Monday, November 29, 2010

Dead, Not Alive, part two

So, they're getting smarter! It makes a difference how much peanut butter you apply, how much it sticks up, and exactly how tenuously you hook the wire up.

I'm trying to imagine myself a mouse with a taste for danger. It must be a huge thrill to lick it clean and get away--an even huger thrill to actually trip the dingaling, see it fly across the room and find yourself still breathing, albeit with a somewhat accelerated heart rate.

Are they watching me when I disgustedly pick up the empty trap, yucking it up and licking their lips in anticipation of another dose of Jif? Do they make bets with one another?

"OK, Charley, it's your turn. Lick it clean and you get the Ramen noodle stash all to yourself. Mess up, and it's all mine. Betcha can't do it. Nyah nyah."

"You noodle-head Seamus! I've done this so many times, I can do it with my eyes shut. Stand back, you weaney-eyed mange ball. Let a pro show you how."

Meanwhile, their nemesis is baiting, waiting and hoping. Death comes to us all. May Jif show you the way.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Wanted: Dead not Alive

Since the weather turned cold, the field mice have begun the invasion of the warmer, hidden regions of our house. As soon as their presence is noticed, the good, old-fashioned mouse trap comes out, baited with peanut butter to catch its first customer. I really don't like mice in my house. They stink. They make stashes of Ramen noodles here and there. They leave their little poop droppings everywhere.

We've caught several mice so far this season. They go for the peanut butter and generally are pop-eyed and stiff when I find them. But today was different. Amazingly enough, on my way down to the basement to check the trap, a thought wandered into my brain that had never found its way there before, just like the mice that wander into my home. "What would I ever do if I found the mouse alive and not dead?" You must know what comes next.

There it was--caught by a hind foot and very much alive. It's one thing to dislike a critter that you only see dead. Dead is not cute. Dead is not pathetic. Dead is not breathing. Being alive is everything. My heart suffered pangs of sympathy--oh! the poor thing. While it's alive, I can see what a wondrous creature it is--so small and perfect and right in front of my eyes. Never mind that I would have preferred finding it dead.

There was no way I could kill the thing to relieve its misery. I put on some gloves and lifted it, trap and all. It tried to bite me, to get free. It was terrified. I took it outside and released it. It lay in the damp, moldy leaves panting, but not moving. I hoped that a bird would find it soon and take it away. I went out again a few minutes later. It was still there. I ran an errand. By then it was gone. Whether it was paralyzed by fear and unable to move, and then recovered, I'll never know. Whether it became prey will also never be revealed.

I don't like killing things, and I remind myself that mice reproduce exponentially because they are meant to be food for other creatures. It doesn't matter. I want them to stay outside, but if they must come in, I want them dead, not alive, when I find them.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

I Am Not a Number, But I Am Smoking...

The vicious and irritating cycle of misinformation has struck again. The world system has become a vast ensnaring net of mostly insignificant and inaccurate info-bytes that trigger long, drawn-out, exasperating efforts to correct or at least eradicate them. No amount of head-banging or teeth gnashing or wailing will take away the aggravation of trying to sneak past the user name and password you have long forgotten, to get to an actual, helpful and informed human being who can click that one button that saves you your sanity and your wallet about $300 a year. In fact there are no helpful and informed human beings out there--just stupid computers with labyrinthian mazes for you to wander around in like a rat finding the moldy cheese at the end. You'd like to punch the computer, but that wouldn't solve anything and would cost your wallet another $300. And in the meantime you can't for the life of you figure out how your health plan decided that you may possibly not be tobacco-free after all, even though you did give them half an hour of your lifetime filling out their evaluation, including the tobacco questions. Yet there it is. I have to give them at least another half hour (or more) of time I'd rather spend doing anything else, even being sick with the flu, than trying to straighten out their mistake. Almost makes me want to start smoking!

Monday, November 15, 2010

A Clash of Evils

I'm listening to a book on CD right now about the battle for Moscow during WW2. There were so many moral issues in that war, but this battle poses a dilemma that merits reflection. Perhaps only Chairman Mao can compete for the top spot beside Hitler and Stalin for greatest despot of that century. Who is to say who was the worst? Hitler failed and died before he could complete his plan for Russia. If he had succeeded, he may have outdone Stalin in brutality.

