|By Robert Cohen Executive Director|
I arrived at Gate B-5 about 5 minutes before boarding began, and saw a man holding a backpack stuffed full of feathers. They were beautiful feathers. No work of man's can catch rays of sunlight as beautifully as nature portrays male pheasant feathers, shimmering iridescent, reflecting a profound creation of pigments and hues. "Where did you get the feathers?" I asked. I never asked the man his name, but learned that he lives in Sparta, New Jersey, a short distance from my home in Bergen County. He's vice president of production for BASF, the chemical company that manufactures Vitamin D-3 from wool grease (sheep skin and fleece) and Vitamin B-12 from cow intestines. Both products are often included as supplemental ingredients to so-called vegetarian vitamins and foods. I was surprised when he told me that he was not aware of the origin of the vitamins he markets, but believed his claim. We had a friendly conversation, and he had no reason to be dishonest with a fellow traveler. The feathers were beautiful, and he was proud that I took note of his trophy. The feathers came from the bodies of the pheasants he had shot on Saturday and Sunday. While he participated in his controlled shoot, I was attending an animal rights conference in Ann Arbor, Michigan. What irony. Mr. Feather-man had been on a hunting trip. BASF owns a private island near Detroit. Actually, it's just across the border, in Canada. I was told that nobody can accuse the company of abusing animals in the United States. That's why pheasants and ducks are hatched from eggs and kept in captivity on the private BASF game farm. The hunting preserve exists so that top New Jersey BASF executives can fly for a weekend of fun, shooting birds to death, plucking their feathers as trophy gifts, and bringing home coolers filled with their shot-filled naked bodies. His reward for being a 32-year employee of the company. I asked if the birds died immediately after being shot. He told me that they had. I have seen movies taken at pigeon shoots. These are very uncomfortable films for me to watch. The birds take a long time to die. I averted my eyes from the film, but the tormented suffering of their death throes remains a part of my memory. Our conversation ended as boarding began. Only a few dozen people were on the flight from Detroit to Newark. He rushed to the front of the line and was first to board. My coach ticket had been upgraded to first class. I was fourth in line. I walked the ramp behind the BASF shooter, and as he rushed down the carpeted ramp to board the plane, watched as a feather flew out of his bag and gently fell to the floor. I thought of telling him, but something made me pick it up, and put it into my jacket pocket. I heard the Forrest Gump song playing in my head. I saw Tom Hanks sitting on his bus stop bench as a feather floats randomly through the sky as backdrop to the opening and closing credits of that movie. I now hold that feather. My feather is an object of beauty. It once belonged to a creature who died in terror, victim to an invading spray of pellets from a shotgun. One half of the feather is speckled, shades of brown dots. The other half contains vertical streaks of brown and black ending with reddish hues. At the bottom of the feather, is a small tuft of fluffy, wispy, cloud-like, soft, downy feathers. I spoke Saturday morning to a passionate group of animal rights activists in Ann Arbor. In the afternoon, the crowd heard from Wayne Pacelle of the Humane Society. Wayne is one of my favorite speakers. Wayne spoke of similar hunting preserves in the state of Michigan. He praised the efforts of Julie Baker, founder of a Michigan-based organization that seeks to ban the hunting of doves. Why do people hunt doves? These beautiful birds have been revered as symbols of love and peace for over 6,000 years. Hunters adore flying targets. They hunt doves in Michigan. I hold a feather. They say that birds of a feather flock together. Would you become a bird of my feather too? Support the work of Julie Baker. Visit her website: http://www.SaveTheDoves.org Let a bit of Julie Baker's passion rub off onto you as gently as a feather falls in flight from the heavens to earth. I remember reading Thorton Wilder's "Bridge of San Luis Rey." Forgive me if I misquote the passage, but as memory serves me, Wilder wrote something that has stayed a part of me: "Some people believe that God touches each feather from every bird's wing..." The feather was picked up by Forrest Gump, and put away for safe keeping. I also rescued a feather, and have written this column, and some good will come of it, I am certain.
Robert Cohen, author of: MILK A-Z
Executive Director (email@example.com)
Dairy Education Board
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