Spurred on by Slade’s piece and Richard’s comment I cry Havoc! and let slip this one. I’d like to claim I knocked it off today but that would be a lie. I wrote it a couple of years ago.

I’m sitting in my workroom on a snowy day in the country, looking out the window at the woods, the creek, the dark-colored bank on the other side of the creek, where once I saw a weasel moving along dangerously.

Closer to me is the birdfeeder, which doesn’t have a tray underneath it. I bought one when I bought the feeder but when I went to assemble it I couldn’t find any machine screws and little hex nuts to attach it to the feeder and it seemed too much trouble to look through the jars of rusty hardware I’d brought to the country. So the seeds fell on the deck, where the cardinals and the dark-eyed juncos ate them. And the chipmunks did, too.

One year the chipmunks got to be a real problem. I didn’t care if they ate the dropped seeds. But then they started eating the cherry tomatoes, digging up pots of flowers and generally having their way with my deck. And of course with a good food supply they multiplied. Seemed as though every time I looked at the deck there were chipmunks scurrying around. Some of them jumped or fell off one side, into a large vat of water, and drowned. I didn’t find their bodies for a few days and then I threw them in the bushes. Too rotten for anybody to eat.

A hawk moved in and solved the chipmunk problem. Then she moved on and the chipmunks returned, but this time living in the crawl space and messing with my insulation. So, Havahart. Then what? Havahart plus pellet gun plus shovel.

I have no compunction about killing animals, even cute ones. You have to understand I grew up in a family where we killed things. We always ate them but I’m not going to eat chipmunk, so there’s a bit of a disjunction there.

No Disney hangups here. I shot a little red squirrel last year with my pellet gun, which is the only functional weaponry around here, except for my machete. Fucker was busting into the plastic tub of birdfood, the food I stored outside so I could fill the feeder more easily. Chewed right into the plastic. When I capped him he (well, maybe she) did a nice somersault.

I waved the body around to catch a crow’s attention. Pitched it out into the open, crow lunch. Effective recycling. The next one I offed because he attacked my wren house, climbed up in the cherry tree and into the wren house, mother and father wren doing their best to keep their eggs, or maybe there were little wrens by then. How could I not help them? Bang, see you later red motherfucker.

Red squirrels, according to Wikipedia, are aggressive, omnivorous, the scourge of nesting birds. I became the scourge of red squirrels, or at least those who came over to my place and caused trouble. Pretty soon word got around the red squirrel community and now they stay out in the woods or in the neighbor’s tree where I can see them from my bedroom window. Stay in your tree, Nutsy Squirrel, or die.

Then we have the raccoon, who dined at the bird feeder and the hummingbird feeder too. Rocky was a larger target but more stealthy. I threw my machete at one of them (there were a bunch of Rockies) but mostly what I did was move the feeders so they couldn’t climb on the railing and reach them.

There must be some size-personality calculus in operation. I was prepared to think of my Rockies as individuals with personalities in ways that I wasn’t prepared to for quick-moving jerky little creatures like the chipmunks and mean red squirrels.

The woodchucks, yes, mostly OK, happy to have them eat the clover and dandelions but then they zeroed in on my phlox. I was OK with their having the phlox that grew wild even though I could see it from the house, and it was very pretty in June before the woodchuck population grew, but then they started in on the ones I busted my ass planting.

I was OK with their digging dens out in the woods, not even any of my business, but when they dug one under the barn I was not OK with that especially since that put them in easy striking distance of my flowerbeds. Then they dug one under into my cellar, very uncool. Internet, UPS, Havahart (large size), fewer woodchucks.

So anyway, I think about this a lot. Am I one of those guys I don’t like? Kill everything, humans rule? I don’t think so.

What I think, and I’ve laid out my place accordingly, is that close to where I live is my territory and I share it with terrestrial creatures as I please, not as they please. In the house, we won’t even talk about the mice. They die. Just outside, or underneath, well, that’s mine too. No trespassers.

Farther out – and we’re talking 200 feet or a hundred yards – I don’t feel that way, and once we get out into my woods and down to the creek, hey, it’s all theirs. If I cut a path, it’s no problem for them. If I fell the occasional tree, OK, the same.

