Holding Onto Sorrow
My little note: I am a firm believer that things will get better, that progress will continue to be made for all oppressed beings. But this post is less about that and more about sadness. Just want to express that caveat – I think we have the right, have earned it, to feel what I believe are healthy emotions, like sorrow.
The horror of Harris Ranch, for me, is that I only ever really see the animals suffering on it after leaving the Animal Rights Conference held in Los Angeles. Nothing ruins a great weekend of inspiring animal rights activists like a barren drylot with thousands of cows and steers awaiting death.
You don’t see this feedlot – which can hold up to 120,000 animals at one time – while going south. You smell it, but can avoid (unwillingly or not) seeing, truly gazing upon, the thousands of cows* who live that smell.
Traveling north, unless you take a longer route, will take you directly by.
I hate the place.
I hate it not because it is run by people who profit off the oppression and abuse of sentient beings.
I hate it because it exists in the open and no one cares.
I hate it because no matter what I do, no matter how many vegan meals I eat, I know the fate of those beautiful creatures, know that nothing I do now in this very moment means anything to them, to their future.
If you drive up Highway 5 north from anywhere south of Coalinga or Avenal, you will pass by this place. Day or night, you can always see the living beings who sit, stand, mourn on a barren lot – a place that should be owned by the desert, not by animal or plant agriculture. There is no dark, starry nights for these steers and cows – large, industrial lights are always on, always highlighting in plays of shadow and light the tense animals beneath.
I hate that so few hate it like I do. Its existence right next to a well-traveled highway leaves no room for hope or light or goodness in this world, it seems. Otherwise, everyone driving by would at the very least stop eating dead cows – how could you, after smelling that smell and seeing those sad creatures atop an unnatural landscape?
Today I and my friend and colleague drove away from the Animal Rights Conference in Los Angeles and passed Harris Ranch.
I always slow down. I should probably stop. I want to take in their suffering, steal it from them and burn it away. I want to look them in the eyes and acknowledge them like no one else. For myself, I want to be a witness to the injustice inflicted upon them. There were probably several others like me leaving that conference who felt the same way.
Today I saw three black steers, making a triangle, noses touching. One lifted his head and gently groomed his brother.
I saw black and white steers, the male yearlings of the dairy industry. They live in separate pens, probably to accommodate their differing dietary needs and slower growth rates compared to the steers and cows bred solely for their flesh and skin.
There was a big, bold Hereford cross – all black but for a white blaze down his face. He stood and stared at the edge of one pen, gazed across the fence, and called. I could see his mouth form words. I wonder who he yelled for – his mom? brothers and sisters?
A cream colored Charolais laid in the dirt, an uncomfortable pose. His legs were coated brown, covered in manure. They should have been white (or at least a variation on the theme).
I saw a crowd of calves huddled together, perhaps newly dropped off from a cow-calf operation where all they have known is normalcy – a mom, aunts, family, grass. They shook, those calves, and my heart ached.
I couldn’t see them all. I desperately wished I could, catalogue their features, figure out their loves and jealousies, and share it with the world. So that everyone would know.
And then they were gone, 800-acres of pure, unyielding suffering left behind. For us. Not for them.
My friend began to cry. The kind of tears that express nothing but sorrow, a deep despair.
She turned off the radio and tried to explain, tried to express with her words.
But there are no words. There is nothing to say.
I wanted to tell her to hold onto her sorrow. To keep it inside of her heart and gut and soul. To grasp it with fierce talons and possess it. Feeling sorrow for another living being is soul-crushing, but it is something precious and inviolate.
I did not tell her this, though, because it is meaningless to say it outloud.
Feel sorrow for every individual animal on a farm or in a vivisector’s lab or in a circus or zoo or puppy mill, oh gosh, how tragically long the list is. Appreciate that experience of empathy and despair.
I won’t tell you what to do afterwards. I write. Others paint or make things. Others scream and rant and rage. Some cook delicious vegan meals or tell a story. Some cry and cry and turn inwards. Some introduce laws. Some speak up vociferously, others quietly with a determined passion. Lots of us, I think, do many of these things!
I can’t tell you not to give up, I would never blame you for doing so. I can’t tell you to hold onto a glimmering, tiny shiny thing called hope, I know how small it is.
I’ll go to my dreamworld remembering the amazing conference, the wonderful and cool people who taught me more about creativity, respect, and love. Mainly, I will remember the small brown cow who stood alone in a pen full of hundreds and breathed in shit and piss and dirt and who, I know deep in my heart, yearned and exhaled for something better. I want a greater world, and I will keep working towards it. But in this very moment, I am feeling that sorrow and shackling it to my core.
*Used colloquially to include both male and female.