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Wednesday, February 2, 2011

The Moral Dilemma of My Mother's Mink: Earning Our Place in the World

My mother’s mink stole and two fur collars, one sable, one white, have been hanging in the back of my closet since she died five years ago.  I remember how beautiful she looked to me as a child when she wore her mink—how the soft fur graced her bare sloping shoulders and showed off her own mother’s strand of pearls—how proud my father looked as he offered my mother his arm. The mink stole symbolized to my father his ability and desire to provide for my mother (not unlike what his grandfather must have felt when he dragged a deer back to his waiting wife).
Old Fugate Sawmill, Stringtown, OK
read essay
My grandmother never wore a mink stole, though.  She had been born in Indian Territory—the child of a laboring, mixed-blood family that logged for the railroad companies as they laid track from Arkansas and Kentucky and Oklahoma west to Washington.  Judging from old family photos, they ate a lot of deer meat—and rabbit.  Members of the weasel family, no doubt, provided food and fur and oil.  Families of old had far more intimate relationships with the weasel family than our family ever did.  My mother (like millions of other modern women) used medical and cosmetic products that included mink oil, which has been a coveted oil since the paths of man and mink first crossed—intimate uses but without intimate knowledge.

Old Mink traps, Lookout Mountain
It’s unlikely that the minks that gave their lives for my mother’s fur stole ever swam in a river or frolicked in a creek.  More likely, the mink were some of the hundreds or thousands raised in mink farms (post Civil War enterprises), perhaps even on a mink farm here in Colorado.  There used to be a mink farm in the foothills community where I grew up, which I remember visiting once.  I do not remember seeing injured animals (though you’ll see a lot of those on undercover YouTube videos now).  But I do remember the trapped look in their eyes, the anxious pacing in some, the resignation in others.  The remnants of those mink cages lie in a draw beside one of my favorite hiking trails.

Mink: Colorado Division of Wildlife
In the wild, mink travel.  Constantly.  They have large territories.  More than fifty percent of all mink deaths in the wild happen in fights over territory.  Less than half will live beyond their first year.  At least these mink, even as they fight “like wolverines” for the right to claim a certain stretch of river, die fighting for something they love. Anthropomorphism?  Perhaps, and it’s about time.

AICF Gala, Denver, Colorado
Last winter, during a blizzard in Denver (much like what the rest of the country is experiencing now), I attended an elegant fundraising gala hosted by the American Indian College Fund.  As I was getting dressed, and as the storm raged, I thought about wearing my mother’s mink stole. The fact that it had been shoved to the back of my closet for five years, along with the fur collars, and hadn’t been worn for at least twenty years prior to that, seemed like the final affront to the dignity of the animals that had given their lives. 

As I reached into the back of my closet and stroked the soft fur, this question reared its head:  If an animal has already died, and if that animal’s fur has already been made into a coat, does one not dishonor the animal by not wearing the coat?  I’m not asking whether it’s moral to farm animals for their fur; or immoral to know so little about where the clothing on your back comes from.  I’m asking about the morality of not letting something go to waste.  If a deer is killed by a car, should the meat be taken to a raptor rehab facility? 

Tracks in the Snow
I wish I had known these mink—seen them roaming the woods around our house, watched them snag trout from a mountain stream, glimpsed their new litters of kits each spring, perhaps seen them grow one last winter coat before being lured into a trap.  If I had been the one to check the trap, to know the feel of every bone beneath every inch of fur, then perhaps this intimacy would have somehow lent balance to the taking.  But I wasn’t, and I didn’t.  I inherited the furs without this deeper knowing. 

How do we earn our place
in the world?
Perhaps all this shadowy introspection, this search for meaning and healing “in the blood of the wound itself,” is really a search for relationship.  What is my relationship with the earth that sustains me?  How do I sustain the earth?  What covenant can I forge with all the things that live because of me, and all the things that die because of me?  And if heartfelt relationship isn’t enough to earn us our place in the world, then what is?

Note from Page: CLICK HERE for information on how to donate used furs to help in the rehabilitation of injured and orphaned wildlife (“Coats for Cubs” program, The Humane Society of the United States).

TAKE THE POLL: Should Page have worn her mother's mink stole?  Scroll to the top of the essay to vote.

SHARE YOUR THOUGHTS: please leave a comment.


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50 comments:

Greg Jalbert said...