Sounds pretty good, no? Graded series, graduated responses. You might not agree but it’s a logical and defensible position.

The thing is, what about those birds? Can we come back to the birds? I invited the birds. The chipmunks died because of the birds, didn’t they? No seeds dropped, not many chipmunks, and not any on the deck eating tomatoes and messing with the pots. Or if the chickadees, nuthatches, and dark-eyed juncos were neater eaters, the chipmunk population wouldn’t have boomed. And the wrens were in a wren house I hung in the tree. Maybe Nutsy Squirrel would have gotten them somewhere else, but he went after them in the house I made for them.

Maybe I’m responsible for disrupting the predator-prey balance, not only inserting myself into the equation as top predator, but trying to control the others. When my hawk flew down from the barn to take a look at who was feeding at the birdfeeder I yelled at her – “No! Take the chipmunks, not the chickadees.” I believe I actually yelled “my little chickadees.”

So, Dear Reader, if you’re sensing some ambivalence on my part you’re onto something. Human interference with natural systems throw them out of whack and the human interferes even more. Or maybe it’s just bipeds versus quadrupeds. Back in the days before bird intelligence was well understood I was told something like “birds are stupid because they can fly.” But now we know that’s a gross overstatement. Birds are smart, although my pair of doves have always seemed like dimwits to me.

Back about that long ago there was no good evidence that birds were what’s left of the dinosaurs. Sure, it was an interesting idea, but didn’t have a lot to support it. Now it does, so OK, as a kid I liked dinosaurs and now I like birds.

Also I like Leda and the Swan (wait, how did that get in here?). My hawk’s beak is indifferent.

It’s a thin and spotty trail from bird-lover to Havaharts and pellet guns, but I guess it’s there. And I’ve been walking it.

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DON MITCHELL is a writer and ecological anthropologist, born and raised in Hilo, Hawai'i (where he graduated from a public high school -- in Hawai'i, that's important). He has published academic works, poetry, fiction, creative non-fiction, and both published and exhibited photographs. He recently published a story collection, A Red Woman Was Crying, and is working on a novel set on Bougainville Island, Papua New Guinea, where he did fieldwork. He lives happily in Hilo with his college girlfriend, a poet and yoga teacher, whom he lost for forty years but, lucky for him, finally found.

65 responses to “Trespassers Will”

  1. Richard Cox says:

    Ha! Nice one, Don.

    I appreciate your thoughtful take on this idea of domain and whose it is. It’s not like, as Becky mentioned to me earlier, you’re a redneck with a beer in one hand and a shotgun in the other, blowing away animals for sport. Your rules may be arbitrary and the calculation you make may not be the same one someone else would make, but your thought process seems reasonable to me. You try your best to share the general space, but your house is your house.

    Abuse in all forms bothers me a lot. Whether it’s your wife or your child or your kitten or you pop cardinals out of the trees for fun, it’s awful. We are self aware humans and we can do better than that. But we’re also animals living in an ecosystem, surviving in it, evolving in it, and sometimes you have to make tough choices…even when something you might kill isn’t edible.

    As a child I did all kinds of unconscionable things to insects. And I hunted rabbits on my grandparents’ land and brought them back to the dog who already had enough food. But finally I got my head on straight and realized how precious life was. These days the only animals I kill on sight are scorpions, as I mentioned on Slade’s piece.

    And those two woodpeckers.

  2. Don Mitchell says:

    Yes, woodpeckers. I have a couple that like the barn. One of them has taken to rapping on the soffit outside my workroom, which is really troubling — not for the noise, but for what it implies. I might have some major tear-outs next spring. Damn. I’ll still take an old house over a new one, any day.

    One of the questions I didn’t write about was whether I’m the cause of habitat destruction — as would be the case if I had built a new house in the woods, or were living in a new suburb, that sort of thing. But this house is well over a century old, as is the barn, and the environs aren’t too different from what they were when this was a working dairy farm, judging from photographs. In fact there’s probably more forest here now than there was, not that all critters need forests.

