Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Garden Guilt

I love my garden. There's just no other way to put it. Some people garden for food, others for the sake of having a beautiful yard. While I certainly enjoy any nutritional or aesthetic benefits that my garden may provide, it's not really about that for me. I just love the excuse to play outside in the dirt and smell the scents of the plants. I just get a genuine thrill out of feeling that I am part of a living system far beyond the scope of our narrow little culture.

But the past week has given me pause. We've been enjoying a rare rainy spell here in the Mile High City, so I decided that it would be a great time to weed the front yard xeriscape and spread the remaining horse manure that I acquired earlier this spring. I set about my task last week as I wanted to get it spread before the rains came.

I was happily shoveling manure into my wheelbarrow when I dug straight into a mouse nest. Now I wouldn't be honest if I didn't say that I have mixed feelings about mice. While a mouse in the garden can be adorable and cute, a mouse in the house will send me shrieking onto furniture. But no matter what status they have in our society, they are still living creatures. So I felt absolutely horrible about digging into their nest. And to make matters worse, there were tiny little babies in there. I tried to put it back together and re-cover it up the best I could, but I fear the little ones probably won't make it.

I know it's totally silly to feel guilty about mice... I mean most people go out of their way to kill the little suckers. But seriously, they didn't do anything to deserve such treatment. They just found a great place to live...  I guess I've learned my lesson about being slow in spreading the manure.

OK, so here's where I go completely off the deep end. If any of you read my previous blog you'll know about the wasp attacks of last summer. I think the total count was 5 yellow jacket stings in 10 days, 3 visits by the exterminator, 5 nests destroyed and 2 trips to the emergency room. So this year I decided that I would take a proactive approach and I bought a yellow jacket trap. The thing works with pheromones, and you just hang it up and they fly in and can't get out.

It sounded like such a good idea... I mean it doesn't kill paper wasps or bees, just the yellow jackets, and it uses no pesticides, they "die naturally". The problem is that "dying naturally" really means that they slowly starve to death in the trap. As of yesterday there were 3 yellow jackets in there, and I just can't help it, I feel terrible. I peeked in there and one was starting to slow down and he didn't look like he was gonna make it much longer. Another one was sort of comforting him. I'm sure I'm anthropomorphizing the little creatures, and they did send me to the ER twice last summer, but still...

I guess there's no way around it. I mean I want to live in a world where everything works in harmony and no creature ever suffers, but unfortunately nature just doesn't work that way. I just hate to be the instrument of said suffering. I know on some level that it's impossible to "do no harm" but it really kills me to have to witness the harm that my life entails.

So what do you think? Am I taking my love of animals completely over the top or what. Does anybody else ever feel this sort of guilt or am I just singularly crazy? I'd love some words of wisdom right about now...


  1. You are absolutely NOT crazy. :) Poor little mice. (they are super cute outside)

    Awhile ago we had a line of ants going through our bathroom... don't know where they were going or why they were there... but I couldn't kill them. I figured they were doing no harm and they were obviously on a mission.

    My kids really love catching toads, lizards, bugs... you name it.... and putting them in containers. My in-laws got my son a terrarium and a tube thing (for bugs)... my husband have named them more appropriately "toad and bug prisons" and only let the kids keep them for the day.

    I stopped my car to let some squirrels move out of the road today. (I drive a prius, so I'm convinced they don't hear me coming.)

    Everything doesn't always work out the way I want it to... like the time a snake ate our chicks. Sorry Mr(s). Snake.... but I love my hens and taking their babies was "no bueno". (yes, I was full of guilt) Maybe next time we'll have a plan and relocate the snake. (Hopefully there won't be a next time.)

    Woo... too much information?? ha! Maybe I am a tad crazy... crazy about animals ;)

  2. Danielle, I'm so glad I'm not the only animal sucker out there. My neighbors think I'm totally crazy when I catch spiders and let them go outside instead of just squashing them.

    It's funny, your snake story did remind me that last year I felt absolutely no qualms about nuking as many wasp nests as possible 'cause I was good and mad (and also in a fair amount of pain). I guess when those protective instincts kick in things become more relative...

  3. Oh boy, I can definitely relate. Ironically, the longer I am a vegetarian (about four years now), the more I realize that the relationship between humans and animals is complex, competitive, and continually shifting. Last year I visited a local organic farm and saw a squirrel in one of their traps -- shivering, half dead with fright, about as miserable as I've seen any animal. I asked what they did with them, expecting to hear that they released them elsewhere. Nope. Apparently ground squirrels are highly destructive. I think that was when I really realized that going vegan wasn't going to mean that animals stopped dying and suffering for my food. It was a hard thing to realize. I think you have to have a certain level of ruthlessness to successfully grow (and even protect) your own food. I had a bad ant invasion last winter and there were so many, and they kept coming back, that I finally put out bait traps. Felt awful about it.