An interesting dilemma about your mother's fur coat. If you're not using it, I'd gladly wear it to bed on these "three dog nights!" By the way, I think you also referred to the same coat as sable? Sable and mink are two different animals. Sable is actually a fisher, which is a little smaller than an otter but with habits more akin to a marten. Of course, the farm-raised variety could have been an entirely different color than those in my neck of the woods, which were a luxurious black fur. Just a thought. Great story! I have my father's wolf coat in the basement but didn't wear it to a meeting last night for the same reasons as yours. Maybe to bed tonight if it's cold again!

Page Lambert said...

Greg, my woodsman friend! What a great comment. Yes, we've surely had nights when three dogs in the bed would barely keep one warm! My mother had a mink stole, and a sable collar. Thanks for reminding us of the difference!

Pamela S. Beason said...

I believe that one of the best ways to live responsibly is to re-use things whenever possible, so wear your mother's mink and tell everyone that although you don't approve of modern fur farming, it's a beautiful piece of history and you inherited it. Let's be honest: every choice we make affects other living things, whether it's eating a hamburger or buying a computer or flushing a toilet. So explain your values and then do your best to live according to them.

Pamela S. Beason, Author
who occasionally blogs about nature, chaos, and the writing life at http://psbeason.wordpress.com

jean said...

Your comment about Nature leaving humans ill-equipped for cold weather, prompted me to respond. At one time we were as WELL equipped to handle Natures forces as the animals but with the introduction of all the technical devices we have lost our need for our natural protection as well as our need for highly-developed natural senses, such as smell and hearing. I do believe that at one time we WERE well-equipped to handle the cold. A time when we lived outdoors all the time and our bodies changed with the seasonal transitions.

Christine of Pacific Grove said...

Christine Bottaro says:
New
Dilemma

I've had the same thoughts myself but not in relation to mink or other furs because I haven't had the situation arise, but in relation to simply eating exotic meats or invading space where animals are in the wild. We modern Americans have very little knowledge of what other "people" are around us at any given time. It seems that there are often others around and we are so ignorant and clumsy that we never know it. Sadly, many of us would like to know about and feel at home in wild places, but we have been cut off from that knowledge for a long time.

I suppose that if you had the knowledge and awareness of how to live in a natural environment and could approach a mink on its terms and not just your human ones, you could make a more informed decision about how to honor the mink if you came to the point of taking its life. Native people around the world universally say a prayer of thanks and blessing for the life of the animal they have killed, which, in my opinion, is the only real way to stay connected to the universe and the life forms that inhabit it.

To me, the Golden Rule extends to other creatures and, if followed, would surely decrease waste, ruin and disrespect toward other living things.

Thanks for a thought-provoking post.
Cheers,
Christine

Connecting People with Nature, and Writers with Words said...

Pamela, thank you for your articulate comment. In the rough draft of this essay, I had a paragraph about the fact that it is much harder to see the impact on nature of a Gucci handbag, than it is a mink, but deleted it from the final essay. Losing intimate connection and knowledge with what and who it is that sustains our life seems at the root of many of the moral issues that face us.

Connecting People with Nature, and Writers with Words said...

Christine, thank you for this thoughtful comment,posted over on the Red Room site. The Golden Rule, if it were the foundation for all our interactions with animals, would ground our moral questions and make them much easier to answer. My son, ranch-raised by not an indigenous person, has fed himself almost exclusively on deer and elk and venison for the last 8 years. Even when he was a young hunter, he was always the first to remind us at the dinner table that we needed to say a prayer of gratitude to the animal. And, it was the first thing he did when in the woods. Parabola published an issue about 15 years ago on "The Hunter" which gives a fascinating look at the subject from the perspective of multiple cultures.

Dan Flores said...

Ha, Page! That one's easy, and you framed it exactly right. We're ill-equipped for this kind of cold because we're a species that evolved in equatorial Africa where the mean average temp was just under 72 degrees. As I asked the students in my environmental history class the other day: "Haven't you ever wondered why you set the thermostat at 72? Why people in Edmonton and people in Tucson are all setting their thermostats at 72?" Half our technology and energy consumption have to do with living in places nature never designed us for originally.

Alice Liles said...

Of course you should wear the fur. Even before I read your comment that it would be a dishonor to the animals who gave their lives to make the stole not to wear it, I had the same thought. Nothing should die in vain, and to not wear it would be a travesity. Those who would throw red paint on a woman wearing a mink coat don't get it.

Stay warm. Enjoy the fur.
Alice Liles
The Bright Lights of Muleshoe

Anonymous said...

