Today, a season changes. The change is not a sudden flip from one scene to the next but a subtle change of light and the tone of the shadows, a scent in the air, and a knowledge that something has changed that will never turn back. Summer has taken a step toward autumn, when the wild and abundant growth of the season ebbs and living things prepare to harvest or be harvested. It is both the cross-quarter festival of Lugnasadh, reflecting on the death of what has grown that now gives us life and sustenance, and the Christian Feast of Lammas, or Loaf-mass, when the first loaves of bread were baked from the year’s first harvest of wheat.
We’ve mourned the loss of a member of our animal kingdom, a wild but oddly friendly lion, unique in color, tagged by us humans in a way that teaches us about him and the way his species lives. Funny, you’d think for the millennia humans have shared the Earth with lions and the myriad ideals lions symbolize in nearly all cultures around the globe we’d know all about lions. But mostly what we know about lions is how to kill them, sometimes for protection, sometimes for food, and sometimes for the need to prove we are the dominant species on this planet. Only now, in this century and the last, have we humans mounted a serious campaign to actually learn about the king of beasts and his society instead of competing with him.
Why does the death of Cecil touch us so? Why him instead of all the other deaths of imperiled species and domestic animals and our pets and people too? In part because of its heinous nature, the trickery involved, Cecil’s suffering, the unfairness of how and why he was killed, and the absolute stupidity of trophy hunting itself—killing an animal just to prove you could kill it and taking its outer identity as a prize, even though the “hunt” was staged at little risk to the “hunter”. No doubt it’s also partly because in his way he reached out to us, and we felt free to reach back to him, and now we’ve lost a social link with a species we fear and hardly know and we may never have that link again.
Perhaps the calls for punishment for his death and an end to the practice of trophy hunting is a reflection of our regret for that loss, and while it seems to be centered on Cecil, it really extends to all the wild animals among whom we’ve lived in our time on earth but about whom we also know little but how to kill. Perhaps now we feel we can leave behind our fear of these animals and we feel safe enough to live in peace with them. Possibly some of us actually do.
But change comes slowly, like the seasons, leaf by leaf, grain by grain, moment by moment, day by day, until one day we notice the leaves are changing color and the fields are a sea of warm and waving amber and a new season is upon us and there is no turning back. Pets had always been considered expendable in evacuations but ten years ago people refused to leave their pets behind in the wake of Hurricane Katrina. That wasn’t the first time people had refused, it was one of a growing number of times, but it became a tipping point after which pets became part of the emergency plan. Cecil was a tipping point, many unjust animal deaths led up to the outcry against his killing, and we’ve taken a step or two farther in really, honestly, protecting wild species and in respect for the other living things on this planet and possibly finally learning about them. Everyone isn’t moving along at the same pace, but the standards have changed and there is no turning back.
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I’ve also published a poem I wrote about this cross-quarter day to celebrate this day on my blog Today.
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Weekly schedule of features:
Sunday: Essays, Pet Loss, Poetry, The Artist’s Life
Monday: Adoptable Cats, TNR & Shelters
Tuesday: Rescue Stories
Wednesday: Commissioned Portrait or Featured Artwork
Thursday: New Merchandise
Friday: Book Review, Health and Welfare, Advocacy
Saturday: Your Backyard Wildlife Habitat, Living Green With Pets, Creating With Cats
And sometimes, I just throw my hands in the air and have fun!