When I was seven, my dad found a litter of mice in the shed and, after sharing the wonder of life with me and my friend Mark, proceded to suck the kits up with the shop-vac. I laid awake that night thinking about the blind squirmy babies, if they were dead yet, and what their deaths were like. I didn't understand how my dad could appreciate this little mouse miracle enough to call us over, and then turn on the vaccuum. I appreciate now how he didn't shield me from situations beyond easy answers.There are a thousand ways civilization as we practice it is undercutting our species' ability to survive on the planet. Our governments are largely abnigating leadership in changing them, so it's up to each of us to hash through inconclusive research and competing priorities and draw our own lines. One I've chosen to stand firm on is not using poisons. The problem with rodent poison is that it turns rodents into poison. Which in turn make poisoned beetles, owls, bacteria, groundwater, pacific chorus frogs, and garden vegetables. Once that stuff leaves the box, there's no telling how much of the food web it takes out before it becomes inert.
My wife, Margaret, wisely draws the line at living with mice. She's lived in places where they've gotten out of control, and told me enough to stories of creepy, urine-covered hanta virus hell to convince me that our three spoiled housecats shouldn't be counted on to provide enough deterrent. So since I won't let her hide little cartons of rat poison everywhere, our compromise is that I become the house mousesquisher.
When the cats cornered an adolescent white-bellied field mouse in the living room, I swallowed my seven-year-old conscience and reached for the vaccuum. Then I realized that if the bag was full, the mouse might be able to crawl back out. I opened the case. The bag was full. I scoped out the cat and mouse tactical situation. Caraway was stationed at one end of the book case, Wingnut at the other, and Fenris seemed to be covering the corner that would provide the best coverage for an escape route. Good cats. I sprinted to the kitchen and found vaccuum bags stashed under screwdrivers and grocery sacks and a wedding picture from a friend's failed marriage. Old bag spews dust and lint as it comes off, new bag goes on. Books get stacked in piles so I can move the cases away from the heat register providing prime mouse cover.
I wedge the case away, watching the mouse, watching the cats. Part of me expects a spectacle of mouse panic. Which I'm sure is there, but the little creature seems surprisingly collected--it just figures out the safest place, runs there and stays. I turn the vaccuum on and the cats scatter. Fearsome predators. I tilt the case back far enough to slide the attachment tube to the mouse. There's a hollow 'THOO" sound as it goes up the tube.
I was a vegetarian for twelve years. Vegetarianism is a compassionate, rational response to a factory farming system that turns feeling, thinking animals into meat units. I don't believe our cultural memory extends far back enough to know how farmers thought of their animals before they got packed away into the abstractions of industrial agriculture. How much did we love our hogs? Were we less terrified and neurotic over our own deaths because so many of us were personally responsable for delivering animals we knew to theirs? Did the bacon taste better because it came from someone you loved?
I want to repersonalize death. I don't want to anthropomorphize, or engage in emotional hair-tearing, nor do I want to distance myself from the pain I cause by pretending it doesn't exist because animals are non-verbal or have differently shaped brains. I want to explore what I know about death from those I have participated in.
Which is why after capturing this mouse in a vacuum bag, I reached for a hammer. The vacuum bag was nearly empty. Still, it took a long time to find the mouse, because, like a mouse, it was quiet. Holding perfectly still, I mistook it several times for a lump of lint. A little more probing revealed which end of the oval lump was it's head. That's what I aimed for. Then a few more smashes to make sure it was quite flattened, and any mistakes I'd made would be brief ones. Then into the dumpster behind the house. Sorry, cute furry one.