Good work, Page.
I, too, have had thoughts like these about my own fur coats. One fischer, and the other a mink, now hang in my storage. Years ago while living off Lakeshore Drive in Chicago we survived by wearing our pelts when the wind chill factor was -90. (Yes,really.)
On occasion I still drag one out to wear to some winter shindig up in Aspen. Although when I put them on I feel the guilt our society puts on us for keeping warm. And of course, I feel the anxious cry of the animals - all we ever ate growing up in Wyoming was from the fall family hunt though. And I wouldn't be here today to comment or vote without those critters which helped my railroad Dad raise four kids on less than $10,000 a year. I feel caught in a trap myself at times. Hanging in time between higher consciousness or not?
I voted "No" to you wearing your Mom's fur stole. Not fashionable enough for you,and I agree would make a divine bed jacket.
Thanks for the brain stretch this A.M. Love always, Camille

Page Lambert said...

Jean, thank you for being prompted to respond by my question, "Why are we so ill-equipped?" You're right, of course, that we were once much better able to withstand surviving the cold without the fluffs modern technology provides. Back then, we survived by wearing the hides and furs of the animals whose flesh provided us with the nourishment we needed. It still amazes, me though, when I looked at hoofed animals like my horse, and realize he is protected from the cold by having primarily just tendons and bone and ligaments in his feet. But even my dog has lost the ability to survive in the cold because, as you mention, her body isn't able to adjust to the seasonal changes in temperature.

Page Lambert said...

Dan, it sure is obvious when I'm down at the barn in the winter that nature never intended me to be spending winter months at 8000 feet, at least not without shelter and clothing and a full pantry, even if that shelter was made of buffalo hide and I slept beneath a buffalo robe. So where, exactly, would we all be living if the entire human race migrated back to that 72 degree clime?

Mary Sojourner said...

My ex was a Special Forces medic in Vietnam. He told me about working with Bru (Hill People) and how they would curl up on the ground even in monsoon weather and fall immediately and peacefully asleep; how they ran trails barefoot, their toes splayed wide, the soles of their feet thick as hooves; how they could go for miles and miles on a little rice, Tabasco sauce and a few cigarettes. I suspect we were once much closer to the animals in being able to live a harder life. And, of course, the horses and cattle can't tell us whether or not the cold is painful to them.

If the stole had been left in my possession and wasn't contaminated with preservatives, I'd take it out to the desert and let the ravens, coyotes and bugs have at it.

Thanks for a strong piece. m

Connecting People with Nature, and Writers with Words said...

Hi Mary. Vietnam sounds like a terrain much more suited to human habitation than the Colorado Rocky Mountains in the winter. But yes, when we lived outdoors, or where only the thickness of a hide or a log separated us from the weather, our bodies kept acclimated. Vets say that the horses actually “tolerate” the cold better than extreme heat, and I marvel at the ability of their winter coats to insulate. But it’s easy to tell that they are in survival mode. The elk, which have been grazing with them all winter, disappear into the dense forest during these kinds of severe temperatures. I’m glad the Humane Society uses old furs for their “Coats and Cubs” program. Mine are boxed and ready to ship.

Lee said...

My mother died in 2002. Like you I have kept in the back of my closet her two mink things. A short white-beige coat and a biege mink cape. How to wear or hand them out to the universe responsibly? How to part with them honoring who she was in a different era?
Surprisingly, my daughter who never wears fur agreed that because it was her grandmother's she would take the coat and she plans to wear it. The mink cape I resolved to make into a fur pillow as a gift for one of the grown children.
Thanks so much for bringing up your quandary - it is not an easy decision.

I enclose a poem I wrote in 1983.

I spot movement – a rich brown swath against the green lichen.
Soft black eyes. ,I name it a mink not by its silky coat,
distinctly different from dead hides I know in coats, but by its long tubular shape.
In the rocky darkness I separate out the triangular nose, the barely-visible tips of ears, then the unexpected glimpse of august white under the chin.
It treads with slow reserve,
certainly not the heightened quick beat I would expect
but a slower drumming: turning slowly into the shadows
of a crevice between two granite thrusts.
Once it is under, I bend to see it again..
The mink returns my looking serenely, curiously,
sniffing unceasingly upward,
adjusting its long self and soft tail to the narrow slant,
never retreating, bold and shy at once.
Not wanting to unduly detain or disturb it I gently retreat.
It descends leisurely to a deeper labyrinth in the rocks.
As it passes I relish its living fur –
rich sienna against the mauve mottled granite.

