Friday, June 10, 2011

Trouble Me.

Yesterday, just as my daughter was due to return home, a thunderstorm that had been brewing all afternoon broke open with pelting rain, winds, and a lot of lightening.

We're in a house at the top of a long, steep driveway. The driveway isn't onerous: a minute's quick amble and you are up. But for a seven-year-old - with a backpack - at the end of the school day - in a thunderstorm it's... just... a little much.

So I drove down the driveway to hang out in the car and wait for her. With, of course, my four-year-old son along for the ride. After all, I can't leave him by himself: too risky. Don't get me wrong - he's a good kid - but still a bit too prone to using four-year-old boy logic (i.e. a dangerous mix of curiosity and illogic, overlain deep desire to still be attached to me via umbilical cord).

In any event, there's no telling what he'd get up to.

As I sat in the car with my son and was serenaded by near-constant thunder while watching the forest of trees around us sway alarmingly in the wind, it occurred to me that it would be sadly ironic if my daughter's school bus arrived to find us crushed beneath a fallen tree.

It's not just idle, unrealistic supposition that one might fall. Later that evening, driving home from a friend's house, it was clear that a lot of trees had already been cut off the road. And a couple of smaller ones fell in our woods during the storm.

have been much better off in the house.

But it would have left my daughter out in the chaos. And, in the end, we were all fine.

This time.

All of this came back to me this morning when I got a Facebook post from a cousin telling me of the dangers of raising backyard ducks. Specifically as regards avian flu.

I'll admit it: I hadn't, at any time up until this morning, given avian flu a single, solitary, passing thought.

My husband broke the news to me - sort of - as I finished up packing my daughter's PB&J sandwich. I could tell he was worried. Not about the flu - he's not much of a worrier on those sorts of scores - but about the fact that it would cause me to worry. Because, historically, I have proven to be capable of worry about any number of problems. Often, I worry about several problems simultaneously.

What can I say: it's a gift.

Husband: "One of your cousins posted something to your Facebook page. They think you should worry about the ducks."
Me: "Should I worry?"
His voice was hopeful: "No?"

So I looked. And I learned this: we should not raise poultry in our backyard.

At all.

Chickens are dangerous, but ducks are worse (because - unlike chickens - they don't become visibly ill).

Our ducks could kill us. They could give us the flu.


And - of course - while mulling this new information, I remembered sitting in the car with my son wondering if we would die crushed under a tree simply because we were trying to save my daughter a walk up the driveway in a lightening storm.

What are the odds of getting struck by lightening?
What are the odds of getting crushed by a falling tree?
What are the odds of dying of avian flu?

I have no idea.

They're better if you are out in a storm. Or if you live in the woods. Or if you have ducks. These are the risks we take.

Humans are notoriously bad at assessing risk. They'll talk about their fear of flying while driving in a car without a seatbelt. It doesn't have to make sense. The more visceral the fear, the greater the perception of the potential disaster, the more it scares us.

And, the more information we get, the faster news travels, the more things there are to worry about.

Like e coli.

I mean, first off, it could be in a hamburger. So I should char those until every vestige of deliciousness is gone.

But then it could also be on my spinach. Or my tomatoes. Which means that I should cook my veggies and not have a salad. Or maybe I should wash them with a very dilute bleach solution? And then rise them really well? But should I worry about cross-contamination? Should I wipe everything down with Lysol and antibacterial hand sanitizer after I make my lightly bleached or slightly cooked salad? But what if - in using antibacterial products - I contribute to the creation of a super-bug that will resist all possible antibiotics?

What if - in attempting to feed my family a salad - I end up dying of infection by flesh-eating bacteria?

Maybe we'll just have some fruit instead. What could be wrong with a nice fruit salad? Well, is it organic fruit? Have the strawberries been sprayed with carcinogens that will eventually kill my children? Well, I'll just wash them. Or maybe I'll just have a melon. That was shipped here from Argentina. Using fuel resources that can never be put back into the Earth and that are contributing to global warming. Is the oil from Nigeria? Have you seen what's going on there?

