“We have a deal,” Jen says to me. “I don’t go into their territory. But if they come in the house, I kill them.”
This sounded reasonable to me. One more answer gifted by a mentor, relieving me of the uncomfortable responsibility of feeling and finding my own.
So, when I see that neat line of tiny, six-legged, exoskeletal, ancient evidence of prehistory marching through the hairline windowsill crack I’d left unrepaired last summer, across my shiny white ceramic tiles, and toward the slightly dirty saucepan I left out last night, I open the under-the-sink arsenal and pull out my Environmentally Friendly, ALL-Purpose Kitchen Cleaner and squirt ‘em down. Then, with my 99¢-store, who-knows-how-it-was-manufactured-and-under-what-conditions sponge, I wipe my countertop clean.
It’s Tuesday night. I’m sitting in circle with nine other women, all gathered around the low, round tabletop altar in what I’ve come to see as the council room. The altar overflows with handmade elephants, snakes, owls, feathers, talking sticks and a terra cotta circle of friends around a candle. I imagine this nation of relations has been cured over many years and even more miles. The world is represented here.
Tonight is the first session of a new round of Deena Metzger’s Women’s Writing Circle, and, although one other woman and I practically cast spells trying to get the group to gather on the patio under the warm sky, where we fancied we could write with a soundtrack of crickets, we are alas, indoors, and I’ve settled for a spot on the couch. I am all ears. Deena holds the space, sitting on her rocking chair with her piercing dark eyes and mane of white Spirit fluff. She offers a right-relationship grammatical lesson on the socially wise use of capitalization, and I raise my hand. But she does not call on me. So, I ponder her words.
“Capital ‘B,’ Bear.” Sure. “Capital ‘C,’ Cheyenne.” Of course. Bear, Wolf, Dog. Big powerful Mammals. People I want on “my team.” The thought that lifted my hand to speak is this:
“I don’t feel so comfortable capitalizing ‘ant.’”
I have an Auntie Fran and an Aunt Val on my dad’s side, plus an Aunt Karen by marriage on my mom’s side, all pronounced such that they rhyme with “want.” I never adopted the alternate pronunciation. An ant is an insect. How could I kill it if it is my Brother, Sister, Uncle or… Aunt? Yet I do.
I also eat meat. Not during the summer, when my body is happy with veggies and eggs (and homemade raw chocolate). But during the winter, beef feeds my bones. Do I now need to capitalize ‘beef’? Or do I speak honestly: “I don’t eat beef, whatever that is…? I eat Cow. Brother/Sister Cow. Grandmother Cow.”
I am an animal. I hunt to live, or rather, I pay someone I don’t know $9.99/lb to raise a crop of healthy, free-range, organic Cows for me. I don’t have the stomach for hunting, though if I needed to, for me or my children, I would hunt in a heartbeat. My heartbeat over yours, dear. Thank you, God, for these thy gifts, etc. But I don’t need to hunt. This is the part I find unsettling. Not that I eat what my body finds nourishing, which is what all Animals do, but that I do so without knowing my Meal first. I never wanted to before. It seemed cruel to raise someone, name them, and then kill them. Times have changed. Now the disconnection feels worse than killing. I never thought I’d see it this way. This is new.
I usually eat consciously. For as long as I can remember, I’ve prayed and given thanks for the Animals whose lives are sacrificed to become a part of my life. I’ve offered my body as a way for their life to continue, and I try not to waste. In this way, I participate in the cycle. But what about our Aunt Ant? What are the lines, the boundaries of what I consider “sacred” life? And what about this idea of “territory”? Auntie Ant’s Ancestors most likely did not give permission, were not asked or told, when “my” land was “purchased” for the first time by the pink-skinned people, though this non-verbal communication was certainly received and felt by the entire local ecosystem. Now I am a grateful “landowner,” and I like being one, but the idea of “owning” a slice of the Mama is ludicrous. I am legally responsible for this slice; that’s all. What about the laws not written by Human Animals? What are my responsibilities to the larger Circle?
I want to live peacefully with all of my relations. Or do I? Am I willing to clean the kitchen more thoroughly and with more mindfulness, and thus stop inviting my Relatives in only to wipe them out —literally? If they do arrive and I allow them to share space until I clean up my act (or the kitchen), what will my (Human) guests think of me? This last question is small, lower-case, like the “A” in Ant used to be small, but is no longer. Standing for my tiny relatives (while not quite friends, mind you), and taking this tiny stand feels right. I could call it “Standing Pebble,” a flap of my Butterfly wings that may lead to a world I can bear (lower-case, as in “no big deal, it’s simply what we do”), a world with a few less bottles of anti-Bacterial soap and chlorinated pools, a world where roundup, Rat poison and raid are only found in history lessons.
What if saving the world starts with sparing an Ant? Or capitalizing a word? Might it be a simple shift in consciousness? This is a question I am willing to ask.
Sage Knight is a local ghostwriter, speaker and writing coach. She lives at Top o’ Topanga with her Golden Retriever, Shiloh, and a host of other Relatives.