Deborah said...

Given your incredible sense of integrity and your clarity, Page, you can wear your mother's fur or not. Don't you think that our intent is the point? You couldn't dishonor the other animals if you tried because of the awareness which carries you through every moment. If this fur belonged to me, I think I'd carry it far upriver and leave it for the animals, but first, I'd wear it, hope to gain some sense of what it might mean to inhabit fur. Thank you for another gorgeous piece of deeply experienced writing.

Page Lambert said...

Alice, thanks for your Texas feedback. For me, the question isn't whether I should wear fur or leather, but my responsiblity to ensure that the quality of the animal's life, and manner of death, is as good as possible. That's the hard part because most of us are so far removed from that intimate relationship.

Anonymous said...

Great winter newsletter. You might be amused by our family saga on mink...Rock's Mom wanted a mink coat all her life. Finally, in her later years, she went back to teaching first grade and saved up enough money to buy the full length mink coat of her dreams. Wore it seldom, but stroked it often. When she died, Rock's sister made a decision to have her cremated in the coat - figuring none of us would ever wear it, it wasn't appropriate for the Good Will, and Mom would feel she had left the world in style. Another moral dilemma - should we have given it to charity and at least it would have kept someone warm? Hard, as I am so opposed to killing animals in today's age for their fur, and do not believe we should display any of the ""status" that goes with wearing expensive animal furs. It was fine for cavemen...Down, on the other hand, is another question - as I think they mostly kill the birds to harvest the down. And I'm a wool lover, not a polyester lover, in part on principal. You prompted me to think - always a good thing! Thanks. Kitty

Connecting People with Nature, and Writers with Words said...

Thank you, Kitty. What a great story about cremating Rock’s mom in the mink coat! I like the point you bring up about the status symbol of the mink coat. Of course, back when men were hauling deer and elk and bison home to the lodge for their families, these were status symbols – signs of being a good provider. Just as the woman’s quillwork or beadwork or basketing making were. It’s the intimacy that I keep pondering – how modern man has lost this intimacy.

Connecting People with Nature, and Writers with Words said...

Dear Camille (posted as Anonymous)- what a great response. Thank you for sharing that you, too, have fur coats in storage, and for sharing both your Chicago story and the story of how wild game fed your family all those years in Wyoming when your dad worked for the railroads. These questions are never easy, are they - life is full of complexities.

Connecting People with Nature, and Writers with Words said...

Deborah, I love the idea you suggested - wearing the fur, at least for a day, to experience what it is to "inhabit fur." I will do that - even if it means only sitting here in my slightly drafty office at home, letting it drape my shoulders as it did my mother's. And you mention "intent" - the important foundation for all we do. Yes, intent...what is our intention? Thank you for reminding us that this should be the guiding question.

Carol Grever said...

Page, this article resonates with me because I have faced the same conundrum. My parents gave me a full-length mink coat with a tuxedo collar of silver fox. It was gorgeous but I wore it only a few times--each time feeling overdressed and ostentatious. After years of feeling guilty because animals were killed for this coat that hung unused in my closet, I recently traded it for an oil painting done by an artist friend. She's happy and I'm relieved! You've sensitively presented a true moral dilemma. As a Buddhist, I just couldn't wear that coat!
Carol Grever

Nancy from California said...

Dear Page, I loved this essay about mink stoles. I waited so long to finally get both a mink jacket and then a sable one from a consignment store in cold St Louis where some people were still wearing full length fur coats in the winter ...while in New York red paint was being thrown on strangers who wore real fur.

I have my lovely furs in a garment bag where I occasionally pet them and remember and think how silly to have warm clothes you never wear and I do thank the animals who had their fur and attached skin taken from their bodies after they were killed...however they were killed , they probably did not die of old age a quiet peaceful death. It is hard to know how to honor life...and then we think of leather shoes etc. and all the other ways we use animals and other life.

It does make one pause, or should perhaps from time to time cause us to pause.

If we wear real fur, does that continue the practice of setting traps? Does the improvement of fake fur take away this issue? Is it better to hide the evidence in closets and boxes lined with cedar?

I wish I knew the answer..

love you, Nancy

Greta from Norway said...

I enjoy getting your newsletter and admire your accomplishments. I just took take time off from my teaching preparations here at Narvik University College, northern Norway to read about your fur dilemma. Such a nice essay. I still ponder the dilemma!
Deep winter here, too. Like Colorado, it is wonderful territory.

