Wednesday, July 30, 2008

To Craft or Not to Craft

That is the question. Whether tis nobler to suffer the slings and spinnings of outrageous acrylic...

Oh wait. Shakespeare again. Well, sort of. (I've gotta quit that. Sorry.)

I've been channeling Hamlet a bit today. I guess I've hit an existential yarn person moment.

Recently I read that New Zealanders spin up possum yarn; evidently they have a lot of those little suckers out in the wild.

Me being me, I had, after reading, this picture of a possum, struggling back to its compatriots, saying, "Oy, it was taniwha, bro, I'm telling you. There were these bright eyes, and then a stinging pain, and next thing I know, I'm back here nuddy, ay! And when I checked my watch? Bro, two hours had passed that I don't remember."

All very Gary Larsonesque, I know.

My next thought was to ring up my NZ friend and ask her about the yarn. I mean, if those poor possums were going to suffer post traumatic stress disorder, the least I could do would be to knit a little memorial to their happier, more innocent days, although why anyone would want to use a possum's fur for yarn was beyond me.

It turns out that I had been picturing this:

which, as most any crafter would tell you, does not look like it spins up yarn that will have the yarnistas ohhing and ahhing anytime soon. I mean, what would Clara Parkes say?

But that is the American Opossum. We may shorten the name to possum, but it's nothing like the New Zealand Possum. A bit of web trolling took me to the Supreme Merino Possum website, where I found (and use with permission) this:

and Pam, the helpful lady who answered my email when I asked if I could use their picture, also sent me this:

taken up close and personal in her friend's back yard.

Clearly, there is a distinct difference in the quality of the fur. New Zealand possum reminds me of the fur of my beloved former pet chinchilla, Trillian. American possums just look like walking Brillo pads.

While reading through the Supreme Merino Possum website, I also discovered how the fur is harvested. Suffice to say that little dude won't be heading back to his compatriots to tell of his otherworldly experience.

The possum isn't killed simply for profit, though. Apparently the possum is an invasive species, introduced from Australia, and has a population of 70 million. Imagine 70 million deer (or, God help us, 70 million moose) packed into an area slightly smaller than the state of Wyoming.

So the possum, while adorable in photos, is wrecking havoc on New Zealand's local flora and bird populations, as there is no predator to keep the possum numbers in check. The possums eat the vegetation that the birds need and, in some cases, the eggs and the chicks of the birds as well. The Kiwi Conservation Club website, while geared toward kids, does a good job of giving examples of just how much damage 70 million possums can do.

This means man is having to become the predator. And we all know what we're like when we go predator.

I have to admit that normally I prefer my yarn to just be sheared or plucked off an animal that walks off feeling both more comfortable and a little indignant that someone interrupted its grazing. However, NZers probably won't turn to sustainably harvesting the wool (i.e. turn the little guys and gals into farm animals) until there is enough demand for the wool to encourage trapping, which would reduce their numbers to the point that it might justify permitting people to maintain them in a farm and hand-pluck environment. And I question whether they would be able to do that. Can possums be corralled effectively? They're seriously good climbers. They don't look like they'd be too keen on the plucking, either.

Thus, I run smack into the age old environmental argument; cull the overpopulated species that we introduced in the first place to save threatened species, or take a hands off, let nature take its course approach?

People seem less willing to do the latter when the overpopulated species is a non-native, be it plant or animal; ask any Mainer or Minnesotan to tell you about milfoil, an invasive aquatic plant which is killing local aquatic plants and fishes in our lakes. I've seen firsthand the damage that milfoil does (not to mention that kayaking through milfoil is like paddling through watery salad). However, people don't seem to face as much of a moral dilemma if said invasive species is a plant. No one protests at salad bars, after all, despite the fact that plants are clearly living entities, just as we are. And Things 1, 3 and 4 excepted, there are no meatarians out there that I know of.

The possums, moreover, will be trapped whether I buy the yarn or not. And as I am an amalgamation many pragmatic races, part of me feels that if the possum is going to be killed, it seems wasteful to not make use of a fur with properties that seem to make it almost as desirable as quivit; like quivit, it is hand plucked and both tout the heat retaining qualities of the fibers.

Still, like Hamlet, I waiver. To purchase, or not to purchase.

I could understand my scruples if I were a vegetarian, but although I prefer non-meat meals, I definitely do eat meat. And, farmer's daughter that I am, I do so with no real qualms, although I'm hoping to get to the point where I order my meat from someone who raises it naturally as my father did rather than factory-farm style. So why, when I obviously know an animal will be killed to be eaten, do I have more misgivings about an animal that would be killed to be worn, especially when I know they'll be trapped anyway, and that even trapping their numbers down to manageability won't threaten them with extinction?

It's unfortunate that one of man's goofs (Let's introduce this species to a land where its never been seen! It'll be great!) means that animals that did nothing other than live and do their normal animal thing of eating are having to die. But overpopulation causes its own problems. By the time the food supply is eradicated to the point that the possum population crashes, New Zealand will have lost many amazing species to oblivion.

Let Hamlet waffle. I'm saving up my pennies for some yarn. Maybe I'll help save other amazing creatures while I'm at it.

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