I do most of the cooking for our household, mostly because I like to cook and K often gets home quite late in the evening (there’s always a last-minute ferret mishap or chicken emergency), but K can hold his own in the kitchen just fine. Our cooking styles are pretty similar—throw a bunch of stuff in a pan, add some sort of flavoring elements, throw it all on rice or pasta or in a tortilla and race each other eating it. I say I like to cook, but the truth is I no longer make any of the elaborate dishes I once attempted, in part to save money but mainly because spending hours on something that will be consumed in minutes no longer seems sensible. This works for both of us, since we aren’t terribly fussy about our food.
The emphasis in that last sentence should be on “our.” Things change when we start talking about our macaws.
K’s phone is permanently set for a 5:30am alarm, even when he isn’t running in the morning or doesn’t have an early meeting to attend. He needs the time to prepare the birds’ breakfast. It’s a very involved process—ridiculously involved. Sometimes when I’m actually conscious at 5:30am I’ll go downstairs to watch him work; it’s a bit like watching a skilled and meticulous sous chef for an upscale vegan restaurant. One does not simply give macaws food, you see. They have to work for it—forage for it—and they actually prefer it this way, as it’s a whole lot better for their minds and bodies to keep active. Besides their regular pellet food (more on that later), they get a wide range of fruits and vegetables in the morning, all of which require unique preparation. Colorful grape tomatoes are arranged in special little cages; carrots and sweet potatoes are lightly steamed and placed in wire spiral contraptions; corn cobs are cut into manageable chunks and strung on a kebab skewer along with pomegranate quarters and mini bell peppers. If the chunk of cob is an end piece with a bit of stem, he might tie a bit of sisal rope to that to hang, like a sort of rustic pioneer’s Christmas tree ornament. Boston in particular loves his corn; he’ll take a wheel of it and systematically pick off one kernel at a time, ‘round and ‘round.
And that’s just breakfast. As mentioned, they’ve got regular pellet food, which requires some labor as well. There are some 50-60 different foragers in their habitat, many of them fashioned out of inexpensive materials by K himself, given that the fancy shmancy foragers we’ve gotten from stores tend very much not to live up to the hype on their packaging—and given that the packaging often works far better than the item itself. For a while we were putting the pellets directly into foragers, but pretty soon that ceased to be enough of a challenge, as our boys were extracting morsels as fast as we were dispensing them. So K added another layer of challenge by wrapping the pellets in paper before stuffing them in the foragers. Our typical evening routine now involves eating our own dinner as fast as we can and then sitting with a tub of bird pellets and a pile of junk mail which we tear into squares and twist around the pellets, one after another after another. No, Capital One, I’m not interested in your credit card offer, but thanks for the colorful envelope and inserts; they’ll work nicely wrapped around a nut treat and stuffed in a PVC pipe.
Why go through all this trouble? I’ll admit, sometimes I’m not sure. It’s a little crazy, what we do for them, and I’ll further admit that there are times I wonder: is it really worth it? We haven’t completely organized our lives around Boston, Phoenix, and Fred, but we mostly have, and the truth is that even pets who aren’t quite so high maintenance as macaws have a similar effect on their people. Anyone with a dog has likely left a party early out of concern for their canine’s bladder relief. Even cats, for all their general aloofness, have needs to be met. Our turtles have gone into hibernation and we are unlikely to see them again until April, but we still know they’re out there, and that still requires us to be mindful of their welfare.
This, I think, is the real reason why we should have animals in our lives. People may think they want a pet for the unconditional love, the non-judgmental companionship, the endless opportunities to post cute pix on social media. All that stuff is great, sure, but there’s something even more important, and that’s a reciprocation of all those things (well, except for the part about social media). Ideally, the unconditional love given to us means an unconditional sense of responsibility from us. If they are non-judgmental, so should we be. We should not be trying to decide whether they deserve our care, whether they’re “worth the effort”; we make the effort regardless.
This is crucially important now more than ever. We cannot sit around wondering whether a particular species is cute enough or smart enough or important enough to save, or whether the effort involved in reducing waste and emissions and every other damn thing we make too much of is too much of a hassle. It shouldn’t matter what you think you are or aren’t getting from the natural world for you to try to protect that world. Even if you don’t have pets, hate the outdoors, and would rather watch paint dry than see some David Attenborough-narrated documentary about bugs and snakes—and that was me for a long time, believe it or not—you’re still involved. The natural world is our world. Pay attention to it. And don’t just toss your junk mail in the trash. It’s compostable, recyclable, and makes great foraging toys.