I love my new home in a tiny country community next to the Ofoten fjord. I still keep up my English writing whenever I can, which is more seldom than I like.
We just met briefly way up in the Rocky Mountains years ago, but somehow I have the feeling, we'll meet again.

Meanwhile, I wish you the very best and will continue to enjoy your newsletters-
Stay warm, stay connected, and stay happy,
Greta

Connecting People with Nature, and Writers with Words said...

Dear Greta, how lovely to hear from you! And yes, of course I remember our meeting several years ago. It was at Pingree Park and you were living in Fort Collins.

I’m glad you enjoyed the essay, though I find myself still pondering the questions it poses. Your tiny community next to the Ofoten fjord sounds lovely.

The Norwegians have always worn furs, yes? And wool? I wonder if the Norwegians have managed to maintain an intimacy with their land, and the animals that share the landscape with them. I would love to know more.

Connecting People with Nature, and Writers with Words said...

Dear Lee, thank you for sending your poem about the encounter with a mink - it is moving on many levels, but especially because you capture so beautifully that brief but enduring moment of intimacy when your eyes met. Beautiful. Thank you.

Anonymous said...

Page. Your introduction to introspection using a garment, particularly one made from a fur bearing creature that belonged to your mother, is charged with multiple challenges.

I ask though, is the relationship question one of the entangled and charged issue of using the fur of an animal for the warmth it provides or the status it imparts?

Or is it a question of the relationship you once had with your mother and the relationship you now have with your mother, given that our relationships with the living might be quite different that our relationships with the person of our past?

I wish I had better recall of the things I now want to remember and revisit about my parents. I can't seem to recreate those stored memories on command and only get to dwell in that realm when emotions stimulate my memory capabilities. Then I hang on with tenacity, unwilling to let those memories slip back into that hidden crevasse that envelopes what I would like to have better access to.

It is a rare moment, such as your reaching for the stole, that emotions bring forth a glimpse into a relationship and allows for a visit into the past.

Just a few thoughts. Thanks so much. All the best. rev

Connecting People with Nature, and Writers with Words said...

Hi Rev. I think the introspection is triggered by everything you mention - the moral question that arises in this age of synthetics about using animal furs and hide; the emotional attachment to something my mother cherished; and yes, the historic social status owning or wearing a mink coat implies--I wouldn't want people to misjudge.

You're right, too, about how emotion triggers memories. Emotion, and senses - I cannot smell concord grapes without immediately being transported back to my grandmother's backyard patio in California, and the taste of the concord grapes that clung to the vines which climbed her trellis.

Connecting People with Nature, and Writers with Words said...

Carol, I would like to know more about the Buddhist beliefs regarding all this. A moment ago, I did a quick search regarding
Buddhists eating meat, and wearing leather, and found the issue becoming even more complex. Perhaps the best thing any of us can do is the simplest: practice everyday awareness - be aware, each moment, of our relationship with every other living thing.

Mary Estill said...

Thanks page. I only add two small new notes.

1 - Sensitivity to the place and people there. I made my mother's mink stole into a leather and mink jacket, but would NEVER wear it to an AICF event.

And 2- It you already have it, and the animals sacrifice, WHERE is wearing a faux piece better? We have the former, in all its elegance; and we support the latter and all its new fashion.

Mary Estill

Connecting People with Nature, and Writers with Words said...

Mary, I agree with you completely about being sensitive to where one wears the mink. The fact that it was an American Indian College Fund event, with so many students attending and an emphasis on fundraising, was the major factor in my decision to not wear the stole. It would have seemed ostentatious and insensitive in that setting, regardless of the other moral issues I was contemplating.

Joy Overbeck said...

Hi Page,
Such a thoughtful essay, as usual! I would urge you to keep your mother's fur and wear it when you wish because it honors the memories you have of the wonderful times she and your dad had, memories you shared in such a lovely way with us. When you put on that fur, you are wrapping yourself in that warm family history as well.

I have a mink myself and it is delicious to swathe myself in it on these frigid nights. And yes, I feel somehow that if I refused to wear it, those minks would have died in vain. Which brings me to the deeper metaphysical questions you pose: "What is my relationship with the earth that sustains me...what covenant can I forge with all the things that live because of me, and all the things that die because of me?" I look to the relationship between man and the animals prescribed for us by our Creator in Genesis..."have dominion over the fish of the sea, over the birds of the air, and over every living thing that moves on the earth." Gen. 1:28 Obviously this is not permission to destroy species or to despoil the earth; God created everything with great care and would not have given man this governing power to harm his creation. Rather, we have a duty to tend the creation as a farmer tends his fields, or a horsewoman her horse, to nurture it with love and gratitude but also to use it for our own benefit. Man is clearly placed above the animals in a hierarchy that will doubtless incense those who believe man is just another animal. But we can see this dominion, this hierarchy, played out all around us in the real world. We farm minks and cattle and sheep and turkeys, they don't farm us.

