tranquilosophy: heart animals {my herstory}

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 watercolor by mary catherine starr

While in NYC yesterday I met with Richard Zimmerman of Orangutan Outreach and my deep passion for animals was reignited. I noticed myself drawn to his stories, eager to find ways to help the furry orange creatures, and tearing up as we spoke about the atrocities against them due to the palm oil crisis. He even showed me his tattoo of Luna, my first adoptee who went missing mysteriously.

As I left our time together at Stumptown en route to my memoir writing class I was full of a special kind of energy. Something I hadn’t felt so strongly possibly since Farm Sanctuary’s End Factory Farming Conference of 2011. While hastily sprinting to writing class, I texted Le Beau that we needed to drop everything and head to Borneo. The orangutans needed us.

My deep connection to animals traces back to grade school. There were the many carelessly abandoned cats and dogs that became our family’s beloved pets. Followed by numerous fish, newts, and hamsters. But it was turtles that became my first true obsession. Starting with a red-eared baby named Myrtle, I built a small village culminating in a holiday celebration complete with a Christmas tree, carols, and freeze-dried worms stocking stuffers for her and her rescued siblings.

I even told turtle stories for all my third grade writing projects until Mrs. Stever {you see I’ve let this go} told me I need to come up with a new topic. Apparently she, and possibly my classmates, had tired of my turtle tales. The obsession continued with an extensive collection of turtle figurines in pewter, stone, and plaster but no more stories. Or live turtles. They’d all gone to turtle heaven despite vet visits, numerous reptile books, and lots of love. Yes, they were buried in our back yard.

My next obsession was apes, particularly orangutans although I was also a fan of chimps and gorillas. After watching Gorillas in the Mist as a young girl, I’ve idolized women who devote their lives and souls to a cause, especially animals. In college I was gifted an annual zoo pass to feed my ape-visiting {stalking} addiction. I was particularly fond of the baby orangutan Mango. I’d drag my poor boyfriend up for regular visits, snap heaps of photos with the glare of the glass caught by the flash, and head back to the sorority house revitalized. As if I’d connected to a real world, something very different than the Delta Delta Delta lifestyle.

Pre-Internet, I sent away for info on gorilla treks in Africa and began saving to meet these giants. Then I moved to D.C., started a business, and my funds and energy went elsewhere. But I haven’t forgotten the gorillas, Dian Fossey, or the way my heart pounds as I get close to the ape house at zoos. (Although I’m not a fan of animals in captivity, I am grateful for the opportunity to see these lovely beings up close).

watercolor by mary catherine starr

Next came exposure to Farm Sanctuary during the 2007 Jivamukti month-long teacher training. That’s when I adopted couch-sized JD {here he is as a rescued piglet} and have been pig-obsessed ever since. From hosting fundraising and awareness-raising events, to adopting pigs, to hosting film screenings {Vegucated THIS Friday in Dupont}, to feeding them heaps of animal crackers, to craving one of my own. My soul desires all beings be free from suffering. Especially the beautiful pigs.

My favorite mantra Lokah Samastah Sukhino Bhavantu {tattooed on my inner arm} speaks to this. Here’s an essay on the mantra by teacher Sharon Gannon.

May all beings everywhere be happy and free. May the thoughts, words, and actions of my own life contribute in some way to that happiness and to that freedom for all.

Today is meatout day. A day dedicated to compassionate eating. As you consider your breakfast, lunch, dinner, and savory snacks, I encourage you to choose veg. It’s fairly easy, most tasty, less expensive, and more healthy. And no animals harmed. A win-win.

As I continue to find my way as a cheerleader for animal rights, I know it’s where I belong. The emotion that bubbles up when around creatures is palpable. It’s like I’m home. I come alive and I want to give up everything I have to immerse myself in the cause. Then reality hits. A mortgage is due. There are amazing yogis to be served. And I have a big beautiful family that I love.

However, if you see an out of office love note posted on the blog declaring I’ve run away to Borneo, you’ll know why. Pigs and orangutans are the new black {and my new turtle}. Adopt one of your own. Forgo products with palm oil or pork. Let your passionate freak flag fly whether it is turtles, cats, human rights, or the environment. I’ll be right there with you waving my own. Bisous. x