Saturday, April 07, 2007

Black forehead, white feet

I shouldn't have read the story.

Wendell Berry, our most distinguished environmental writer, has a children's story in the January/February issue of Orion, our most distinguished environmental journal. It is called Whitefoot: A Story from the Center of the World, and will soon be published as an illustrated children's book.

Whitefoot is a mouse. A field mouse. Berry asks us to compress our minds to her size: "Think of going about with your eyes only an inch or two from the ground, among grass stems thicker than your thumb, weed stems thicker than your wrist, maple and oak leaves that you can hide beneath, trees that touch the sky." And so on for seven pages. By the end of which, Whitefoot has taken our hearts.

Now the problem is this. We returned a few days ago after a winter away from our New England home to a mouse infestation of our pantry. Lordy, what a mess. Clearly, we had a bunch of fat, happy mice -- and something drastic needed to be done.

Down to the local hardware store for some traps, a few of the standard flat-board Victors, and a couple of nifty new easy-load, easy-dispose plastic snappers from the same manufacturer (at three times the price). So far, four mice -- sweet, pathetic Whitefoots, dead under the bar, looking up with accusing, lightless eyes...

...and Wendell Berry making me feel guilty as sin. The final words of his story: "At the center of the world, on the silted and soiled floor of the woods, among the shadows of the moony night, she went about her still-unfinished task of staying alive." Thanks, Wendell.

It's not easy staying alive. In the entire animal kingdom we are the only creature that chooses not to kill other species on ethical grounds. Whitefoot is no doubt an endearing little beastie, but she doesn't lay awake in her cozy nest of shredded cereal boxes mulling the morality of pantrycide. Me, I write these words on Ash Wednesday, repenting.

A technological aside: Traditional trap -- three mice. Fancy new version -- one.