Is it morally wrong to use animals for our own purposes, or is it what God and or/nature intended? I think certain scenarios are clearly wrong, and they occur when we violate our role as stewards of the earth and its animals. Shooting thousands of buffalo from trains as happened on the Great Plains would be one appalling example, and another would be killing/wearing endangered fur (Wallis Simpson and her horrid jaguar coat come to mind).

We can and should honor animals but can't really covenant with them because covenant, like the Golden Rule, implies an agreement between
beings mutually aware of what they are agreeing to and animals simply don't have this capacity. But do they have some form of soul? Mine sure do!

Connecting People with Nature, and Writers with Words said...

Joy, your response touches on many layers of this issue - thank you for speaking so candidly and with such sureness about your beliefs, and about bringing forth the question of dominion. It is surely one that has come to the fore in the last couple of decades as we search for ways to redefine our relationship with the animal kingdom, and with the earth. You've articulated your beliefs so beautifully. Thank you.

Bill said...

Beautifully written, intriguing, and thought provoking. Although most of us are glad the mink industry is an item of the past (for the most part)there is still much to consider with old furs. If one wears a fur because it is fashionable then I might quietly question that in my own mind. But if someone wears a fur to stay warm, perhaps part of a harvested deer that was utilized for food, then I would admire the complete use of this precious animal.

I admit that I hunt for food. Venison is just about the only red meat I eat. It is healthy, low in fat, free of chemicals for the most part), and a plentiful well managed resource.

My Abenaki and Cherokee ancestry taught me that living within the means of the natural world is an absolute necessity. I don't expect urbanites or suburbanites to understand. Theirs is a different world.

I pray for the healing of the natural world daily. I try to behave within the means that it allow.

Mark Fuller said...

Yes! Not only do I see no problem with wearing the stole, but would encourage doing so for any number of reasons:

- It has a sentimental value for you because it had been your mother's...so enjoy it and honor her by thinking of her when you wear it.

- The minks out of which the stole was made were killed quite a while ago, and not wearing it will serve no moral nor practical purpose, whatsoever (those against the making of fur garments are concerned with the killing of live animals for no necessary purpose, i.e. we can make warm coats without killing animals).

- There is a thing (an adage?) called the law of nature...and mankind has been at the top (for the most part) for quite a while. Now, of course, that doesn't justify cruelty against the animals we lord it over, but just about every animal survives by killing other animals. I know little - well, nothing, really - about mink farms, but I can't imagine that the little critters are, generally, mistreated by their handlers prior to their killing for the sake of their fur (too bad they're not good to eat, too). As has been pointed out, if left to the laws of nature, a great many of the minks would die on their own, anyway.

- And....I'm sure it's warm!

Connecting People with Nature, and Writers with Words said...

Mark, glad you comment made it here! Your comment about eating mink meat made me realize I know very little about the traditional uses of the animal when it was hunted.

When I searched the web, I found this bit of information about contemporary uses http://www.furcommission.com/FAQ.htm#Anchor-35326 : "Mink carcasses are rarely eaten by humans as the scent gland gives the meat a distinctive flavor... However, they are not wasted. Some farmers trade them for fish offal with fishermen who use them as crab bait. Crabs love mink meat, but seals hate it! Other farmers give the carcasses to people who raise birds of prey or run wildlife preserves, zoos or aquariums. Yet others use them to make organic compost. Or they may be bought and rendered down to provide raw materials for a wide range of products, from tires and paint to makeup and organic fertilizers."

This quote answers some of our questions but the main one, is of course, what is the quality of the animal's life, and what is the quality of the animal's death - is the animal treated respectively and humanely. Honoring all living things, for me, should remain at the heart of all decisions.

thank you for your thoughts!

Connecting People with Nature, and Writers with Words said...

Bill, my son has lived on wild game meat almost exclusively since going off to college in Montana 8 years ago - deer, elk, antelope, pheasant, duck. Like you, he hunts for food. I especially like the distinction you make between wearing fur or leather for fashion, rather than for warmth. Intention - our intentions toward the world that sustains us - this is the key element in our relationship. And you point that out when you say how important it is to live within the means of the natural world.

