I'm inconsistent, and I know it ... but at least once in a while I feel guilty about my inconsistencies. Questions of life and death in the animal kingdom highlight my self-contradictions. I set mouse traps, even though whenever they catch something my heart breaks. Yeah, I understand that "None of us gets out of here alive" --- as Salman Rushdie observed memorably several years ago, in answer to a question about the fatwa ordering his murder. And I realize that the life of a typical critter in the wild is extraordinarily short and painful. I don't eat meat, yet I buy it and cook it for the carnivores in the family, and thereby I contribute my support to factory farms and their associated tortures. But I have a hard time paying double or more the price for "free range" chicken eggs and the like. And so on ...

A recent example: on Sunday morning I found a scrawny little squirrel, a veritable tree-rat, lying stretched out on our front doorstep. At first I thought it was dead. It seemed to have a puncture wound in its side, perhaps from a neighborhood cat or dog that killed it and left it there as a trophy for us to admire. Or maybe it had fallen out of its nest in the huge pin oak tree that looms over our house.

Then I saw that it still was breathing, in shallow little gasps. I wanted to cry.

I couldn't just leave the baby squirrel there. I thought about smashing it with a rock, "to put it out of its misery", but I couldn't bring myself to do that either. I didn't want to touch it, so I scooped it up with an empty flowerpot and heaved it toward a bush in the front yard.

A minute later I heard the most piteous high-pitched shrieks imaginable; they sounded like strange bird-calls, but of course they came from the wee creature. I went out and found it, stretched out and panting; somehow it had turned itself over onto its stomach again. All I could think to do was cover its tiny body loosely with dry leaves, to insulate it a bit against the cold and, I thought, "give it a chance". Maybe a predator would come soon to finish it off.

I tried to forget, but only remembered more clearly the time when, a decade ago, I found a small and not-quite-dead mousie in one of my traps. Its back was broken, its hind legs paralyzed, but still it struggled. I took it outside and released it under a shrub, where it dragged itself slowly into a hiding place beneath some leaves, doubtless to die there. But maybe it was a bit less terrified in its final minutes than it would have been in the mousetrap. At least, so I tell myself. I did all that I could do for it ... and still, the situation was so sad. I set the trap, and this was the result.

Thankfully, this year's Sunday story has a perhaps-happier ending. An hour later I chanced to see a big squirrel on the ground in my front yard, probably the mother of the fallen-from-the-treetop-cradle baby. She picked up its little body in her jaws and sprang up the side of the oak. I can now fantasize that she took it back to the nest, where maybe, just maybe, the infant is recovering. I hope so ....

(see also JustDesserts (20 Sep 1999), LearningInconsistency (12 Oct 1999), SufferTheAnimals (11 Jun 2000), RobertNozick (2 Feb 2002), ...)

TopicPersonalHistory - TopicLife - 2002-11-06

(correlates: CheckingOut, HaveToLaugh, WikiWord, ...)