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Wednesday, April 25, 2001

Today, instead of hearing things inside the wall, I'm hearing things that aren't there. Probably.

Every time the water heater (or the water cooler, or the refrigerator) clicks on and starts humming, I prick up my ears. Is something alive in here? Every twitter and chirp that I hear from outside takes a second to process. Is it in or out? Even the acidic gurgle in my stomach is unsettling.

A couple of times, when I walked past that wall, I'd hold my hand against it, not to try to feel anything, but just to remember. That's more than the mother starling does. Once it got quiet on the other side of the grate, she lost interest.

That's as it should be, of course. Despite all the Disney cartoons with dancing caterpillars and singing magpies, despite Babe and Chicken Run, animals are not people. That doesn't mean they don't have as much right to the land, air and water as humans, but they don't sit around talking politics and dreaming up ways to put one over on the farmer.

We could probably take lessons from them about moving on, keeping priorities straight, and not dwelling on things that can't be changed. I know I could.

On the other hand, the deeper family ties, the respect for life, the willingness to take on the impossible... these are all aspects of humanity that spring from our ability to think and feel in more complex ways than animals are capable of.

The death of a baby bird that I never saw has more meaning for me than it does for other birds. I like that about myself, even if I haven't liked myself much these last few days. When this week started, I was screaming at this creature to die and leave me in peace. Death came slowly, and peace will take a bit longer.

The silence is lovely, though.

I never know when the sprinklers are going to come on

This afternoon I put on my gardening gloves and went out to pull up the weeds around the plum tree in my side yard. It's a healthy young tree, but there are wild grasses and blackberry brambles growing too close, and I had just enough room left in the yard waste container to do something about it.

Once I'd cleared away some of the larger growth, I reached down with the clippers to try to get some of the brambles out of the way. I saw what looked like a brown, furry ball and knocked it aside. As it rolled I saw that it had tiny feet. And eyes. And a baby brother or sister that it had been huddling with under the brush I was removing.

They were baby field mice (I'm pretty sure). The first thing I did was move away and start pulling weeds somewhere else. Then I thought about it. I went back to see what I could do, just in time to see the mother mouse pick up her baby, the one I hadn't touched, and carry it further back into the bushes. I gently moved the other one back to the hole where I'd found it. Within seconds its mother was back to get it.

I stood there for several minutes and watched the mother mouse make several trips back and forth from the undergrowth to her old hole. I didn't see her carry any more babies, and she was very wary of my presence. She would stand at attention for minutes at a time, waiting to see if I would move. Maybe she forgot how many babies she had. I don't know, but I did my best not to disrupt her mission.

In general, I have no use for mice and rats. I don't want them in my house, at least not running around loose eating my Wheatables. Yet I had no thought of killing the ones I found today, or even disrespecting their right to live in my garden.

Maybe that's wrong. Maybe that's why I'll never be a farmer. One day I'll probably have to kill something again, for some good reason. But I've had enough of death for awhile. Today I just wanted to watch other creatures go on about their business in peace.

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Bev, Funny the World, April 25, Afternoon of a Squirrel

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