Prairie View

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Animania or Antimals

"I don't like animals." Several times in my life I have actually heard people say such a thing. No explanation, no justification, no reason. Just a sober statement. Hearing such news has the atypical effect of leaving me tongue tied. I have no way of identifying closely enough with the sentiment to make affirming or sympathetic noises, no matter how much I love or respect the person making the statement. Silence or nonsensical mumbling is all I can manage. It seems as incomprehensible as if they had said "I don't like air," or "I don't like the sky," or "I don't like grass." But here, in private, I will attempt to break the silence and mount a reasoned protest.

When God had finished making the beasts of the earth, and creeping things, and creatures that move in the water, and fowl that fly above the earth, He saw that it was good. I'm aligning my opinion with God's. Animals regularly amuse and delight me, and I see in them the glory of the God Who made them.

One of the last steps in my getting-ready-for bed routine is feeding the house pets. The minute I walk over to the fish tank, the big angel fish noses the glass at the side of the tank directly in front of me. He's clearly waiting for the handout he knows will soon be offered. In the past, even very young guppies have swarmed toward me when I prepared to feed them. They are such "dumb" animals, and yet so obviously in tune with the routine of care giving that I provide.
My friend Suzie tells of the fish (I'll call him Herbie.) they had for a number of years who turned bright red whenever he was "upset." Herbie moved to Kansas from Ohio with the family with no visible trauma, but one evening a young guest must have roused his ire. Herbie swam around his tank fast and furiously, turning red in the process and repeatedly heading straight for the spot where the child stood watching outside the tank. No one ever figured out what the fury was all about, but Herbie put on quite a show that night. Suzie reported also that Herbie seemed to notice when people entered the room in which he lived, and when there was conversation near his home, he hovered near the person talking. "It seemed he was listening," Suzie told me. I believe her.

Right now, in our home, the small turtle tank is perched on top of the aquarium where the heat from the light warms the turtles' living space. The turtles are named Gilbert, Sullivan, and Scarfoot. They were hatched in Tennessee and transported to Kansas by my sister's family when they came to Kansas to live last summer. The red-eared slider turtles were a little larger than a fifty-cent piece when they first came. Now they are as big as a plus-sized biscuit, and as eager as the fish when I make my late evening feeding rounds. While I'm feeding the fish, the turtles scramble into position, which, in their case means clambering over rocks and other turtles, and scrabbling vainly up the sides of the tank toward my outstretched hand. I get a good view of their underside markings while they're in this near-vertical position in front of me. When I drop the feed "sticks" into their water, it usually takes them a bit to think to look behind and below them for their food. They're "dumb" turtles, but more responsive to my presence than I ever dreamed they could be.

Geronimo, the gerbil, no matter how soundly he seems to be sleeping, always rouses when I touch his home. He holds sprigs of parsley in his "hands" and nibbles them daintily. He also unerringly locates and consumes first the sunflower seeds in the feed mix I give him. He cocks his head companionably when I talk to him, and then hurries back to the business of his life. Right now the urgent task seems to be fluffing and forming his sawdust mound into a perfect Geronimo-shaped bed.

Magog (My students gave him this odd name, selected from the "Gog and Magog" passage in the Bible.) is perhaps the most delightful pet of all our house pets. He spends part of his life in my classroom at school, and lives here at home the rest of the time. Magog has mastered one line perfectly. "How are you?" he inquires frequently, sometimes with uncannily appropriate timing--like the time I had just walked into the schoolroom and turned on the light when he "spoke" to me. Others have heard Magog say things like "Get back to work." Because I have never actually heard this myself, I've wondered aloud whether they were hearing the bird or their own guilty conscience.

Wild creatures are the easiest of all to enjoy. With only minimal effort I can keep tabs on who visits the bird feeder and bird bath. I note what kinds of butterflies visit my flowers during the summer.

Farm animals are another pleasure. I think most Amish Mennonite ladies who visit the state fair in Hutchinson probably head for the Domestic Arts building first. That's where the sewing and cooking and canning departments are. I head for the livestock barns. As I walk past the pens, I catch myself wearing a silly smile and saying over and over to myself "What beautiful animals!" Clean, perfectly groomed, each one a fine specimen of a certain breed--What's not to like? (Well, maybe the smell of the barns.)

All this affection for animals has its downsides. I grieve when a pet dies. I hate to sell any of the livestock I've raised. I don't want to think about butchering anything I've given a name. Pets cost money. One pet can be a danger to another.

I'm comforted by the picture in Scripture of a future kingdom of God where peace reigns, and all creation will live in harmony. Then, a fondness for animals will have no downsides. Even those people who don't like animals now will like them then if they are present. God can be trusted in this matter, just as He can be trusted now not to have made a mistake by creating animals in the first place. But their charms have already convinced me of that.

Thinking about all this gives me hope that maybe I will actually have something to tell the next person that says "I don't like animals."

Sunday, March 04, 2007

Longevity in My Genes

I'm really not sure if my title is defensible, but I've been reflecting recently on the fact that my father's parental family is noteworthy in that all twelve children born to Levi D. and Clara (Nisly) Miller still survive, with the youngest now having turned 70. The oldest will be 86 this year. Their father lived to be 84, and his father was 96 when he died.

To be sure, all of my aunts and uncles show signs of advancing age, but among them are a number whose wit and wisdom is as lively as ever. Several are still active as ministers, and several are former teachers who still slip easily into the role in various capacities. My three aunts are jolly companions to each other whenever they're together.

When I am 70 or 86, I hope to be as well preserved as they are.

Geronimo Entertains a Guest

As the previous post indicated, Geronimo the gerbil is normally a very quiet pet. So, while checking my email recently, I was mightily surprised at the great commotion coming from his residence inside a ten-gallon aquarium. I looked over to see him racing back and forth. When I got closer, I spied a tiny gray mouse desperately trying to evade the gerbil by jumping straight up into the air whenever Geronimo approached. The circus wound down when the mouse burrowed deep into the bedding and Geronimo seemed to have forgotten that he was still there.

On demand, each family member in turn later saw a re-enactment of the show, produced by the merest stirring of the bedding, which frightened the mouse into frenzied escape maneuvers, and inspired Geronimo to give chase. After every hilarious episode, we tried to figure out how to get the mouse out of the aquarium without setting the gerbil free also. We really didn't want either of them roaming the house and we could hardly dispatch the tiny resident without traumatizing Geronimo.

We also puzzled over how the mouse had joined the gerbil in the first place. Had the mouse scaled the outside of the glass aquarium somehow? Every possibility we thought of seemed implausible.

The mouse exhibited amazing athletic prowess. Perhaps the mouse's straight-up leaps would one day land it outside the aquarium and our problem would be solved. But the thought of the mouse roaming around inside the house was not comforting.

One day when Hiromi walked over to look at Geronimo he was startled to see the mouse perched on the upper edge of the aquarium. Without thinking, he brushed him back inside, off the rim of the aquarium. Now we knew he would soon be loose in the house if we didn't intervene.

The mouse was a really cute little fellow with beady black eyes and large round ears. But our deeply-held aversion to mice in the house prevailed, and we planned a last meal for the mouse, should he make an attempt to escape. We set a baited trap on the lid that covered a portion of the aquarium.

The next morning the mouse was caught in the trap. The cats in the garage rejoiced at our good fortune and theirs. Problem solved.

Geronimo has returned to being a quiet and docile pet, and the house is blessedly free of rustling, squeaking, mouse-like noises. Geronimo is not the only one living here who resents hosting mice, and "I'm so glad we're all agreed. . . . "