On Monday, July 29, I began mowing an overgrown plot that we call the North Garden with a scythe. It led me to consider the deceptively-simple question, “should we help animals?” What is the proper relationship between mice and men and, more broadly, man and nature?
I mowed a little over half of it before we all took a break from work to swim in the creek.
The next day was taken up by piano and Tae Kwon Do lessons, so I resumed mowing on Wednesday, right after breakfast. I had not been mowing for a very long time when I heard a “squeak squeak” noise right in front of my scythe blade. I pulled back some weeds to see what had made the noise and found a blind baby mouse. It was only about two inches long including its tail and was covered in short soft grey fur. It was very cute. It struggled a little when I first picked it up but then settled down and went to sleep in my hand.
I wasn’t sure what to do with it, so I postponed my decision by letting it curl up in the folds of my shirt, which I had taken off to keep cool. I continued mowing for a little while longer until my dad came looking for me; it was time to hang laundry. I told him what I had found and he said that if he had found the baby mouse he would have simply let it be but I could raise it as a pet on my own if I wanted. I stayed with the mouse a little while longer trying to decide what to do with it; on one hand, it was very cute and I wanted to keep it, but on the other hand it would be a big responsibility and, after all, adult mice can be very destructive. At the time, I assumed that if I did nothing it would surely die, so I felt my decision was very important: is it okay to kill mice? In the end, I decided to postpone my decision further and go help hang laundry. So I put the mouse in a place where I thought I could find it again and went to do exactly that. While I hung laundry, I came up with a poem to describe the conundrum I felt I was in:
Oh little mouse, left in the field:
You want my house, I yearn to yield!
We once were friends, in Eden, but:
Alas it ends, our bond is cut!
But can the mice, and fallen men,
Who aren't nice, be friends again?
Can mice and men, of fallen ken,
Be friends again, as they were then?
The answer to this riddle true
I have no clue; I wish I knew!
But until then, farewell fare mouse,
With naught from men, not help nor house.
Tragically, this poem answers the question, “should we help animals,” in the negative. But, of course, it refers to the specific situation of the abandoned baby field mouse, not animals in general; perhaps we are doomed to be at war with some creatures, but we should try and live in mutually-beneficial harmony with them as much as possible.
After hanging the laundry, I returned to the North Garden, convinced that I would find the mouse dead of cold. I was surprised and somewhat relieved when I did not find it, but I still thought it must have died and I felt in a way responsible for its death because I did not help it when I could have. I thought about it more as I went back to the creek to see if a stone I had balanced on end at the creek on Monday was still standing. Miraculously, it was, and I had a wonderful time balancing more stones and walking in the woods:
But even then I was in a melancholy mood due to my experiences with the baby mouse. I planned on bringing up the subject at supper to try and answer some of the questions raised in my poem, but I couldn’t work up the courage and other matters ere being discussed. So I almost missed out on the invaluable experience that followed after my siblings had gone to bed and I finally worked up the courage to bring up the subject with my father. To my surprise, I started crying almost immediately and continued uncontrollably for about half of our long discussion. First, my dad apologized for taking the matter of the mouse so lightly when I told him about it the first time; neither of us had realized at that time how important it was going to be to me. We discussed the Garden of Eden and what it was really like versus the current natural order of things. For example, were there carnivores in the Garden of Eden? If so, how could they have been in harmony with other animals? Can we justify killing other animals by looking at the current natural order in which killing other animals is common practice? Is this bad, or is it part of a different kind of harmony in which the carnivores, parasites, etc. serve to limit the population sizes of herbivores, which would otherwise grow to destructive proportions, and to select for stronger, faster, smarter animals that might otherwise become weak, stupid, and complacent in the absence of danger? Are these qualities fostered by carnivores good in themselves and worth the sacrifice of many lives of weaker animals? Should humans try to fit into the current natural order of things or should they seek to restore the Garden of Eden? How could we go about doing that? My dad presented the example of the Fisher King in C. S. Lewis’ That Hideous Strength who had trained the mice in his house to pick up crumbs from the floor and never poop in the house. That sounds wonderful, but could that actually be accomplished in real life? Another inspirational example from C. S. Lewis’ Space Trilogy is that of the Green Lady in Perelandra who teaches the animals and tries to raise them up to her level of consciousness.
In the end, we did not, of course, definitively answer any of these questions, but I am very glad we had the discussion because helped me not only express my feelings, but learn their true depth and gravity. It also brought me hope for the little mouse when my Dad suggested that perhaps the mouse had gone away with its mother or scurried off to a better hiding place, instead of the alternative of being eaten by a predator. That brought another insight which is that often when one sees a baby animal seemingly abandoned, especially in the case of fawns, most of the time this is because the mother has left for a bit to find food or the like, not because she has abandoned her baby. So most of the time it is better for the baby not to interfere, something I did not consider when I first discovered the baby mouse.