My wife Kate was getting our old Airstream trailer ready to go on a little trip with her best
friend visiting here from England. They were going to take the trailer up to the Grand Canyon for a few days. A neighbor had kindly offered to loan us his truck, since we sold ours a few years ago, and have lacked a way to two the trailer ever since.
In checking out the trailer, Kate found a large pack-rat nest in the trailer, between the outer aluminum skin and the inner wall. Actually, what we call pack-rats here in Sedona are more accurately desert wood rats.
These creatures can be quite troublesome, since they like to make nests under the hoods of vehicles. They gnaw through wires and hoses. One of them chewed through one of the fuel lines in my car a while back – potentially a very dangerous situation – and expensive to repair.
Most of our neighbors don’t think twice about the solution to this problem. Kill them! But, if, as we do, you like to think about minimizing suffering for all beings, this is not a comfortable choice.
And, if you’re present to life, and really “see” these creatures fully, it’s hard to do. They are actually very appealing. OK, we find them downright cute, but I believe there’s more to it than that. If we really “see” all the life and vitality in any creature, whether an ant, a wood rat, or even a cockroach, I believe we will see it differently from the common definition of “pest”.
A couple of years ago, we shooed a mother pack rat/wood rat from her nest in the engine compartment of my car. Kate was dismayed to see her then frantically scurrying around looking for a new home, with two babies hanging from her teats as she ran around. We didn’t know it until later, but she found refuge in the engine compartment of a friend’s car. We got a call from him later, saying that he had found two baby pack rats in their garage! They had survived a trip down a winding mountain road, and needed some place to call home. The mother, at this point , was nowhere to be seen.
So, Kate took on the challenge of nursing these two baby rats to survival. This included getting them to suckle on a syringe with a flexible rubber tip, massaging their digestive tracts so that they would have bowel movements, and keeping them warm.
One thing we weren’t prepared for was how appealing these little creatures were. It’s common knowledge by now that we are genetically programmed to see the young of mammalian species as “cute”, to ensure the protection and survival of as many young as possible.
It may seem like a stretch, but I believe that we can extrapolate this type of “kill them” thinking to other sentient beings – namely, our fellow humans. Instead of the messy, frustrating and time-consuming work of reaching agreements, we can simply see them as “other”, or less than human, and – kill them. That still seems to be the means for solving disputes in many parts of the world. And these are definitely not limited to threats to our survival – it could be, simply, that someone has a different religion from us. Or, that they have access to natural resources that we happen to want.
Sometimes the problem (to which the solution is killing) is completely fabricated. Take the genocide of the Jews by Nazi Germany in the years 1933- 1945. There really was no “problem” that could be objectively identified. It was simply an issue of “otherness” in the extreme – and of that otherness being massively exaggerated and distorted to the point where “true believers” in the Gestapo were able to see Jews as both subhuman, and also a threat to the survival of all Germans.
I believe this is a necessary step in killing humans – to see them as less than human – whether they’re Jews, Arabs, Armenians, Christians, Muslims, criminals, etc. And that labeling helps us do just that.
And yes, I know this diatribe against all killing could sound hypocritical from someone who eats meat. It’s something I struggle with. And, I think the subject of predation is different from extermination – whether of a cockroach or a person. I guess we all have a line we’re willing to cross. Kate will kill mosquitoes, and so will I. I’ll go a step further and kill the occasional cockroach. It’s certainly easier than giving them a new homeland outside the walls of our house…
So how do we solve the conundrum of our packrats who’ve taken up residence in our Airstream? We want to sell the trailer, and we don’t want to kill the rats. Selling it with the nest intact is not a possibility. What would you do?