Call them vermin; I call them friends

I destroyed someone’s home today, and I feel terrible. I did it for purely selfish reasons, wanting to protect my material possessions from possible damage at their hands.


Was it worth it? Was it really necessary?


At this point, I am not sure I can say either way. It was certainly a move from the I’m stronger than you and can thus do whatever I want to you rule book, which seems to be my species’ go to manual for decision-making.


I don’t feel good about it. In fact, I have felt like crying ever since it happened.


My husband has been battling the smaller creatures in and around our house for over a year. It is kind of a losing battle, and I am all for carving out a healthy co-existence, but things can get out of hand.


Last summer, when there was one or two lone ants wandering along the surfaces of our kitchen counter, I would carefully scoop them up and transport them back outside. When the numbers grew until there was a steady stream crawling along the counters and up into the cupboards, it was a bit overwhelming for my husband’s 18-year-old daughter and me. So we called the exterminator, who informed us that many other creatures would perish as a result of his work. I thought of all the poor spiders and let out a sigh. Did their deaths stop me from making the decision to exterminate? It didn’t.


This afternoon, my husband and I began clearing brush from around our house. We had taken down a large, old cottonwood earlier in the summer and stacked little logs along the side of our freestanding garage. Whenever we do this, the ants take little time to move in.


As soon as I began lifting logs and tossing them down the little incline toward the fire my husband had going, ants began scurrying about in every direction, including up my arm. I don’t mind insects, I am just not super keen on having them crawling around on me.


The more logs I removed, the more ants I discovered. I also found evidence of packrats in the form of lots of little pellets. I didn’t realize that I had unearthed a packrat den until a little creature came wandering around the corner and stopped, looking up at me.


We stood and sat, watching each other.


I’m sorry, I said. I am so sorry I have ruined your home. The packrat looked at me. Then, it scurried under the few remaining logs.


Did I stop there? I thought about it, and then I gently lifted another log.


The packrat came rolling out. It had been stunned by another log that was knocked out of place by the one I had lifted.


Shit! Not only was I destroying its home. Now, I had injured the poor creature.


You’re ok, I whispered quietly. I touched it gently and helped it turn back over. No blood that I could see. No permanent damage, at least not physical damage.


Do packrats suffer psychological damage? What if I had given it a concussion? It was living alone. Was it a lone packrat without friends or family or community?


I am so sorry I hurt you, I said as I looked in the packrat’s eyes. I know you will be ok.


It turned and crawled under the remaining two logs. I went back to my work, leaving the two logs untouched, for the time being. Periodically, I peered underneath to see a little tail just barely visible.


Finally, I though I saw a brief blur of light color move toward the larger stack of rotting logs next door. I gingerly lifted one of the two remaining logs. No packrat taking refuge underneath. As I removed the final log, I found a small nest and fresh leaves.


My heart sank. I could feel the tears. I had destroyed this animal’s home, and I really had no good reason for my actions. I have had my home violated and my belongings taken by a stranger, simply because they could. Discovering the violation was an awful feeling, a hollow in the pit of my stomach.


Now I had perpetrated a similar violation.


I imagine I am being a bit dramatic and am certainly taking liberties with anthropomorphism. I watched The Rats of Nimh many times as a child. I think that rats and many of the creatures who are able to adapt to living in and among humans get a bad rap. They are certainly not given the respect they deserve for their incredible ability to survive in the harshest conditions.


Still, I left this creature vulnerable to prey and without a home or dinner just before dusk. I destroyed its home for no good reason than I was worried it might go into my garage and chew on my belongings.


I have long felt a sense of kin with wild creatures, especially those in the rodent family. Call them vermin, call them what you will; I call them friends. This was not the act of a true friend, and for that I will always be sorry.


Wherever you are, small one, I want only the best for you. I am so sorry for my actions. Forgive me, if you can. I wish you safe, warm, and with a full belly.


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