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Rodent Revenge

Now the rodents just will not leave me alone. Inside we have squirrels and beavers and other warm, fuzzy, disease-carrying things. Oops, another insult. Sorry.

Water-Skiing Squirrel, Twiggy
found at CNN
On top of the wave
Twiggy, the water-skiing squirrel, shows off her talent during a demonstration at the Tulsa Boat, Sport and Travel Show in Tulsa, Oklahoma. Lou Ann and Chuck Best own and train Twiggy, who has also performed in Dunkin' Donuts commercials and bank openings.

In other offbeat news we have a story from Sweden, that now the World's oldest newspaper now exists only online: “Post-och Inrikes Tidningar, founded in 1645 by Sweden's Queen Kristina, became a Web-only publication on January 1.”

Back to rodents.

I did not grow up with too many rodents in southern Idaho. We had field mice, and they had a tendency to nest in the warm, damp straw and hay that collected under the feeders for our cows. From time to time we cleaned out the main corral, shoveled out some manure, etc., and also cleaned under the feeders. As recounted before, once when we tipped over the feeder a family of field mice came scurrying out, and our cats, Tigger and Skeeter in particular, had the proverbial field day. We captured some of the mice and transformed an old styrofoam cooler for use on camping trips and picnics into Mouse Mansion, and we welcomed our newest pets.

Eventually the family grew too numerous and the cooler too small a residence, and so the mice were released to the wild, where they became cat fast-food.

Our dog sam was a kind soul, a gun-shy yellow lab and golden retriever mix we'd adopted from the Humane Society shortly after we moved to Idaho. One summer morning he was found on the east side of the house, below my window, with a drowning baby mouse held in his slobbery mouth. The baby lived—to die another day, shall we say—and Sam had no intention of harming it. He was unaware, however, that carrying it around in his mouth, waiting to find someone to whom to deliver his treasure, was not in the mouse's best interest.

Usually we didn't actually see mice. That, you see, if the point of farm cats. We, however, saw the evidence—insides left on doorsteps as gifts, generally from Skeeter, who, like all proper cats, realizes that his tamed human masters are unable to properly take care of themselves and thus must be provided for. Since he had adopted my father, we often found a number of gifts in the garage: mice guts, uneaten garter snakes with puncture wounds, and, once, a nearly whole goose that our feline friend had caught and dragged across many fields to deliver. The bird weighed more than the cat, even with much of its back ripped out.

Beavers, those semi-aquatic rodents, were known to me more from stories than from nature; they weren't something you saw in the valley, along canals, in the desert. I visited Corvalis, Oregon, several times, home to the Oregon State University Beavers—there could be a college sports conference consisting only of the OSU Beavers, Minnesota Golden Gophers, UW-Madison Badgers, and UMich Wolverines, for all I care. But, back to beavers, I came across this rodent early in life in The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe (C.S. Lewis).

In terms of number of species—although not necessarily in terms of number of organisms (population) or biomass—rodents make up the largest order of mammals, with over 40 percent of mammalian species belonging to the order

We were short on squirrels and chipmunks where I lived, though I'm sure downtown Boise had its share of squirrels, and I suspect they've moved further out into the suburbs by now. We did, however, have gophers, no so much on our property as at the elementary school, and one could sprain an ankle on the 3rd & 4th grade playground/field because of their holes. One spring day in the 4th grade the PE teacher took a baseball bat and shoved it like a piston into numerous gopher holes, attempting to kill the animals. Even at that age I found the practice repugnant, and not so much because the animals were being killed, but because the teacher seemed to take pleasure in it.

I eat meat; I do not, at this point, have serious issues with the butcher of animals for food. I do worry, however, greatly about the kind of people who would take joy in harming animals, and not just because it means they're capable of taking the same pleasure in harming humans.

In fact, I do not see it as a stretch of reasoning at all to claim that those who find joy in hurting animals are much more disturbing than those who hurt their fellow humans, for any aggression against an animal—at least one that is not a dangerous predator presenting an immediate threat—has no motivation outside a psychological urge to cause pain, be it either for joy, as acting out experienced abuse, or for sociopathic what-if scenarios devoid of empathy. With a person—at least, we might say—there is the potential for rationalization, even if it is misplaced or misapplied: revenge, retribution, feelings of moral superiority because they had it coming. Which is not to say that this is a superior form of abuse and pleasure-from-pain (in fact, it could be more dangerous culturally in the long-term, for it feels justified), only that it is one that we can potentially understand and perhaps in a rational way address.

A number of non-rodents are often mistaken, casually at least, for relatives of mice and rats:

In a recent discussion with acquaintances about scary roadside billboards along Missouri highways—a combination of adult toy store ads alternating with Porn Kills! and Jesus posters for miles and miles—I came across Roadside America and Olney, Illinois, “White Squirrel Capital of the World.”

And while the following makes me think of Elliot Ness and prohibition, I suspect the reference is more likely to Dalits, the untouchables in the Indian caste system. undutchables is a site for foreigners looking to work in the Netherlands.

—February 12 2007