Okay, I'll just get a bunch of nice, organic grapes. But - holy shit! - what if the kids choke on them!

Okay, back to the supermarket. Let's try again.

1. Buy eggs. Should I get the expensive, local, free-range ones that come from places where hens might have access to the outdoors and disease vectors? Or the ones from massive poultry houses where hens are housed in atrocious conditions.
2. Buy coffee. Organic, shade-grown, fair trade coffee? Otherwise I will have to worry about pesticides, endangered species, and the lives of exploited workers on other continents. I guess I'll just suck up the oil that was spent bringing them here?
3. Buy butter. Because, as it turns out, margarine isn't better for us after all. Maybe? Or should it be olive oil. Or coconut oil? Is it organic? Because in refining non-organic oils, the pesticides apparently get concentrated.
4. Buy fruits and veggies. Organic? Conventional? Local? In-season? Integrated Pest Management? Not picked by exploited migrant workers or shipped across oceans?

Okay. Go to check out. Paper? No... that kills trees. Plastic? No... that just ends up in the oceans. Cloth? Of course! Except, of course, that the material from which the cloth bags are produced also comes from somewhere. Is it organic? Is it sustainably harvested? Irrigated? Harvested by people with health care who earn a living wage?

Um... No?

And, in case you haven't heard, studies show that because cloth bags are used to carry food they are often covered with surprisingly large colonies of harmful bacteria. Which also might kill you.

Okay... Get out the antibacterial hand sanitizer and let's cause some evolution!

Or... not. Let's just try to escape all of this by growing our own food.

Like ducks. A reasonably low-hassle, generally healthy way to produce protein.

Except, of course, that the very fact that they appear reasonably healthy might cause us to get avian flu from them.

Seriously. Locally produced food was supposed to be the thing that got me away from large-scale industrial agriculture and processed food. It is supposed to be part of the answer to the unsustainable use of oil. And, here, I learn that it's going to kill me too.

Just in a different way.

Inexplicably, I thought of this:

The moment that initially occurred to me comes at about 1:57 in, and has to be one of my absolute favorite moments in the Star Wars trilogy. And that's a high bar.

What are the odds that we'll get Avian Flu from our ducks? I don't know.

"Never tell me the odds."

Watching it, though, I realized that the moment of true analogy comes later, starting at nine minutes in.

I could get rid of the ducks. I could search for and take refuge in what seems to be a safer place. Eggs from an industrial, large-scale source. But I'm guessing that I'll soon discover that the surface on which I've built that plan is, also, not entirely stable.

Every path has it's pitfalls. And we've got to eat.

Maybe I should be really, really worried about avian flu. It's possible that it will kill me. Or, worse, kill my kids.

We're probably going to look into some new ideas about sanitizing duck stuff. And having specific shoes. And we'll ponder some other options, I'm sure.

But I don't think we're getting rid of the ducks.

Because I've come down with a raging case of anxiety fatigue. I've hit a wall. It's too much. I just can't get all wound up in worrying about another thing.

Maybe we'll get hit by a drunk driver on the way to the movie theater.
Maybe the theater will catch on fire.
Maybe we'll choke to death on a piece of popcorn.
Maybe a grape.
Or a piece of hard candy.
Maybe a tornado will hit the theater.
Or a strong wind will blow a tree onto our house.
Maybe some crazy guy will shoot us in the supermarket.
Maybe I'll get salmonella from picking up a turtle.
Maybe I'll get avian flu from the robins nesting in our woodshed.
Maybe avian flu will evolve and become capable of human-to-human transmission somewhere very far away.
Maybe it'll be Ebola.
Maybe someone else will hit a black bear through the windshield of my car.
Maybe it'll be a plane crash.
Maybe I'll slip and fall on some ice and hit my head in exactly the wrong way.

Maybe, maybe, maybe...

Maybe I'll just sit in my backyard, watch my ducks frolic, my corn grow, and the sun set. I'll take in a deep breath and enjoy life.

I'll put on sunscreen. And some carcinogenic bug spray. I'll wash my hands afterwords.

And I'll sleep well at night, and try not to worry about the fact that we'll all die, eventually, of something.