CHARITY ROBEY PHOTO In 2017, when the Tasmania Parks and Wildlife Service needed live-in caretakers for a rocky, windy island off Australia’s southern coast, it limited the search to couples who could demonstrate that they had spent a lot of time ...

 


Love in a cold climate, and add some isolation

CHARITY ROBEY PHOTO

In 2017, when the Tasmania Parks and Wildlife Service needed live-in caretakers for a rocky, windy island off Australia’s southern coast, it limited the search to couples who could demonstrate that they had spent a lot of time together in a remote place, on the theory that such couples know a thing or two about getting along, and depending on each other.

Tasmania Parks and Wildlife should set up a recruiting table in the IGA parking lot.

What happens to a couple in a place you can’t leave after midnight? For Valentine’s Day, the Reporter asked four Island partners what Shelter Island has meant for their relationship, for better or worse.

Tom Hashagen and Lisa Shaw have been together for 35 years, and have lived, worked and made music together.

Lisa: When we met, I had lived here most of my life, and was anxious to get away and stay away.

Tom: I was in love with Shelter Island as well as in love with her. Lisa could have taken it or left it.

Lisa: I wanted to leave it.

Tom: Music is the glue.

Lisa: It’s how we met really, when I joined his band. He was mean and rude and I didn’t like him one single bit.

Tom: Yeah. Pretty much I was an [expletive].

Lisa: I’m not sure what happened.

Tom: I’m the better man for it.

Lisa: Now I have those small town stories, like when I go to the liquor store and they’ll say, you know Tom has also picked up some wine.

Tom: We used to talk about wanting to retire someplace else, and then we’d take a ride over to Louis’ Beach to see the sunset … we’d be nuts to leave.

Lisa: Because Tom has a reputation as a chef, there’s an assumption by some that I don’t cook, so when I do cook, it is a surprise.

Tom: It sure surprised me.

Lisa: What do you mean! I can cook.

Tom: I taught you how to cook.

Lisa: The physical constraint of being on an island, is deep within the psyche. It’s community more than a spousal thing. It’s such a small community, especially this time of year.

Tom: When I was at Buzzy’s funeral at the Presbyterian Church, I signed the guest book “Tom and Lisa” and that’s all I had to write because everyone knows who that is. It’s who we are. But it’s also our brand as a band.

Lisa: And if you ever break up, it’s really bad.

Bliss Morehead and Mike Zisser had previous marriages and children before they became a couple 40 years ago, and moved to Shelter Island full-time over 20 years ago.

Bliss: In the city, being part of a couple was just one point of light in one’s private little constellation. Out here, it’s a big definer.

The first time we walked around our new neighborhood, out popped a neighbor who told us that she’d heard we bought the house, we weren’t married yet and would be in the fall, we worked together in the city, and we had five children, which was nice because there were some other kids on the street.

In the time before cellphones, I made a call to a client from the pay phone in front of Carol’s. Later that day, an acquaintance said she noticed me using a pay phone earlier, and was anything wrong at home? There was a hint of — married women not using pay phones when they have perfectly good telephones in the homes they share with their husbands — a Madame Bovary moment!

Albert and Mary Dickson have been together for 33 years.

Mary: Albert grew up here and his goal was to retire here. It was a prenup, I had to agree to that.

Albert: Shelter Island was always where we were going to wind up. No North Carolina or Florida. This was it.

Mary: I signed the prenup.

Albert: There was no prenup.

Mary: It wasn’t literally, but …

Albert: There was a lot of comfort, knowing this is where we were going to come.

Mary: In Red Bank, [New Jersey, where they had previously lived] there were a lot of restaurants, a lot of activities. Here, you have to create things. When people sit in front of the TV and eat, that’s the kiss of death.

Albert: Mary is not just a cook, she’s a chef.

Mary: A tablecloth, napkins and candles doesn’t cost any money. Make it nice.

Tracy and Bryan McCarthy have been together for over 10 years.

Tracy: We spotted each other at an Island watering hole, and within minutes, I had the entire low-down on who Bryan was, where he worked, and what he was like in high school. Every fact you would want to know about someone before approaching them in a bar.

It’s always easy to stay in touch, because if one of you doesn’t know where the other is, someone else has probably seen your spouse within the last hour and can clue you in. Cons? When I leave the Island on the ferry, it gets reported back to him ASAP.