    Sorry about the mice. :-(

  4. I think that it's wonderful that you tried to put the nest back together again. I figure if they are outside then we should be nice. But if they are inside I try to catch them and let them out if possible. So no, I vote that you are not crazy. :)

  5. Dude, if you're crazy, I'm bat shit insane. I remember back in MO, I had the cutest little pet angora hamster. At the same time, I found out that I had a rat in the house. Killed the rat with a trap. As I was putting his dead body in the trash, I thought--how cruel am I? If it's a "pet," it can live, but if it's running wild, it has to die? What the hell?

    I injured another mouse later and had massive guilt. I feel so bad about it, I can't even type it out. Just...feh. Yet I eat meat. I just chalk it all up to the very complicated nature of being an aware creature in the world.

  6. Jennifer - Wow... that is a disheartening story about the squirrels, I had no idea that organic farms did that. I used to build incredible contrapions in a doomed effort to keep the squrrels away from my tomato plants. I finally concluded that it was easier to just supply them with some peanuts instead.

    Anon - So glad to have another vote in the not crazy column! We've only had a mouse in the house 2 times, and both times one of my cats (different cats) caught but didn't hurt the thing allowing me to release it outside.

    CF - It's such an arbitrary distinction between pet and vermin isn't it?

    I think the long and the short of it is that our relationship with animals is a complicated and often contradictory thing. Alas, no pure moments in this life of ours...

  7. Great Post EcoCatLady,

    It nearly brought me to tears. It's very heartening to hear how caring you are. I think it's our evolution to care and to come up with solutions inasmuch as we can, to end at least the needless surrering.

    I love that you play in the garden *just* to play :)

  8. This is me all over! You totally summed it up for me with, "I want to live in a world where everything works in harmony and no creature ever suffers, but unfortunately nature just doesn't work that way."

    I can't even kill a slug - I just put them out in the open somewhere and hope a bird or hedgehog will find them. I would be just the same if I found a mouse nest but at the same time, I don't want them eating my peas! It's a fact of life that even if we don't eat other animals, we're in competition with them for our food. For this reason I steel myself not to rescue mice from the cat when she catches them - they'd probably be injured or die of shock anyway (I tell myself). I do discourage her from bringing them into the house, though!

  9. Stephanie - I'm so glad I'm not the only sap out there. "it's our evolution to care" that's a great line!

    Rachel - It is so complicated isn't it? I have sort of resigned myself to the fact that the neighborhood fauna will end up eating at least some of my garden. But it totally drives me crazy when the squirrels take one bite out of every tomato. If you're gonna destroy it, at least eat the damn thing! When I'm planting seeds I usually sort of chant to myself... one for me, one for the birds, one for me, one for the squirrels...

  10. i love all of you! i thought i was alone. i'm not buddhist but i do believe all life is sacred. being (or trying)to be kind to every living creature is not crazy! even the tiny ones. i saved a little field mouse that the neighbor cat had traumatized by 'playing' with it last fall. i made a little box-home for him with warm material & paper he could shred to make his own nest home out of it and then semi-buried it (with an escape door) in a protected area by the pond. i often wondered if he made it thru the winter, but at least he was no longer tortured by the kitty! maybe that's over the top.... but then i've done stuff like that all my life, can't stop now. EXCEPT...when it came to re-locating a snake or tarantula, fraid i would have to bring in other troops!! :) tj

  11. Hey tj - I think it's so wonderful that you actually made a little house for that mouse. When I used to have a "real job" we had a problem with mice in the building. I got a live trap and tried to relocate as many as I could. Unfortunately, one of my co-workers set out poison. Then we ended up finding dead mice all over the building... and several of them crawled into the walls before they died creating a horrible stench (which my co-worker complained about to no end.) I couldn't help but think that there was some karma at work there.

  12. You aren't crazy I'm so glad you respect the earth and it's inhabitants. Regarding killing things quickly, mother nature works that way, modern society does not. We invaded this planet with our roads and buildings and displace hundreds of thousands of species each day and feel we have a right to destroy all in our path.
    You have to protect yourself from stings though. Sometimes decisions have only suckful outcomes.

    1. Suckful outcomes indeed! I hate it when you have to choose the least bad thing.

  13. Mice are a sensitive subject to me, as I had a pet mouse (rescued from becoming living snake food... poor thing) a couple years ago and loved him SO SO much. He lived free in my bedroom, and slept with me on my pillow. We even ate the same food, as I had just became a vegetarian. Around that time, while I was in the shower, I overheard a neighboor yelling to her husband to kill a rat. I wrapped myself on a towel and ran there to try and stop them (oh, what a lovely scene that must've been). I was too late, and felt bad the entire weekend. Hell, I even remember de guilt I felt as a child, when I accidentaly killed a moth. I catch and release cockaroaches. You are definitely not alone on the craziness!

    1. It's a perilous business, caring about living creatures. We had a dusting of snow last night and when I went to take the kitchen scraps out to the compost bin today I discovered a plethora of both cat and mouse tracks. I was torn between hoping that the mouse got away, and hoping that the cat wasn't going hungry. Sigh.


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