Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Predators Inside and Out

Well, after I reported that we were under little or no predator pressure, one showed up just on cue. Because of my faulty observations, I had let the well-constructed defenses go relatively unused: letting the turkeys sleep outside the tractors (both on top of and in the bushes around them), accidentally leaving their electric netting off, not doing an evening walk with the dogs, etc.

Silly. It even took me a few days to figure out that it was happening. I discovered the problem one evening when I noticed an area of silver feathers in the pasture. Close by, I found a turkey, still alive and whose wounds were relatively superficial. Gathering them up together inside their tractors, I counted 38 healthy birds and 1 wounded. We'd lost five.

In the days and nights that followed, the dogs and I scoured the property looking for any signs of this elusive but deadly critter. We found a feeding location deep in the bush, covered in feathers but no flesh. We found a fresh corpse, drug under the electric netting close by and with the same scratch wounds around the neck. All this pointed to a predator not much bigger than the birds, and not especially efficient at killing this size prey. This, of course, ruled out what I've been told is the biggest threat - stray dogs or coyotes - as well as anything like a large cat; given their weight, too, I doubted a hawk or an owl or any other bird of prey. My first hypothesis was that it was a raccoon. After that, I thought it could be this other medium-size mammal both Jen and I have seen but neither can identify.

Whatever it was, though, it was elusive. Leaving not a trace, I searched in vain for its tracks as it continued to scare the turkeys at night by pacing around their secured roosts. I set traps. I walked around. In the rain. At night. In my underwear and boots. With a 410 shotgun thrown over my shoulder. On a mission. I was the Department of Homeland Security and the terrorist must be eliminated.

But all to no avail. Whatever it was continued to be elusive, displacing its wild traces into the nocturnal lives of our domesticated dinners. Within these traces, marked by blue feathers and stressed faces, the difference between this predator's presence and its meaning began to open up for me and, I think, for the turkeys too. Perhaps this is because, as Derrida notes, "[t]he trace is the differance which opens appearance and signification. Articulating the living upon the nonliving in general, origin of all repetition, origin of ideality, the trace is not more ideal than real, not more intelligible than sensible, not more a transparent signification than an opaque energy and no concept of metaphysics can describe it.” Very well. I just needed to stop the flow in the feeding ecology in one particular direction.
At first, the wounded turkey healed nicely. He hung out in the back yard, and John and Jen and I cleaned his wounds. After a few days I tried to put him back with the rest of the turkeys, but after only 20 minutes the other males had identified his weakness and were very close to killing him themselves. Weakness, too, seemed in need of elimination. Instead I moved him into the chicken pen, where he lived and slowly recovered from his second brush with death. But yesterday I found him dead under a small bush. This time it was another predator - or, rather, a scavenger. Flies had found the wound that somehow opened again without me noticing. Dinner was to be had one way or another. This time it was from the inside out.

After finishing my own dinner, I was standing on the porch in the moonlight and finally caught a glimpse of the predator. Traced on my retina, silver as the moon and blue as the turkeys she was clearly pursuing, a fox crossed the road and disappeared into the pasture. Finally, with all the birds secure, I found a new response to this exquisite spectre of death looming amid the thorns in the blue moon light. Welcome, I said softly, belly full and mind soothed by my renewed attention to those things that threaten from both the inside and out.

Although he was talking about his cat looking at his member in the bathroom, again I find Derrida helpful with respect to our fox: "The animal is there before me, there close to me, there in front of me – I who am (following) after it. And also, therefore, since it is before me, it is behind me. It surrounds me. And from the vantage of this being-there-before-me it can allow itself to be looked at, no doubt, but also – something that philosophy perhaps forgets, perhaps being this calculated forgetting itself – it can look at me. It has its point of view regarding me. The point of view of the absolute other, and nothing will have ever done more to make me think through this absolute alterity of the neighbor than these moments when I see myself seen naked under the gaze of a cat." But soon enough the dogs will be on the job and an entirely new ethic will already be underway. In the meantime, it looks as though we'll still have 35 turkeys available for Thanksgiving.


  1. Hi CJ,
    Have you counted the CHICKENS recently ????????

  2. Hey Patrick! Yes, I have, but it's a little bit more difficult as they sleep in several locations. When I did, I came up with 137. But I'm not confident in that number. I should have a better one soon, and I'll let you know.

  3. Well, I'm rooting for the foxie!

  4. ms sweetness and lightOctober 7, 2009 at 8:40 PM

    Ms Sweetness and Light here again:
    - I do agree that a very interesting experiment is underway.... how will a poor l'll tennessee fox compete against dogs bred through hundreds of years of human selection for killer guard behavior? initially, i think the foxes won't do so well. but as glassfootage well knows foxes live very close to the center of London. in the fullness of time ecotone farm will become a 'burb of nashville. my guess is that mr and mrs foxy's offspring will be there, doing jest fine thank y'all ....
    anyway, i think we should all be vegans....