Amy Bowers TV Talk

The Peaceable Kingdom

The wolf also shall dwell with the lamb,
and the leopard shall lie down with the kid;
and the calf and the young lion and the fatling together;
and a little child shall lead them.

Isaiah 11:6

Duncan Blitz and I usually worked the late shift so we seldom attended the morning meeting. Dunc and I shared a job at KONM-TV. He produced, and carried the sticks while I shot, then we switched off and he shot while I produced and lumped the equipment.

"Here's a health story from the New York Times," said Isaiah, the producer of our noon news. "A new debate about labor and delivery procedures," he said. "What's new?" asked Kip Pishpek, our anchor. "Nothing, but you'll have to say 'anal sphincter' on the air." "Grow up, Isaiah," "Get your head out of your sphincter, Isaiah."

"Grandma bites dog?" "We did that last week." "Grandma bites dog folo?" "What's the follow-up?" "Her old flame found her and they're getting married. "Love bug bites man when Grandma bites dog?" "That bites."

"Is network interested in the UFO abductions in Four Corners?" "Not yet," said Bev Barkowitz, our assignment editor, "They're waiting till white people start getting abducted." "Gawd, did they actually say that?" "Of course not."

The local lead was a fatal house fire; our other stories included a prostitute who stole a police car and a report from our investigative unit on corruption in the Trikes for Tots program.

Our "World Minute" included the Mom's murder trial, a car bomb in the middle east, and violence in India.

Duncan and I were assigned a story about a guy who trained his dog, cat, mouse, and bird to be friends.

It was a beautiful late winter day. Spring was just around the corner. The longer days made my horses start to shed, and threads of Pokey's hair stuck to my sweater. I fed on the way to work and relied on Duncan to remove bits of alfalfa from my hair or sleeve. He was considerate that way, and I usually showed up at KONM with a latte for him from Starbucks, unless we were working in the SAT truck equipped with the Latte Flyaway Pak.

Duncan drove while I played the soundtrack to "Oh Brother Where Art Thou?" It was so clear we could see halfway across the state. The brown ground rolled under us at our 82 mph cruising speed. There wasn't much law where we were headed, except one state cop who had half a county to patrol.

I thought about our assignment.

"Everybody likes dog stories," I told Duncan. "But why?" "Because so many people have a dog?" "No, I don't think so. Everybody has a refrigerator, but that doesn't make them enjoy frig stories." "Because dogs live with people?" Better. Cats live with people, too, but it usually takes 119 of them abandoned under one roof to make news.

"Dogs rescue their owners. Cats prowl for Meow Mix." "Dogs are emotional." "Dogs are our friends." "We have an evolutionary affinity."

Duncan liked bears stories. Bears are cute, for their size. They get orphaned and show up in the parking lot at Target, or in the yard. When they enter a house, that's news.

Nobody, he said, wants to watch a bull on tv unless it's running down the street. Nobody, I said, wants to watch spiders on TV unless they're on Discovery. Any animal is great when it's in someone's swimming pool, said Dunc. When animals attack it's good for Fox, said I.

We drove over the gorge, turned left on an ice packed road, right past a car burial ground, right again at a home made of tires and mud. Left at a packing crate that was someone's residence. When was saw a school bus, Duncan noticed it was bigger than most of the homes where the kids were dropped off. We turned right at a two-story "chalet" and right again at a retired VW bus. Down a slip-slidey two-track lane, past a straw-bale cabin, till we reached The Peaceable Kingdom.

"Hey, you made it," grinned Greg Pike, a somewhat tousled young man, with a divine but untoothed smile. When I shook his hand, a gray cockatiel ran down Greg's arm and hopped on my shoulder. "Poindexter" pecked and preened hello. "He's just a baby," Greg explained, while Duncan prepped the camera and wireless mic.

"I have a mouse in my pocket," said Greg, while he put the wireless transmitter in the other pocket. "That's more than I want to know," I said. "There's a rat in my sleeve," said Greg.

Greg set the cat, known as "Cat," on the back of the dog named "Booger." "Nobody does what I do," he said, and placed a white mouse on the cat, and a bird on the mouse. Booger walked the property, with the other non-antagonists riding comfortably. Duncan shot low angle as Booger stopped to shake himself. The cat balanced herself, the mouse hung on, and Poindexter rode it out, making cockatiel sounds.

The rat peeked out from Greg's sweatshirt.

Greg took a minute to tend his sizeable campfire of crackling manzanitas wood, then invited us to look at the menagerie at peaceable sleep on the bed in his house. His house was a camper shell, the kind that fits on top of a pick-up truck. It sat on a foundation of cinderblocks and two-by-fours. Inside I saw a fluffy cat dangling her leg above a puppy, who played with the moving target.

I cleared out so Duncan could shoot the harmonious relationships, and asked Greg how he heated his home. He used a propane tank smaller than the one on my barbecue, filling it when he had four dollars. He hauled his water, and probably recycled every bit of anything that came through the camper door.

Outside, his walkway across a ditch was a decrepit storage pallet. He was building another foundation, near his camper-house. "I want to build a kennel for animals that can't stay out the cold." To raise funds for the construction, Greg would take his animal-friends to Santa Fe, or Telluride, and accept donations from passers-by.

I asked Greg a few questions, on camera, about his peaceable kingdom. He explained that he teaches fellowship when the animals are young. The cat, he said, learned to ride on the dog in the deep snow on a day when the dog's back was the more pleasant alternative. The mouse, he sensed, thought the cat was his Mommy. Cat was willing to parent Mousey rather than eat him for some reason that had to do with her coming into heat. Duncan was rolling tape when the dog licked the mouse, who went into a dreamy torpor.

"Do you think you could work with Yassir Arafat and Ariel Sharon?" I asked. Greg told me he liked animals a lot more than people, and added, "people fight each other because they don't think they have enough." "But there's plenty for everyone," he observed.

Greg had his tiny home, the mountains and the sky, the kindness of strangers who saw him on the street, and the best animals in the world.

We invited him for lunch, but he preferred to stay behind as we loaded our $55,000 betacam, $6,000 tripod and $2,000 wireless system in the SUV.

"And a little child shall lead them," said Duncan as we drove silently home.

Based on the true story of Animal Man Greg Pike, web page link here.
Peaceable Kingdom paintings by Edward Hicks, web page link here.

Amy Bowers
Contributing Writer

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