Churchill said of the German, "If Hitler invaded hell I would make at least a favorable reference to the devil in the House of Commons." He was ready to "make a pact with the devil" (Stalin) to defeat the Nazi. The U.S. diplomats seemed to be mostly duped by Stalin. The few who were wary of him wanted the two dictators to go at it in an epic slug fest. It always seems advantageous to have your enemies fighting each other instead of you, but what about all the victims--people forced to fight; people fighting for the motherland, not the ideologies ruling them at the moment; the non-combatants who have the misfortunes to be in the path of destruction?

So we helped Stalin defeat Hitler--a move that doomed Eastern Europe for decades. Hindsight gives perfect vision. I would not have wanted to be a leader during the time that all these decisions needed to be made. There were no enviable choices in this clash of devils.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Tea Time for Englishmen

About this time of year I hang out my birdfeeders and keep them filled. Within minutes of their appearance, the birds start arriving. I like to think of them as Englishmen visitors. It comes from my abiding interest in 19th century literature.

The chickadees are the brash, but approachable, hansom cab drivers. They aren't intimidated if you stand out on the deck within feet (or closer) of the feeder. They come anyway, look you over, decide you're an OK chap, and go about their business.

The tufted titmice are the footmen on grand carriages--elegantly dressed but diminutive in importance.

The cardinals, of course, must be churchmen--dignified, full of authority, respected. Perhaps the other Englishmen give them too much distance--but not as much distance as they give the bluejays, lords of all they see, who scatter the rabble, take what they want, and strut around in their grand suits.

Nuthatches elude me. Are they the squires, the shop keepers and tradesmen, or the lawyers? They keep busy. They're efficient and neat. They know what they're about and they don't brook interference. Occasionally they lose patience with the cabbies and the footmen.

If I didn't like the downy woodpeckers so much, I would call them the highwaymen. It seems unfair to make them robbers, but they can get at anything. Perhaps they are the lawyers after all!

Ah! I have been momentarily blinded by the obvious. Highwaymen there are indeed: squirrels.

Whatever the birds do most of the day, I can hardly say. I do have things to do besides watch them. However, I have noticed that almost directly at noon, though the feeders have been lightly visited, they seem to show up at once and in great numbers. It must be time for tea!

Wednesday, November 10, 2010


Foggy morning, foggy mind,
Shorter days, less light to find.
Cold months ahead with no respite.
Leaden soul, leaden sight.

Grayness rules the heavy sky
Weighing down the will to try,
The will to laugh, the will to fly,
The will to look and wonder why.

Chilly damp, chilly mood,
Dreary light is dreary food
To enervate a listless fool
Who must strive 'gainst dead self-rule.

Shake out the sodden cloak of gloom.
Break out from clammy, lifeless tomb.
Wring out the heartless, hopeless doom.
Sweep out sighs with a laughing broom.

Kindle a flame in the fireplace.
Kindle a smile upon your face.
Kindle a joy you can't out pace.
Kindle a hope you can't erase.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Daydreams of a Science Teacher

Play-doh tectonics and corn candy cartwheels,
Pop bottle geysers and cornstarch magma,
Electro-nail magnets and funky earth science.
Class should be a blast on Friday...

Monday, November 1, 2010

Gaining Perspective

When an important event is coming up, it looms so huge on the horizon that we cannot see past it. It dominates our vision, like the mountain before us on a hike. Step by step we approach it, excited in anticipation of the peak views and weary of the long trudge. Once at the top we seem to see it all before us; everything is revealed. But not quite.

A week, month, year or so later the mountain has receded--perhaps not even in view. We have moved on to something else and the mountain has shrunk in size--at least in our memories.

Less than two weeks ago, I had an actual physical mountain in front of me. It evoked a dread in my heart by the terribleness of its size. I did not climb all of it, but it is waiting for me to come back and conquer it. Within days I was flying home. Looking down, the mountains made me wonder but not fear. From miles up they had flattened out. They had not changed, but my point of view had.

We encounter numerous mountains in our life. Some seem insurmountable. Others daunting, but hike-able. Still others are just a short-term, body-numbing task to get past. We cannot always tell which is which, and hope that we don't waste too much of our life on the impossible, and not too much on the too easy.

If we could do a fly-by on them, we might gain perspective, but we would also lose the mysterious spiciness of doubt and the grittiness of persistence. Perspective is a good thing, but it can also deceive if it comes without hands-on experience. I respect a mountain before me. I shrug off one below me. Climbing it gives me a perspective that a fly-by never will.