I have been pushed again into the world of baby shopping. Not something necessarily on my to-do list but birth, like death, is too monumental to ignore. A new baby is the wrong occasion for keeping your credit card to yourself. You've got to rush out very promptly and turn yourself into a veritable welcome wagon of stuff, especially if it's the mother's first. Who wants a child connected to you to grow up thinking you didn't care about its needs?
By now, I am an old hand at newborn purchases, but this experience seemed brand new. That could of course be due to old age memory loss. Who knows why standing in the store, I realized--with one of those mental bangs comic strips reduce to !--that if you dare stray beyond the layette and pass on vital rompers and diapers, you invariably find yourself smack dab in the animal kingdom. You are on safari spotting bears, dogs, turtles, moose, pigs, elephants, zebras, horses, frogs and, if you are in Maine, lobsters, I've even found seals and once, a life size raccoon. Yesterday I spotted owls--made lovably plushy as possible. A crib owl! What a hoot.
I have no idea why it is incumbent on us as grownups to surround our human newborns with fauna to make them right off the bat best friends with select members of the animal kingdom. I just know there isn't a nursery between the Atlantic and Pacific above the Mexican border that isn't some kind of fuzzy petting zoo. We even let one-year-olds sleep with bears! Really! Do you know a kid who doesn't have a Teddy bear? This vicious animal tamed by squeezy stuffing and named for the great hunter Theodore Roosevelt has become the epitome of killer cute, used, as Wikipedia puts it, to signify love, congratulations or sympathy. Just like a rubber duckie.
I have absolutely no clue why we encourage our kids to cuddle elephants and snuggle up to pigs. I just know that kids lovingly clutch these fuzzy animals, drag them around and scream when they're missing. They get so attached, a stuffed moose or turtle is a sure-fire baby gift to make you the huggee of choice. Trust me, a kid will have no fear of a plush squishy lion, even if it's got a little gizmo inside that makes it roar when squeezed. They'll just adore it and giggle.
I didn't get focused on this bizarre custom because Princess Chelsea Clinton's new baby arrived with loud fanfare for a nursery full of elephants. I probably did because for the past weeks, I found myself delightedly surrounded by real creatures. In my living nursery, I hear the woodpecker loudly ratatating away high in the sickly pine tree near the driveway, spot the bald eagle camouflaged in the oak leaves across the water, and watch the neck banded kingfisher swoop to perch on my dock and look for lunch. Several days last week, a seal swam up the inlet. The last time I spotted it, it was doing a jaunty dolphin dive on its way back out. The chipmunks exuberantly chase each other through the leaves fallen all over my yard. The gray squirrel is scampering up and down the trees with acorns. Flock after flock of honking Canada geese scramble into perfect V formation as they glide by overhead. Wild turkeys waddled down the road. A deer leapt across it. I haven't seen raccoons or the fox this year, but I did finally spy the fat groundhog that is likely the mysterious ghost who ate my black raspberries, blueberries and flowering annuals. And of course every other day or so, the bizarrely beautiful great blue heron, Nature's cup hook, stands tall in the low tide shallows below my window patiently seeking supper.
I've also seen schools of fish, fish hawks flying out of their massive nests, screeching crows mass into a brigade of storm troopers, and seagulls fighting over a food find. Living in a large menagerie like this makes me insanely happy. Others pay huge fortunes to fly to Africa and drive around the plains for the thrill of sighting wild animals while I get that same giddy childlike wonder almost every day right here.
The privilege of observing this vast richness on Earth is the exponential plus of living in the country. It makes me feel like a real world insider, which is seriously awesome given that "insider" is the most coveted position in our exclusive world today. It also helps me to understand something city people in their virtually artificial man made reality don't: I am not alone here. Life isn't all about me. There are other species who need to be taken into consideration. I am just another animal in a network, and being linked in I see what a grand network it is.
Thinking of city people in their unreal environment makes me think we want to put stuffed animals in the playpen now that we humans don't much live among them in real life, some atavistic thing. It lets us introduce our kids to what the Buddha called the higher and lower beings who share in our existence here on Earth. Or maybe we feel compelled to give them stuffed animals because we've destroyed their inheritance of real ones who should have been their neighbors on this planet. It could even be an age-old need to teach them existence is not always all about them alone: they must learn to think of others. Even if we ourselves don't.
I'm sure it has something to do with why we use Mother Goose, Babar and Bambi, My Friend Flicka and Charlotte of web fame to teach them stuff about life we can't articulate. Don't we relentlessly buy them puppies and kittens, guppies and turtles for the same reason? I suppose we want someone to be in that gloriously peaceful Garden of Eden that we grownups have been expelled from. Like kids, animals are also innocent about the ticking time bomb of mortality. Maybe that's why the two are such good companions. Recreating Eden in the crib lets us remember, maybe even relive, the joy of not knowing the party's going to end shortly.
I think we secretly treasure that innocence and although we lost it discovering ourselves to be the cause of life and death, we want it back. We want to be happy as kids in a world where everything is so cute and fuzzy, nothing threatens or scares us, as if that will make knowing we are the cause of life and death all better.
And here's another aspect of this. In spite of our tendency to cute them up, when we want to be especially derogatory, we sneer that some people live or behave like animals. Isn't that seriously backward, the reverse of truth? After all, animals behave much better than humans. You cannot argue that fact. Maybe it's why we surround our babies with them. Animals are innocent of our crimes and immorality, our inhumanity to each other. They don't kill just for the fun of it or fuck their children knowingly or stockpile chemical weapons of mass destruction or deliberately deceive and cheat out of sheer egomaniacal greed. Honestly, who is the real killer for the thrill of it: a tiger or ISIS? Who is going to be more helpful, loyal and honest: your dog or your insurer?
In land Teddy Roosevelt himself once stalked with a gun, there is to be a ballot referendum, Number One, on the first Tuesday this November that asks if hunting bears by baiting them with junk food or snaring them in leg breaking traps or attacking them with a pack of dogs should be banned as cruel, inhumane and, get this, unsporting. All it is saying is give bears a chance. Pollsters say the grownups will say NO, they don't want to. Well, do you want to bet me that all their kids have or had Teddy bears and maybe once they did too? Did you know that beloved toy was named for the particular bear President Roosevelt refused to shoot because it had been baited, chased by dogs and snared to make it too easy and senseless for him to kill a living creature. Do we rush to buy them for the kids just to remind ourselves of all the decency we've lost?
~Sandy Garson "Wordsmithing to attest how the Dharma saved me from myself!"
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