip-hammering at the outset, is calmer, then calm.

I have done what I concluded would reduce suffering, what was as near to the right thing to do as I could evaluate.

But here's the question I'm left with -- if it was all a function of rational thought, why did I kill the alpha first, especially when the beta would have been easier to grab?