Plusses? There are not a lot of other distractions, so we end up doing a lot together.

I don’t think it is too much different than being in a relationship elsewhere, except you have fewer choices of where to go out on date night!

I do credit the smallness of Shelter Island to bringing Bryan and me together.

    
 

Kolina Reiter- A true, blue harelegger

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Kolina Reiter was taking advantage of a sunny November afternoon to pull some grapevine out of her garden and onto the golf cart she uses to motor around two Shelter Island acres she has lived on since the 60s. If I wanted to talk to her, I’d have to get her to hold still. “Human beings were not put on this earth to sit around,” she admonished me. (I was seated at the time.) “You might as well curl up and die.”

It’s a philosophy that helped Kolina and her late husband Bob Reiter create a legendary enterprise that morphed from a one-room scallop shack at the beating heart of Shelter Island’s commercial fishery to Bob’s Seafood, a market and restaurant that has fed the Island for decades.

Kolina was born in 1938, “a true blue harelegger” to May and John Barice Nevel, who immigrated from Canada, where they met after John Nevel tried to enter the US from Russia through Ellis Island and was diverted because someone on his ship had tuberculosis. They followed May’s sisters Jessie Price and Margaret Oliver to Shelter Island and went to work; he as a barber and she a beautician, out of at a house in the Heights where they raised Kolina and her brothers Mal and Barice.

When the New Prospect Hotel was destroyed by fire in June of 1942, Kolina was four years old, and her brothers, took her down the street to watch the conflagration from a safe distance.  “I remember the elephant, not the fire itself,” she said. “There was a statue in the lobby of an elephant. It was the only thing they saved.”

Even as a kid Kolina worked; as a chambermaid and waitress, babysitting for a grand family, but there was plenty of year-round fun for young people in those days, and she enjoyed it all. The roller rink in Greenport had dances as well as skating, the ice pond in the Heights that seemed to be frozen for most of winter invited impromptu skating parties, and there were plenty of places to drink, including the Harbor Inn. “I don’t think people went there in the summertime,” said Kolina, “but it was a winter solace.”

Kolina’s graduating class from the Shelter Island School was 22 strong. Several of her classmates, including Hoot Sherman and Carol Hallman, still live on the Island.

In the 1950s meeting people through social media meant going to the movies, and 17-year old Kolina was a regular in the loge of the Greenport theater with a pack of Shelter Island friends who looked down on Greenporters. It was there that Bob Reiter, who lived in Greenport and worked as an usher at the theater, leaned over Kolina, seated on the aisle, and privately informed her that he intended to marry her one day. She thought he was pretty nervy.

Eventually she changed her mind.  Nursing school took Kolina away from the Island, she put her newly-earned RN degree to work at Eastern Long Island hospital, and Bob did not forget her. “I don’t know why he had such a fancy for me and he always wanted to talk to me,” she said. They married in 1960.

Bob worked on sea scallop boats out of Greenport, trips that had him away from home for 10 days at a time. In 1963, Kolina was a few years into what would be a 20-plus year career in nursing, their son Michael was in diapers, Earl was on the way. and she knew something had to give. On Bob’s last scalloping trip, the fishing was no good nearby and the boat was in the waters off New Jersey when Kolina informed Bob that he had better get home.  “I said, it’s the boats or me, baby.” 

Bob took up gillnetting and clamming, Kolina continued her career, and they worked as caretakers of the cabin on Taylor’s Island, with Bob caring for the physical plant and Kolina in charge of the housekeeping. Kolina remembers putting infant Earl and one-year old Michael in a dinghy so she could walk out to the tombolo at low tide pulling them along beside her. If the tide was too high to wade home by the time she was done cleaning, she rowed them all back. 

Jeffrey was born in 1967. Today, all three sons still live nearby and Kolina counts grandchildren Anthony, Kayla and Amelia, and five great-grandchildren, Gloria and Margaret from Kayla, and Anthony’s children Lucas, Anthony and newborn Kolina.

Bob’s Seafood started as a scallop shop- a one-room structure where baymen could sell scallop meats, or bring their bushels for the long hours of opening. In the late 60s- a time when bay scallops were so plentiful they washed up in piles on the beach when the wind blew-the Reiter’s scallop shack distributed most of the scallops taken by Shelter Island baymen, and Jim Homan, from Braun’s Seafood in Cutchogue, the largest seafood distributor on the North Fork, remembers Bob “Bush” Reiter as one of his biggest suppliers.

