Sunday, January 9, 2011

Reward and Punishment

A real dark day in more ways than one.
Yesterday, since I was already in the area due to a dog adoption, I decided to go to Harlem Meer in the middle of the afternoon to feed BradJoLina.  
I have become especially worried about these three flightless ducks in recent days due to the frigid, below freezing temperatures and recent snow storms in New York City.  In the past week, the lake had almost entirely frozen over and most of the mallards had left.
When I arrived at the Meer yesterday, I was dismayed to discover all but about 3 feet of open water had frozen over and ALL of the mallards had vanished!
BradJolina were standing on a small island of ice utterly alone. 
As soon as I approached them, the famished birds immediately waddled across the ice and came up on the embankment where I put out a mixture of wild bird seed and corn. They ate voraciously.
From the corner of my eye, I noticed an official from the Dana Discovery Center walking up to me. 
"Oh no," I thought.
I am more than aware of the parks "No Feeding of Wildlife" signs and policies.   But, I figured such would not be enforced in a potentially life threatening situation for the three flightless ducks.  BradJoLina can't after all, fly somewhere else (like the mallards and geese) to seek food or open water. 
It should be obvious, I thought, to anyone with half a heart or brain, that in these special circumstances, the birds with clipped wings need extra help and support.
For a brief moment, I considered that the man wearing a "Central Park Conservancy" jacket might be coming up to discuss the special plight of BradJoLina with me.
But, I could not have been more wrong.
"You can't feed the birds here." the park official said with authority.  "We have signs that forbid that."
Feeling a rush of annoyance and disappointment, I immediately shot back, "I know about the signs.  But, these ducks cannot fly and the lake is now frozen over.   They cannot fly somewhere else to seek open water and food like the mallards."
"They do just fine!" the official said.  "They are wild animals......They can go on the lawns and eat grass."
"What little grass is left is covered in snow!" I replied with exasperation.  
I could not believe this guy who works within yards of the stranded ducks was not even aware that BradJoLina never go on the park lawns -- even in the summer!
"Don't you see that the mallards all flew away?" I added.  "They flew away for a REASON! There is nothing to sustain the waterfowl here!"
"I don't like the tone of your voice," the man answered like I was some impudent child.
"How should I act under the circumstances?" I questioned.  "You come out and harass people for feeding three flightless ducks stranded on ice.  But, where is your vigilance when people are doing HARM to the animals?  The white duck used to have two siblings.  What happened to them?"
"They left before I started working here."
"They didn't LEAVE!  They could not fly!  They fell victim to human cruelty!"
The conversation became very heated.   I threw everything at the park official from birds ensnared in fishing lines to harassing the geese in the park to chasing the swan away.
"The swan is at the Reservoir!" he retorted.
"NO, he's not!   I live near the Reservoir.  I know what's there. It really doesn't help matters to LIE to people!"
Although mildly threatening to call a park ranger, the official then became frustrated or annoyed and simply walked away from me.
I was so seething in anger at that point, I walked the mile home rather than taking a bus, despite the frigid temperatures and frostbitten hands.
All the way home, I kept thinking:
They put up signs not to feed wildlife.  But, no signs forbidding harassment of wildlife!  Had I been throwing rocks or sticks at the ducks, he wouldn't have said a thing. But, CARE about the animals and they will come after you!
I thought about the gassing of thousands of Canada geese in city parks over the past several years.   I thought about "Target" the goose at Prospect Park who survived being shot with a bow and arrow only to get gassed two weeks later at the hands of city officials and USDA.  
I thought about Joey's two siblings who, according to a Park Ranger, became likely victims of Santeria last spring.
And finally, I thought that more and more, we were becoming a culture that celebrated and rewarded callousness and violence, while punishing charity and empathy.
I arrived home about 4 PM and turned on the TV to catch up on the news of the day.
I learned that a Congresswoman in Arizona had just been shot outside a supermarket after attempting to reach out to her constituents.  Nineteen other innocent victims had also been shot and six had already died. Their crime?  Being in the wrong place at the wrong time.
The shooter had apparently walked into a sports shop a couple of weeks ago and legally purchased a highly powerful weapon that could wreak this kind of mayhem and destruction within just a couple of minutes on human life.
But, had he instead been feeding hapless ducks in a public park, he would have been noticed and admonished.
Celebrate and reward callousness and violence.  Punish and admonish charity and caring.  
Something has gone very, very wrong with our societal priorities.  -- PCA

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