Larry Caine said...

Page, thanks for the opportunity to think about moral and ethical issues like this. After pondering your question, I realized that even today, we use so many animal products, some of which are produced at the expense of the animal's life. I think of goose down, leather, chicken, beef and the like. Perhaps a more meaningful discussion is what does wearing the mink do for you? If it's about making a status statement to the world, elevating yourself above others through expensive possessions, then it is devisive and certainly unnecessary. But if in some way it brings you closer to your mother, reconnecting personnally to a time long ago, then I think it's more than okay to wear her mink and again, feel her presence.

Thanks again for helping us to think these thing through. Larry

Liz from B.C. said...

I'd like to tell you about finding a mink cushion on my daughters couch the other day. She is the most conscientious environmentalist and of course would never be seen wearing fur.

Her explanation was a lady at one of the craft fairs was recycling old fur coats since animals gave their lives for them and that shouldn't be wasted. Most fur coats end up in land-fills and the point of that is???

Liz

Greta from Norway said...

Dear Page,
We could talk at length about this... I cannot answer your questions on behalf of all Norwegians, but, in general, yes, Norwegians have worn fur and wool from their own sheep, and still partly do.

Many people here have traditionally made their living from hunting, farming and fishing, and, at least some of them (there are some nasty exceptions) prided themselves of making use of every part of the animal or fish.

Example: The way the Sami people relates to reindeer (Fur goes to clothing and bedding; bones go to tools and decor; meat is dried, salted or frozen for food etc.)
Also, in general, Norwegians are very connected to the land and to our rich amounts of most beautiful nature...

Greta
Norway

Connecting People with Nature, and Writers with Words said...

Larry, you - and several others - brought up something which I didn't discuss fully in my essay, the idea of wearing the fur as a status symbol. I do mention that when the fur represented, to my father, his ability to provide for my mother, much like a hunter of old would have felt pride in his ability to provide a buffalo hide for his wife to wear. And she would have proudly wrapped herself in it on cold, wintry days. On the other hand, in some Native American cultures, a leader of his tribe would not necessarily have many possessions because to give away these things meant that you had a generous heart - a highly prized trait.

But our modern culture seems to focus on examples of excessive wealth used only for one's own status, rather than in focusing on all the small ways in which we show our generosity.

My mother's mink stole offers less warmth than a full mink coat. It would not offer me much comfort on this blustery day. Except perhaps to wear over my shoulders, reading in bed.

Anna in Montana said...

Hi Page! I just got around to reading your essay on your mother's mink coat. I thought it was interesting and made me think about how unconnected people are from the land in today's world. I also saw that a few people were commenting on how we as a species are no longer equipped to handle the cold. It reminded me of modern agriculture crops that have evolved from their wild ancestors over thousands of years of selection by human hands. Most of today's modern crops could not grow well or be nearly as productive without modern agricultural practices. We are similar to these crops in a way that we also require special conditions and inputs to thrive. I believe we are equipped for the weather with minds that enable us to devise what require live comfortably, be it clothing or dwellings to protect us.
I also agree that in today's world people are much more separated from nature than we were a few generations ago. Many don't know where the meat they buy in the market comes from or have even seen cattle on the open range. With how industrialized we have become and the increasing growth of cities it is hard for everyone to understand or even realize their connections to the land that still exist. They may not be as intimate of a connection for people living in a large city like Minneapolis compared to a farmer in Montana, but they are still there. All we can really do sometimes is be thankful for what we have, even if we are ignorant of how it came to be in our possession. Having grown up in Montana and Wyoming I like to think I have a slightly better idea of how my food gets to my table or where the cotton from my clothes came from, but in reality our world is so diverse with trade that it would be almost impossible to trace back every single thing I own to see where it originated. Many things come from overseas or are made there by underpaid workers with materials brought in from somewhere else. Everything is so interconnected in today's world, but everything still relies on the land. That is one reason it made me so sad when we went to Mexico and saw how much trash was thrown out in the arroyos. To Matt and me it displayed a complete disprespect and disregard for the land and everything that lived there. But maybe we have a different respect for the land after having had the opportunity to enjoy it while hunting, backpacking, and many other outdoor activities. Outdoor recreation seems to bestow a sort of ownership of the land upon some of its users. An ownership that compells us to pick up trash after others and leave as little of a trace as possible on its beauty while backpacking. I wish more people had a greater sense of appreciation of the land.
I think you should wear your mother's mink stole. To me it would be a shame to let such a beautiful thing go to waste, and sitting in the back of the closet does not honor the mink who gave their lives as you had mentioned. Because you know the story behind it and have such good memories of seeing your mother wearing the stole it is like a piece of family history for you. Wearing it will also remind you of your mother and might make you feel a connection to her. You might not have been the one to trap the mink, but you have a deep appreciation for their sacrifice. In a way it is kind of similar to a native american who inherited a headdress of eagle feathers or a dress adorned with elk ivories, they appreciate and respect the animal's sacrifice even if they did not harvest it themselves. But if it makes you feel guilty you could always donate it to a charity like the one you mentioned. Anna