Soon they decided to diversify, “People were coming in to buy scallops and someone asked for some clams and that was it,” Kolina said. “We set up the showcases and put a sign out.”

From the first, cooking and eating was central to the mission at Bob’s Seafood. Kolina made the chowder with a recipe her mother in law learned from her days working at Mitchell’s restaurant in Greenport.

Her signature dish is stuffed clams. “What makes them so great?” Kolina said. “Me!  Real clams and clam broth.  Not too much broth or they get too juicy,” Over the years, the restaurant went from one fryer to the present three, one dedicated to French fries, “We were always cooking.”

She’s less proprietary about Bob’s bluefish special, a combination platter of broiled bluefish and a blue cheese topping that is not for the faint of heart.  The idea to add this hearty item to the menu at Bob’s came at an event in the 70s, when the present day Mashomack was a private hunting club. “The guy who made the dish was a French chef from Southside, who used to come over to hunt,” said Kolina. “The last dinner of hunting season, all the wives came to dinner, and he brought the bluefish,” she said. “Everybody tried it and my husband said, we’ve got to do this at the restaurant.”

When Bob passed away last July at 84, it was a blow to the Shelter Island community that was felt most acutely by Kolina and her sons. Friends and family including most of the Island fishermen and women past, present, and future gathered at the restaurant to eat, tell stories and remember Bob.

Kolina lives in her house near the store, and still makes the cole slaw and the clam chowder for the restaurant. Earl who loves the water like his father did, has stepped up to run the market and restaurant and has plans to expand the business, which suits her just fine. “A tree or two will have to come down,” she said, in a tone that suggested she might have to be talked out of doing it herself.

 

Lightning Round-Kolina Reiter

Favorite place on Shelter Island?

Menhaden Lane

Favorite place not on Shelter Island?

67 Steps Beach in Greenport

When was the last time you were elated? 

I’m happy most of the time.

What exasperates you?

The way the kids talk to me sometimes.  They tell me what I can or can’t do.

When was the last time you were afraid?

I’m afraid of the dark. I won’t go into a room I don’t know if there isn’t a light on.

Favorite movie or book?

Scaramoucheby Rafael Sabatini

Favorite food?

Vanilla Ice cream 

Favorite person, living or dead, who is not a member of the family?

Melva Ryder. We went to nursing school together, and she is still working at Southampton Hospital.

Most respected elected official?

Obama. He was true to who he was.

    
 

Owen Gibbs- Looking ahead, not down

CHARITY ROBEY PHOTO Owen Gibbs

Seventeen-year old Owen Gibbs is tall, so he’s used to looking down a lot. But these days he is looking ahead, to performing in the Shelter Island School spring musical, graduating and going away to college in the fall.

“Six-four is my height, my brother is six-five and my sister is five-eleven,” Owen said. “My mom always wished we had higher ceilings.”

He’s the son of Karen and Jacob Gibbs, lifelong Shelter Islanders who met working on the North Ferry, where his dad still works. The youngest of three, Owen and his siblings attended the Shelter Island School. His sister Alexis now works as a nurse in Baltimore, and his brother Spencer attended Coastal Carolina College and is going into the U.S. Army.

In his middle and high school years, he developed his musical gifts, and with the guidance and encouragement of music teacher Jessica Bosak, he participated for five years in the Suffolk County Music Educators Association, singing in an annual competition before a judge in a variety of genres, including songs in Italian and German.

“I like a song as long as the beat is nice,” Owen said, “and I like Broadway songs.”

In 2017, he was the only Shelter Island student to be selected to the All State Mixed Chorus and performed as part of the 82nd annual winter conference of the New York State School Music Association in Rochester, one of 35 tenors chosen in New York State.

Always an avid science student, Owen particularly likes biology. The hands-on nature of a dissection lab he experienced while studying anatomy started him thinking about a career in medicine. After an internship in the operating room at Eastern Long Island Hospital, Owen decided he’d like to become a physician’s assistant, a goal he could reach with four years of college.

