Of Beheaded Puffs and Bouncing Hadedas **

Over the course of last weekend, I had three separate and chilling experiences of the blinding lack of respect for life that so many people seem to have.

Okay, The Band refers to me as a bunny hugger, and he has a point: I have been brought up that way and I can’t actually imagine living my life in any other way. I have no doubt that to many, many people, I am the weird one, who chooses to rather scoop a spider up in a glass and release it outside than stomp on it; who would take the time to fish the odd bee, beetle or bug out of the pool before diving in myself; who would swerve to drive around a chameleon on the road (safely, of course!) and then pull off and park to run back into the oncoming traffic to rescue it, rather than have it squashed to a pulp.

I don’t expect that everyone should share my opinions, and I am fortunately way past the age where I used to see it as my duty to try and bring people around to my way of thinking. It was exhausting, and I would inevitably get too emotional about it all and lose my credibility (if I had any to start with).

Now, I just listen, or watch, and then make up my own mind about who is a kindred spirit, or who I can still enjoy time with, but who is definitely not someone that I ‘get’ or who ‘gets’ me.

So, back to this past weekend. On the Friday night, during a truly special evening in the most spectacular setting, where I was feeling very excited about being in the company of a group of supposedly like-minded people, the host took great relish in describing exactly how he beheaded, with an axe, a huge puffadder in the garage a few days before. Don’t get me wrong, I realise that they have small children and pets and need to look after their own, but for heaven’s sake: they live on the slopes of a mountain covered with fynbos, and inevitably have to share their territory with other species. My suggestion of putting said snake in a bucket and releasing it somewhere up in the mountain was met with disdain, something along the lines of this having been a particularly naughty snake…

It was a lovely evening and I really like the people in question, and hope that we spend a lot more time with them. But (for me) there is a definite awareness now of some very fundamental differences that may preclude any deepening of the friendship, because on such a very basic level, we clearly don’t see eye to eye. (And I’m sure that they may think of me as a bit of an idealistic fairy-type, and that’s also fine).

The next day, The Band and I went to a braai at a very dear friend’s house. Divine time, divine food, divine company. And then her husband started describing in great detail about how he shot a hadeda just off their stoep (he just didn’t like the way it was picking around in his garden) and how it bounced numerous times: off the step, into the garden, tried to fly but hit the deck again in the neighbour’s garden, then into the road etc etc… I am made of strong stuff but I think I may have flinched each time he detailed the bump back to earth of this beautiful, proud, irridescent bird. A fine line for me, between not wanting to create a scene by saying exactly what I thought, and also not wanting to compromise my beliefs. I think I may have just excused myself from the table because I found it so hard to actually sit there and participate in the conversation.

The next day, during lunchtime while the children slept, I went for a long walk along the beach at Strand. And was amazed to see a very gentle and homely looking mum showing her two young boys how to pop the bluebottles with ones heel as one walks along the shore. Granted, bluebottles can be a pain (literally and physically) to bathers, and once they have been washed up on the beach, probably aren’t going to survive anyway, but I just don’t get the need to willfully destroy them, especially with such relish, as if it’s a fun thing to do and a necessary skill to impart to the next generation. Kill, kill, kill. We are at the top of the foodchain so we can do what we want, how we want, when we want. Something just seems very wrong to me about that attitude.

I have been brought up to respect every single form of life, from a worm in the garden to a bee caught inside a window. I feel proud and priviledged that I have had these beliefs instilled in me, and I can almost feel my heart swell when I hear my 3 year old talking gently to any ‘goggo’ that he may have found in the house or garden. It’s not about being all fairy-like and effeminate, it’s just about having reverence for all the other life forms that also inhabit this beautiful planet that we live on, and trying to get along in the most harmonious way possible. There is enough space for all of us.

** A puff adder is a a venomous snake species found in Africa and the southern Arabian Peninsula. A hadeda is large, dark brown, glossy ibis found in South Africa and other African countries.