Sharon said...

I too have my mother's fur coats, including a beaver that my father lovingly trapped in order to offer her a coat. They are too big for me, although I could get them remade. I actually have a coyote coat that I would have utterly no moral qualms wearing, but I don't live a life that includes places to wear a fur coat. My father, recently deceased, leaves behind a sealskin coat, for God's sake (my mother's idea, not his). I only recall him wearing it when he was Marshall for the Christmas Parade of Lights, which involved riding in a mule drawn buggy at 10 below. He looked very distinguished and colorful. When we offered it to my son, he said, "What! and get blood thrown on me!". And like me--where the heck would he wear it. In another 590 years, he might be a parade marshall.

Connecting People with Nature, and Writers with Words said...

Sharon - these are fascinating stories, the furs that have found their way into your family's life - beaver, coyote, sealskin. It's interesting that the coyote skin brings forth different emotions and moral responses than the sealskin fur coat does. I don't think its because we judge that one animal has a great right to life than another, but perhaps because the manner of their death plays a part in whether or not we feel uneasy about the issue. I'm sure we've all seen, and been repulsed by, the photos of baby seals being bludgeoned. Cruelty seems to be the issue, as it should be. Thank you for writing!

Anonymous said...

Page: Testing, testing, 1,2,3. Hope the gods of technology smile down upon you and give you pieces.

Hugs, Maggie

Cynthia Carlson said...

I also have a few of my mother's minks and furs and have always felt that making a fur extended the life of the animal in the way that donating a kidney or heart extends the life of someone who needs it. If the fur hadn't been made into a coat, it would have rotted in the ground long ago. I'm not knowledgeable about the life expectancy of a mink, but it probably isn't longer than that of a cat or dog, so as sad as it is that animals are caged and bred simply for their use in the fur industry, at least part of them remains in a form that can be enjoyed and provide warmth for others. In a sense, it is no worse than killing a tree to build a house. So wear your minks guiltlessly and enjoy them!

Connecting People with Nature, and Writers with Words said...

Thank you, Cynthia. I find myself returning again and again to intention, and I think respect and compassion are key aspects of honorable intentions. It is wrong kill inhumanely, or to be disrespectful of other living things that die in order that we may live. Respect. So important. Thank you.

Priscilla said...

Page, I love your phrase "intimate uses but without intimate knowledge." Something important turns on that intimacy, doesn't it? Lacking the ability to be physically close to the animals who gave their lives for my warmth and my table (I'm not vegan), I practice visualizing each of them--carrying on their lives, making their choices, loving their families. It's a practice of relationship that, though it does nothing for them, changes me.

Connecting People with Nature, and Writers with Words said...

Priscilla, your comment about the practice of relationship - being aware of other sentient beings and their role in your life - yet knowing that it is a relationship that does nothing for them, makes me think of the moral dilemma we often faced at the horse shelter in Santa Fe where I volunteered. Some of the others felt great anguish when a vet advised that injuries were too severe to offer a quality of life and the horse should be euthanized. What good did we do, they agonized? But I think we did a great deal of good. I think that the time they were at the shelter was a time when we could mend the torn contract between horse and human, reestablish a relationship of compassion and respect. So perhaps on a metaphysical level your visualizations do more than you realize.

Helen said...

Wow...this was nicely written and raises a deep question. It is interesting to ponder the fur now, not being used but originally had been intentionally set up for use (though the use of wearing it could be questioned as a luxury versus a necessity in this case).

Makes me reflect on those that hunt just what they need, bless the bounty, and use all aspects versus massive killings or only using certain parts...kills that don't revere or set in place a sort of relationship.

I liked my mom's comment, "we have the former--in all its elegance (still I question); and we support the latter and all its new fashion (still I question a fur look to begin with).

Helen