He’s also one of the lucky students who has benefitted from Shelter Island School science teacher Dan Williams’ two-year guided research course. Owen decided to study the effects of nicotine in Planaria, a type of flatworm. “I’m looking at the effects of nicotine on worms and seeing how they react. They curl or twist under stress,” he said. “I know that people now are switching over to vapes, and they have a lot of nicotine, so I thought I’d start by finding out how nicotine affects something small.”

Going to school with the same two dozen people for one dozen years has convinced Owen it’s time to explore new places and spread out at a bigger college.

“I know everyone. It would be nice to expand a friend group,” he said. “It’s a positive being here sometimes, but negative because if you get on someone’s bad side you can’t get away.”

In the summers, Owen works at Gardiner’s Bay Country Club, cleaning clubs and tending to the members, the perfect job for a guy who doesn’t like working outdoors in cold weather. He’s also a strong golfer, who made it to county competition on the school’s team.

Although he’s enjoyed music all his life, it took some arm-twisting from his mother to get him to try out for the school musical in 8th grade. “She basically forced me to do it,” he said, “In the long run I have to thank her, because now I love it.”

The show was “Annie Warbucks.” Owen’s part was a single line at the very end of the show, apparently delivered convincingly enough to get a part in “The Drowsy Chaperone” the following year, singing a duet. He has gone on to bigger roles each year.

Rehearsals are underway for this year’s musical, “The Addams Family.” Owen has been cast as Gomez, a leading role. He’s still working on the accent. “It’s going to be fun,” he said. “My character wears a striped suit and speaks with a Spanish accent, but so far they tell me I sound Indian.”

He described the process of directors Anu and John Kaasik: “They observe everything, take notes and tell us how to do better and be better. It’s amazing. You can’t tell who did what, but you can see that the outcome is really great.”

Owen said he’s come to expect some stage fright. “Usually, opening night is the worst. Waiting to go on, I’m just shaking. After the first scene I’m fine.”

LIGHTNING ROUND

What do you always have with you? My driver’s license. Having a license is very freeing.

Favorite place on Shelter Island? Reel Point.

Favorite place not on Shelter Island? The boardwalk in Cadiz, Spain, where our school group went two summers ago.

When was the last time you were elated? When I went to Massachusetts for a leadership camp.

When was the last time you were afraid? In October when I went to a haunted mansion in Riverhead.

What is the best day of the year on Shelter Island? A warm summer day.

Favorite movie or book? “Owen.” It is a child’s book.

Favorite food? Beef tacos, hard shell, cheddar with lettuce and sour cream, no hot sauce.

Favorite person, living or dead, who is not a member of the family? I have not found someone that I really look up to yet

    
 

Forrest Compton- Soldier, actor, Islander

CHARITY ROBEY PHOTO Forrest Compton

In 1974, Forrest Compton, a 50-year-old LA-based actor, had just been hired to play Mike Karr, the principal character on the long running soap opera, “The Edge of Night.”

Slated to appear in two episodes a week for the next 13 weeks, he needed an apartment in New York City near the studio, so when he heard about a one-bedroom on East 72nd he went to see Al, the super.

Forrest later learned that Al was such a devotee of “The Edge of Night,” that he locked his office door every day at 2 p.m. to watch uninterrupted. When Forrest mentioned that he had just been hired to play Mike Karr, the super said, “You’re getting that apartment.”

Forrest played the role until the show ended 14 years later, and he still has that one-bedroom apartment. His acting career was long and successful, and along the way, he and his wife Jeanne found a house on Little Ram Island, where they have been part of the Shelter Island community since the 1970s.

Forest was born in 1925 and raised in Reading, Pennsylvania. His father, who sold aluminum pots and pans and worked as a chemist in a steel mill, was determined that his son and only child would have the opportunity to have the fine education that did not come to him. Then World War II intervened.

By August 1944, Forrest was with the 103rd Infantry Division in France and saw his first action in Alsace, where he was wounded in the leg by a German mortar shell. Six weeks later, he was back with his unit, and later bore witness to the atrocity of the Holocaust.

“The Germans were retreating,” he remembered. “We had a long column and our unit came across a camp, and across the field came skeletons in purple and white stripes — Jews from the concentration camp — hundreds of them asking us, ‘Warum. Why? Why did you take so long?’”

After the war, Forrest attended Swarthmore, where one of his professors helped him find a spot in a summer community theater at a Quaker resort called Buck Hill.

