“Before we go any further, let’s acknowledge that the questions of whether and how different kinds of animals feel pain, and of whether and why it might be justifiable to inflict pain on them in order to eat them, turn out to be extremely complex and difficult. And comparative neuroanatomy is only part of the problem. Since pain is a totally subjective mental experience, we do not have direct access to anyone or anything’s pain but our own; and even just the principles by which we can infer that others experience pain and have a legitimate interest in not feeling pain involve hard-core philosophy—metaphysics, epistemology, value theory, ethics. The fact that even the most highly evolved nonhuman mammals can’t use language to communicate with us about their subjective mental experience is only the first layer of additional complication in trying to extend our reasoning about pain and morality to animals. And everything gets progressively more abstract and convolved as we move farther and farther out from the higher-type mammals into cattle and swine and dogs and cats and rodents, and then birds and fish, and finally invertebrates like lobsters.
The more important point here, though, is that the whole animal-cruelty-and-eating issue is not just complex, it’s also uncomfortable. It is, at any rate, uncomfortable for me, and for just about everyone I know who enjoys a variety of foods and yet does not want to see herself as cruel or unfeeling. As far as I can tell, my own main way of dealing with this conflict has been to avoid thinking about the whole unpleasant thing.”
David Foster Wallace, Consider the Lobster, first published August, 2004
The essay from which this quote is taken is particularly fascinating to me because my Uncle Bob, my father’s sister’s husband, is a lobsterman living in the exact same harbor that this article references. I know many of the towns, I know many of the industrial terms, and I am familiar with my own set of ambivalent emotions regarding the consumption of lobster because I’ve spent lots of time on or around lobster boats. My uncle doesn’t even eat lobster, he doesn’t like the taste. I’ve never asked him about his opinions regarding the consumption of animals or the relativistic notion of pain.
A dryer full of clothes and boots (yes boots)
And so were days on hills, miles walked.
And living room floors, carpeted in sleeping bags
Opening at dawn
To run up hills again, at 8.
Snow was joy, communal breakfast,
3 legged dogs.
What I remember most of snow
Is mom and pop, and a tireless refrain:
Of course everyone can stay again,
Enjoying just as much as us.
Olfactory inputs are capable of transporting a 27 year old to a two room shack in Maine waiting out its numbered days in an evergreen forest on a low lying bluff above a dark, tannin stained, mysterious river, shrouded by fir, colonized by mice, hiding a century of family history beneath moss and cracked pine shingles. I know that place, I cannot forget it. I can’t forget the smell of ancient tea, I can’t forget the smell of its moldering latrine (I was terrified to go out there at night when I was 5, and 8, and, in fact, until I was almost 18 years of age). When I forget my father buying oarlocks to take Jay and I fishing, when I forget my mother packing us lunch for day long canoe trips, when I forget a bunch of down east Mainers eating fish and laughing and celebrating each other in a place oozing the early history of half my family I’ll be dead.
This was inspired by the glorious, poly-aromatic smell of a kitchen cabinet I opened tonight.
When I first came to North Carolina I was scared. I had to leave a lot of friends and a nice home. We had to camp because we did not want to stay in a motel. We had to decide a house we were going to by [sic] and get settled. My mom was brought here by a job when her college broke down. At first I hated it but I made friends quikly [sic] like Nick and Dean. But when I went to Grays Chapel I made even more friends. The first summer people got to stay over night! But I still missed my home in West Virginia and this summer my dog died her name was Muffin that made things worse. But now I have a lot of friends aand [sic] I don’t have any more problems. North Carolina is a fun place to be because it is fun. I have eleven acres and a pond. Just a week ago we caught an seventeen inch bass. And on our eleven acres we have thousands of lizards. And some deer come in our field sometimes there is a lot of blackberries wich [sic] we made a few pies. One time we had so many blackberries that it filled up our refrigerator.
You carried me in one night, to a West Virginian house
Under an electric nighttime sky
Bent over to protect me from the rain
How big those hands must have been to hold me.
Then later, those same hands lay cracked
Upon the table, with bleeding, peeling skin,
Due to cardboard, shoveled (by hand of course)
For 5 days a week – for health and dental.
Those hands have rubbed my head, and fixed my walls.
They’ve fixed my car, my bank accounts,
They’ve driven under squalls.
A weathered, calloused, pair of working palms
Has rowed and paddled Jay and I, and Mom,
On countless trips,
In Maine, or southern swamps.
But even clever, rugged hands get old, and cause in sons
Bright sparks of memory
Of half hitch knots, and innumerable mountain runs.
wind is lovely,
with all its personalities.
But mostly it sounds like a whistling neighbor,
thinking about something
or just singing
Down empty lanes
And happy, long forgotten
Remote, lush, sparsely populated – northern Palawan is often called the Philippine’s ‘last frontier’, a region of stunning natural beauty, rustic charm, and nearly unmatched diving and snorkeling environments. Home to the Calamian Islands, the Palawan archipelago is composed of sparsely populated or altogether uninhabited bits of jungle covered rock accessible primarily through local tour companies or private boats.
For travelers hoping to escape the crowds and commercialization of more conventional destinations like Phuket or Bali, you can’t do much better than this oft-underappreciated corner of Southeast Asia. While a variety of vendors, routes, and itineraries are available, I settled on Tao Philippines, a small company specializing in 5 day expeditions between Coron and El Nido, two small seaside towns in northern Palawan.
