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op eds

Of mice, geese, and men: Why can’t we get along?
By Sue Holloway

As human population burgeons on the planet, our species continues to infringe on, alter, pollute, and destroy the homes, breeding, staging, and feeding grounds of other forms of life. The surviving creatures able to the rapidly changing environment are appearing in ever more close contact with humans.

wpe4C8.jpg (63040 bytes)Too often, this new intimacy is perceived as an infringement on human rights, and depicted as a "conflict" for space or resources. In the case of increasing flocks of Canada geese – thought to be extinct in 1920 – some people have complained of them as a "nuisance."

Although there is no scientific proof of geese causing health problems, state and federal government departments of wildlife protection have supported control efforts.   Initially, approval was granted under a permitting process granted under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act of 1918 (MBTA).

But this responsibility became cumbersome; so the government has renamed the geese as "resident" rather than "migratory" geese and made differential rules for some branta Canadensis.

If this seems like an ungenerous treatment of these magnificent waterfowl, as well as inappropriate manipulation of the MBTA, a United Nations initiative suggests a more sane way to view our relationship with the natural world.

The UN has named the year 2000 as the Year of the Culture of Peace. The world leaders who composed this message made a great distinction. This is more than the Year of Peace; it is a focus on cultivating peace – defined by the UN as nonviolence. In such an effort, we may find increased encounters with wildlife as a gift.

We are given opportunities to participate with the rest of life in a more intimate mode. We can learn more about the lives of these other creatures, and also about ourselves – as individuals, local communities, and society as a whole.

Cultivating this new attitude may even be a matter of survival. Eco-theologian and earth historian Thomas Berry expresses deep concern about this civilization’s destructive patterns, which are affecting not only entire species but also the very geophysical processes of the planet.

This wisdom keeper claims that the remaining path to essentially save us from ourselves, is to renovate the capacity for relatedness. Then we will see – and feel – the effects of our actions on other life. More empathic, insightful, and appreciative of other life, we will (hopefully) seek ways to cohabit this planet.

Under such a philosophy, the increased presence of beaver, deer, geese, and other wild creatures provides openings and opportunities. That is true of even a spider, or mouse, properly situated.

Let me share the story about one whose home was destroyed when the "brush" in back of our home was cleared out. It was cold, so the creature sought refuge in the spacious inner workings of the house. It reminds us of our own limitations, as it scurries around us, from within the walls, circling us, prominent but untouchable.

Since its appearance, I have changed the entire food storage system, as problems arose. The clever rodent has dragged food off the counter and dropped it behind the cabinet, to nibble in cloistered safety. It turned gourmet and devoured the Lemon Zinger and Wild Berry teas; helped itself to oatnut bread.

It left in shards all the plastic lids of spice jars, and munched on the phosphorus ends of match sticks. It even invaded the box of recipes, pulling out my Granny’s cookie files, as if this enterprising furball were contemplating the preparation of its own banquet with the hidden stash!

There has been a mysteriousness about this venture of cohabiting a building with a mouse. Its antics both challenge my empathic skills and tickle the imagination. Tolerant in general with its presence, I could not bear it when the unseen visitor scritch-scratched loudly inside a wall.

Still, I was convinced there was a nonviolent way to persuade him to cease. Bringing out a metal tone bar, I clanged it. When the eerie raspy noises continued, I banged more and more forcibly, until the mallet broke, its tip flying behind the stove.

"See what you’ve done," I told myself. "No more anger." With that decision, the wall reassumed a customary silence. This critter was teaching me something…

* * *

In the "integral community of the Earth," Thomas Berry notes in "The Great Work" (1999, p.4) "…every being has its own role to fulfill, its own dignity, its inner spontaneity." We are seeing this with the tiny rodent who frequents our space.

The rascal was heard one day, playing behind the cupboards and large appliances. Along narrow corridors, he rolled the broken ball from the tone bar mallet. Eventually, the missing piece emerged in a spot where I could retrieve it, and the mouse disappeared. Thanking the enigmatic guest, I had to laugh.

Most would argue that all of my struggling is ridiculous, when there are facile solutions to the presence of a rodent – apparent in the nine full pages of Pest Control services listed in the local New Haven telephone book yellow pages. Or, for the do-it-yourself-type, mousetraps and poisons are available at the local hardware store.

I rejected those as cruel and violent. Even "benign" relocation with a "have a heart" trap would ultimately leave the creature on an ice-encrusted landscape, in which it would likely perish. I was convinced that I could inhabit this home in less radically violent ways.

* * *

So far, the critter seems to have drawn a truce. The life of this mouse is in largely in my hands. The lives of other, larger and more visible creatures become a matter of public policy. This is the case for our Canada geese, who have been split into "migratory" or "resident" to permit "special" hunting seasons for residents.

The Coalition for the Prevention of the Destruction of the Canada Goose recommends coalescing a committee of national humane organizations with a proactive stance against misinformation; managing on a site specific basis; and promoting humane, non-lethal methods.

Citizens are encouraged to speak on their behalf and to help to invent alternative modes of relating with these magnificent native North American waterfowl. Each presence -- whether a mouse, a pair of beavers, a herd of deer, or a flock of geese – enriches us. Berry notes that each carries us back to our own wildness, to the font of creativity, in which we can reimagine, in a more peaceful context, the world we inhabit.

Note: For further information, see Federal Register, Vol. 64, No. 250, Dec. 30, 1999/Notices, #73570-3. Comments about treatment of Canada geese may be sent to the Chief, Office of Migratory Bird Management, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Department of the Interior, ms634—ARLSQ, 1849 C Street NW, Washington, DC 20240
Or send to: [email protected]

Sue Holloway, Ph.D., is author of Swan in the Grail (1999), a nonfiction book examining our relationship with the natural world.

Note: This is a slightly abridged version of an op ed published in The DAY, a daily newspaper published in New London, CT (3/12/00.) Reprinted by permission of THE DAY.

A reprint of this article also appeared in NEWS/VIEWS, a bi-monthly newsletter published in Atlanta, Georgia (4/10/00).

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