A blog for those who desire a more creative relationship with the natural world.
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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).
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.
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.
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 dishonorthe 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).
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