So, at 8:30 am the first day, I downed some coffee and strolled through Coron’s public market, past the stalls of ubiquitous, imported, plastic Chinese doodads, past the fish mongers and the boatmen, out to the wharf and was ferried out to the Buhay, a long, narrow, two-story boat that would become my floating home (during the day at least) for almost a week.
This particular expedition worked roughly as such: each day was spent cliff jumping, fishing, snorkeling reefs and shipwrecks, kayaking, swimming, or just enjoying empty beaches – or a combination thereof, and each night the boat stopped at a camp, which are scattered liberally between Coron and El Nido, to rest, relax, and fill ourselves with intoxicating amounts of food and booze. Accommodations are similar, almost identical actually (bamboo and thatch huts), but the personality and surroundings of each camp vary widely.
Our first stop, Pass Island, was a semi-circular speck of land raised barely twenty meters above the sea at its highest. I doffed my shoes and raced local children up a small berm, to the low bluffs on the leeward shore to capture the sunset with my lowly point and shoot, managing to avoid any serious injuries from the dried coral scattered across the groud. That night we feasted. Fresh mackerel, vegetable curry, rice, San Miguel Pilsens – packing all that food and drink onto a full day of snorkeling and a stage 3 sunburn made it an easy call to dive under my mosquito net at a decent hour. But not before checking out the nighttime sky. There are stars at night in Palawan, and by stars I don’t mean a light dusting of the brightest neighboring suns. I mean the disc of the Milky Way can be seen edge on, a river of glittering cosmic sand flowing right down the middle of the sky.
I woke up on the second day and knew, instantly, that I wouldn’t go shirtless for the rest of the trip. My back looked like a Rorschach test. A small constellation of pasty splotches set against an angry, blood red backdrop of sunburned flesh. I doused myself in SPF 80 and sat down for the morning meal: Puso ng Saging – banana blossom fritters, buttered bread, fried eggs, and fruit. Traditional Philippino meals and snacks are delicious, communal events. Most of the ingredients were gathered or caught the day of preparation. Fresh fish, coconut, bananas, papaya, sweet potatoes, turmeric, ginger, eggs, pork, chicken – travelers literally watch their food go from farm, forest, and sea to fork.
After breakfeast it was off the island, onto the Buhay, and wending south to Arao beach, codenamed ‘7-11’ by locals for its small ‘convenience store’ – a diminutive hut selling fish and basic supplies. Arao is an absolutely stunning ribbon of white sand set beside a narrow strait at the confluence two currents, one from the South China Sea, the other from the Sulu Sea. Nutrient rich waters have produced a gorgeous reef, extending perhaps 50 meters from shore and running in an explosive, multi-colored riot of sea creatures and corals off into the deeps of the strait.
Our second day ended at Kulaylayan, a secluded cove on Linapacan Island, under a liquid sunset. We all sang videoke (from where this machine came I have no idea) on bellies fully of Tanguay rum and white snapper, tried to climb coconut trees, and caroused around a bonfire until dawn. I carried my thin mattress and sheet out to the beach and slept for a few hours under a low tree. A brief note about rum and Filipino homeopathy: if suffering from a cold or sinus problems, pour out a handful of Tanguay, a caramel colored elixir of near medical strength, and snort it. My third night was spent under the towering canopy of a coconut grove where an entire hog was roasting as the boat pulled ashore. Amid steaming plates of pork, sweet potatoes, and green beans everyone shared stories until at least 3 am.
Cadlao, an island lying just west of El Nido, was home to the fourth and final camp. Approaching Cadlao is like sailing out of the twenty first century into a primordial, forgotten land; thrumming jungle lies just beyond the beach that is, in turn, backed by towering limestone cliffs reaching vertically almost 300 meters. An ecological preserve, the island is covered in old-growth, multi-canopied topical forest with enormous trees and cacophonous wildlife. Swiftlets, whose nests are collected and exported to China filled the air above camp, travelers passed around beer and food, and I, nearing the end of the trip laid in a hammock and listened to the jungle and the ocean, eating coconut and wondering how the five hour van ride from El Nido to the Puerto Princesa airport over gravel roads was going to be.
It would be easy to run wild with cliché describing this corner of the Philippines. Electric blue water, untouched beaches, vibrant coral and shimmering clouds of fish, a thousand languid pleasures waiting a few short plane rides from the Asian mainland – and every one of them would be an unexaggerated truth. For those who want to get away, really and truly away from loud, high density, chattering tourist districts, Palawan should be somewhere near the top of your shortlist. Just make sure to bring sunscreen.
Hey Grandma, Jay, Pop, Pat, (and Silly Camilly!) Sorry I didn’t get to skype with everyone yesterday. I hope it was a nice christmas, I miss everyone and being in Cleveland for the holidays, eating pistachios, drinking gingerale, and perogies, cottage cheese, and ham, walking in the woods, visiting and chatting, and watching jeopardy, sleeping on the couch and enjoying the ritual of morning breakfast and christmas pictures. I miss tucking myself away somewhere in the house and reading, and cramming into the kitchen dining room for elbows to elbows meals. Thanks so much for the singing christmas card and hopefully I will get to talk at some point this holiday, love you all.