Cat or a Rabbit
So I have very little maths training, I've mostly been a storyteller all of my life. I have lived as a rationalist, mostly by accident and it is enheartening to know that a community exists. After this most recent minicamp I figured I might do well to explore how I became a rationalist. Everyone kept asking about origin stories. My origin is in stories. I have the words of my father, perhaps a bit edited, chopped, and otherwise warped by the vagarities of time and memory, but something we do not have that is had by many other tribes is a litany, a set of stories and parables passed down with the sounds of crackling fire and whispering winds. This is a story told me on a warm night on an old beach as my father and I walked the sands looking for old clay pipes left by sailors in previous centuries. He said to me, I can never get used to how fat the pigeons are in DC. It shows a lack of motivation on the part of them that lives on the street. My gran wouldn't have had it. It never mattered what folks told her was right or not, she knew by trying and watching folks try and picking up the pieces afterwards. If the world was fair she'd ha been in charge of a college somewhere. I’ve learned a lot from Grandma. She’s like a good witch. She showed me how to use different parts of the cumfrey plant (she calls it knit-bone) to make tea, poultices and dressings to help cure all kinds of stuff; how to make beer or soup from stinging nettles; how to get food, wine and slide-whistles from an elderberry bush; how to make dandelion salad and dandelion and burrdock pop. Because of her, I feel safe wherever I go. I know all the birds, trees and plants and how they can help me. I know all the poisons. I can trap rats, pigeons and rabbits, too. Rats are pretty straightforward, though nowadays, rats are left to our Ian. He’s a crack shot with his rifle and he has the patience of Job.
Trapping pigeons is fun. You get a big cardboard box, a long piece of string, a short stick, and some bread. You go underneath a railway bridge and tie one end of the string to the stick, then turn the box upside down and prop one end of it up with the stick. You break the bread into pieces and sprinkle it on the ground around and under the box. You hold on to the other end of the string and hide as far away as you can. Then you wait quietly. The pigeons come down for the bread and when they go under the box, you pull the string.
Eating a pigeon you’ve caught yourself is better than eating tripe from a cow you’ve never met. Pigeon meat is darker than any meat I know, and its taste is strong, but it’s very good. What puzzles me is why so many of them have club feet and twisted beaks. Maybe that’s why they didn’t evolve into eagles. I wonder what they are evolving into. They don’t look fit, like you’d expect in the survival of the fittest, yet they don’t seem to be dying out, either, since the only color that’s not black around here is pigeon shit. My dad says, “Don’t think so much. That’s what makes you sad all the time”.
Rabbits are a different story. Our Ian hunts them with his dog and his gun and his ferret. A ferret can turn around inside a rabbit burrow, but a rabbit can’t. This strikes me as another failure of evolution. But rabbits make up for it by having so many babies. A lot of people think ferrets are cruel because they’re such good hunters. I think rabbits are crueler, for feeding their babies to ferrets, rather than digging wider burrows or turning places they can defend. Ian sets nets at all the entrances, then sends in the ferret. Any rabbits that escape the nets get shot by Ian or bit by the Jack Russel. The ferret terrifies the rabbits. They scream like human babies. It upsets me, but I still eat them, because they taste good. Believe it or not, I once chased down a rabbit. Our Steven shone a light at it (it was evening) and it paused for a second. When it saw me move, it snapped out of its trance and bolted. We ran all over the bloody field, but I wouldn’t give up. We came to a fence which, at the rabbit’s level, was only a single strand of wire, nine inches off the ground. It froze and I picked it up. That taught me that all your obstacles are inside your own head. Knowing this does not mean that I put it to good use. The rabbit was young and I let it go, hoping it would not expect other humans to be so gentle. It troubles me that if you’re kind to an animal, or even a person, you are responsible for it trusting the next person it meets. And if you’re not kind, then you are the person you fear it might meet next. Once I found a family of hedgehogs and fed the babies every day, till none of them curled up when I approached. I had lots of nightmares about them trusting bad people.
When I talk to Grandma about rabbits, she tells me about Uncle Luke, another of her brothers, who was a butcher and when The Great War broke out, nobody could get meat, because the good stuff was going to the upper classes. We knew it wasn’t going to the “boys at the front” because all the village’s boys were at the front, and they were starving. We know this because when my Granddad was home, injured, when he was walking down King Street in his civvies, a young upper-class woman pinned a white feather on him, branding him a coward. Grandma wrote to her brothers in about it in Wipers (which is spelt Yppres. The Belgians spell funny). One of her brothers said Granddad should have told the woman to stick the feather in a hen’s arse and send it to Wipers, because they were starving. The censors handed the letter back to him and punished him for being unpatriotic. He saved the letter.
Anyhow, Uncle Luke found a way out of his predicament when he realized that, headless, footless, tailless and skinless, cats look just like rabbits. Business really picked up when him and his wife started selling rabbit/cats and horsemeat pies. The point about this story that interests me, is that people paid according to what they believed they were buying. ‘Rabbit pie’ was expensive, while cat pie (only if you knew enough to ask for it) was cheap, even though they were the same thing. I thought this was funny and showed people are stupid, until my Sunday School teacher told me that I would only go to heaven if I believed in it. Now I’m not sure what to think.
Now of course at this time my dad tousles my hair and helps sort through the things we have that may be lay or shells or a hundred other things. I asked him if he's figured it out now. He tells me, "If there is a heaven its weirder than anything we can imagine. We're men and make men gods but tomorrow you should go to the library and try to find out who talked about triangle gods. The only thing you can be sure of is anyone who tells you they know what happens thereafter is out to steal your watch. Never trust anyone in a silly hat or expensive outfit who tries to tell you what a god thinks. They are your enemy and the enemy of everyone who works an honest day. Now they have people who don't have such trappings who are good and kind and simple folk and you should pity them for being in the hands of such wicked men. Help them how you can but they might just do something crazy on account their preacher said so so always keep a good escape route. and how do we keep a good escape route?"
"Always watch the way you came in, always be loud so they'll never know you can be quiet, and always keep a holdout on you."