“After that summer at Buck Hill, I was on my way,” he said.

He went on to complete a three-year program at the Yale Drama School. “They used to say if you stayed the whole three years, you’d probably amount to nothing.” Forrest said. “The big names never stayed for three years.”

Paul Newman, a classmate of Forrest’s, stayed one year. “He was a great guy, charming, sharp, six months older than me. I remember Paul making salad dressing back then,” he said. “Once the agents saw Paul and those blue eyes and his charm, he was on television a month later.”

The first television commercial Forrest did was memorable. “It was for Tavern Blue Cheese Crackers,” he recalled. “Me and a very pretty girl sitting next to me eating these crackers. The pitch man was a guy in a tuxedo. I poured the crackers into a nice bowl and only one or two crackers came out.

The next take everything came out at once. By the third or fourth take, the pitch man was having a little trouble with the words. From the back of the studio a woman working for the sponsor said, ‘Why don’t we get somebody else?’ So, of course he completely fell apart. By the time the girl and I were released they were on their 23rd take.”

In the late 1950s, Forrest decided to spend a couple of months in Los Angeles, which was becoming the center for television production and commercials, with a return airplane ticket to New York in his pocket.

He found plenty of work, appearing in 42 episodes of “Gomer Pyle,” as Lieutenant Colonel Edward Gray; five episodes of “Hogan’s Heroes” playing a German soldier; and episodes of “The Twilight Zone,” “My Three Sons,” and “Mayberry RFD.” What he thought would be a few weeks turned into 14 years.

In 1971, a call from his father’s doctor convinced him he had to come back to New York to help his ailing parent. During that period, Forrest spent a few weekends at the home of a friend on the South Fork playing tennis at a yacht club and going to the beach.

“One day it rained, and we went for a drive and crossed Shelter Island from the South Fork to the North Fork, a quick look, but a charming look.”

When Forrest met Jeanne Sementini at a party, she was almost 40, he was almost 50, and neither had ever been married. A few weeks later she invited Forrest to go to the opera with her when one of her boyfriends got tickets to “Carmen,” and then couldn’t make it.

“She was just different enough from me that it was going to be an adventure,” Forrest said. “I think she felt the same way.” They married in 1975.

Jeanne and Forrest bought the house on Little Ram Island in 1978. Their first look at the 1929 home that had previously been owned by a relative of Theodore Roosevelt was on a cold, windy day in December.

As Forrest walked up the stone steps to take in the view, he was battered by the blast. “Greg Price, the broker, said, ‘You will always have a breeze here,’” Forrest said. “I took a look at the water and said, ‘This is it.’”

The couple began living on the Island full time about 20 years ago, a change he attributes to “the allure of the people out here,” people such as Bill Grimbol, pastor of the Shelter Island Presbyterian Church from 1986 to 2011.

“At an Easter sunrise service, three ministers gave a talk,” he said. “I’d been in Sunday school as a kid, but I drifted away. His sermon and his whole attitude were so appealing that I joined the church, and I’m still involved.”

Forrest is often asked to read the scriptures on Sunday. “Everything else is falling apart. I can do the reading,” he said. “I’m surprised I’m still here. I can fake things a lot.”

At 77, after a decade of coronary illness controlled by drugs, Forrest’s cardiologist told him the time had come for bypass surgery, and scheduled him for a date in January of 2002. “I told him that I’d been waiting a long time to see “The Producers” with Nathan Lane and Matthew Broderick and I’ve got tickets for the 12th of February, two or three weeks away,” he said. “On the 12th I saw the show and on the 14th I had the bypass.”

Forrest has been an active participant in the Shelter Island Friends of Music since the 1980s, and in 2012 became president. He introduced last Sunday’s enchanting piano and clarinet concert for over 100 music lovers in the sun-filled Presbyterian Church with his signature combination of humility, humor and perfect diction.

Age and recent politics have done nothing to dim his fundamental optimism.

“Despite what is happening in this country now, people overall are kind, the goodness in most people is there,” Forrest said. “There are more good people than ones who are selfish and self-serving. It’s been true in my life, and I think in most people’s lives.”

Lightning Round — Forrest Compton
Favorite place on Shelter Island? My friend Dick Behrke’s tennis court.

Favorite place not on Shelter Island? Malibu Beach.

When was the last time you were elated? When we got our last dog, Pookie.

When was the last time you were afraid? The night before my bypass.

What is the best day of the year on Shelter Island? The Library’s celebrity writer luncheon.

Favorite movie or book? “A Walk in the Sun” is my favorite movie.” “Catch 22” is my favorite book.

Favorite food? Chocolate ice cream.

Favorite person, living or dead, who is not a member of the family? Bill Grimbol.

Most respected elected official? JFK.

    
 

Cooped Up

CHARITY ROBEY PHOTO

Published in the Shelter island Reporter on February 28, 2019

At 7:45 a.m. on a rainy February morning, I opened the door of the Sylvester Manor Farm chicken coop, releasing more than 80 birds into a quarter-acre fenced-in yard supplied with fresh water, feed and sunflower seeds.

The first wave went right for the water, racing across the yard like a formation of toy-sized T. rex. Another group went straight to the sunflower seeds. As I stepped into the coop to collect the eggs laid overnight, I saw at least 20 hens had decided that staying in the warm, dry coop was more compelling than food and water. Perhaps I shouldn’t ascribe human emotions to barnyard animals, but these are ladies after my own heart.

When Jocelyn Craig, the farm manager at Sylvester Manor, put out the word last fall that she would welcome local volunteers to help care for Sylvester Manor’s flock of laying hens in the off-season when she would be the only farmer on site, there were a number of takers, especially since it turned out that this work was not technically pro bono — we would be paid in eggs.

A fellow volunteer, who always signs up for the early morning chores that require fortitude and gloves, is Virginia Gerardi, who expressed a non-chickencentric reason for volunteering to help out on the farm, “It was time for Jocelyn to take a vacation and I was ready to step up to help make that happen,” she said. “I never knew that chickens were so friendly!”

Neither did I. If you’ve never struggled to latch a large swinging gate while receiving a lavish greeting from a stampede of friendly hens, you should consider adding the experience to your bucket list. (Contact Jocelyn to get on the list.)

Hannah Gray, a teacher at the Shelter Island Preschool, volunteered the students of the Forest School, an outdoor educational program for 4-year-olds, to gather eggs on school days. “We walk over to the chickens every day,” said Hannah. “The children say, ‘Good morning chickens, is it O.K. if we take your eggs?’”

The Forest School children are more polite than I am. Not only did I collect eggs without asking first, I reached past the tailfeathers of a hen, took an egg out from under her seconds after she produced it, and then Instagrammed that egg without her permission.

Chickens are sensible creatures, who know a thing or two about being productive in the dead of winter, another of the lessons I’ve learned from volunteering. One day, while on egg-gathering duty, I noticed there were a lot of them. As I counted into the fourth dozen, I began to cluck, and by the time I reached 56, I was as satisfied as if I’d laid those eggs myself. The next morning, the ladies of the coop had produced another 16 eggs overnight, making me even prouder.

All told, I’d say this experience has been a lot more helpful to me than it has for the chickens.
I learned that the phrase “tastes like chicken” is probably well understood among species other than our own, a lesson brought home when I found the eviscerated remains of a hen, likely taken out by a hawk, near the coop.

I learned that chickens speak a kind of Esperanto, communicating fluently to humans and each other without the need for Google Translate. The cackling, clucking, and crooning expresses everything from impatience: “Let us out of the coop — now!” to joy: “I’ve just laid an egg!”

Virginia said her favorite part of chicken chores is when they are done, after the chickens are all fed and the eggs are collected, “Before closing the gate, I spend a few minutes just standing there watching the chickens peck around. I notice what the crows are doing and what the field and the sky look like. I love that stillness of early morning and I feel blessed to be able to be out in nature.”

Hannah is used to dealing with the challenges of a nature-based curriculum, especially on a farm, where you never know what’s going to happen. The children of the Forest School had already noticed some chickens were missing, so when a dead hen was discovered behind the coop one day, it was an unavoidable, teachable moment.

One child thought maybe the other chickens got mad at him, or maybe a wolf came, and there was a lively discussion about what to do with the carcass.

The children of the Forest School, like me, know a little more now about the joys and the realities of a small farm; that bad things can happen, that taking care of farm animals often results in good things like eggs, and that the creatures we care for can have a good life.