  3. Becky Palapala says:

    I, personally, have arrived at the only logically sound decision (or the most logically sound decision) I think I can, short of becoming an evangelist vegan/animal rights activist.

    My rules are:

    1. I kill nothing unless:

    A. I am going to eat it (literally eat it)
    B. It is going to eat me or someone else (“eat” here extends to inflicting any kind of direct physical harm, whether necessarily life-threatening or not and “someone” is not necessarilyexclusive to humans).
    C. Inanimate objects and plants are not someones.

    2. I will not stand idly by if anyone intends to violate sections 1.A and 1.B in my presence, and I won’t listen to hardy-har stories about people having violated said sections without expressing my disapproval.

    I think items 1.A and 1.B leave me relatively consistent with most of the animal kingdom with regard to killing other animals, so it seems fair.

    #2 is less logical and less of a rule, though it is an item of integrity. More than anything, though, it’s a case of it being really, really fucking upsetting to me, and intervention/voicing of my disapproval is just the inevitable outcome. I so do not find it hilarious when animals die, and especially not when they die for wrecking inanimate objects/eating food. It’s not like they know birdseed is for the birds. They just know they’re hungry. Human brains are impressive enough that if we can’t or refuse to outsmart the critters, maybe we deserve to have our Rubbermaid containers chewed upon.

    So, I’m free to swat biting insects and defend myself, pets, and/or loved ones from aggressive animals, but picking off squirrels for being smarter than me and Rubbermaid, Inc. is right out.

    That said, my house is sealed up pretty tight and I have never had to deal with a mouse infestation. I’m not sure how I’d handle that. But I do know that my husband is prohibited from killing any outdoor-dwelling mice on my property. He might do it, without telling me, I told him, but God help him if I find out.

    If it is not obvious, I have put a great deal of thought into this particular life ordinance. It’s one of my favorite neuroticisms.

    • Becky Palapala says:

      1.C should really be 1.B.i–a subset of 1.B.

    • Slade Ham says:

      I told ya 😉

      Graduated responses… If only the animals would learn to read, right? Then you could just put up some No Trespassing signs and be done with it. I think that if I ever found myself with a property that size, I would just continuously stock it with animals that killed the animals I didn’t want around. Then I wouldn’t actually have to do it myself.

      And Becky, I admire your stance. I agree with it for the most part, but I know this – I will fuck an animal up once it gets inside my house and starts screwing with my stuff. Plus, they carry diseases. Also, where does the line begin? Is it just mammals and birds, or do fish and insects fall under your protection as well? I ask because I have a friend that is very similar in her beliefs, but the line always seems fuzzy.

      Fishing is okay as long as you throw them back. It’s absolutely fine to squash a roach or swat a mosquito. God forbid I kill a mouse though….

      • Don Mitchell says:

        I remember once standing around with a friend whose cat had gotten into shitting in the pile of sand I was going to use for something. It wasn’t a big deal. My friend suggested a sign: No Cats Allowed.

        • Slade Ham says:

          I mean, why not? Clearly my inability to actually kill any of them is due to my tendency to give them such human traits… so why not reading too? Maybe if I leave a book in the attic my squirrels will be too distracted to come down to the dining room and steal my socks.

        • Becky Palapala says:

          See, this is it, though. It is specifically because I know they DON’T have human traits that I can’t bring myself to kill them.

          They’re just dumb animals with no concept of birds’ food vs. Squirrel food or what it means to keep Richard awake.

          They’re being executed for crimes they physically cannot comprehend and therefore can’t avoid.

          They’re innocents, goddamit. INNOCENTS! Real ones.

      • Becky Palapala says:

        I don’t fish, personally.

        I used to, and then one time I tried and, knowing full well that I had no intention of eating anything I caught, I was overwhelmed with guilt. Especially after one of them swallowed a hook and died. Bleeding out the gills and shit. Gasping. Ugh.

        So, I don’t fish at all. But if I had to in order to eat, I would, and if other people fish with the intention of catching something they’re going to eat, I’m not going to harass them. I might not stand around to witness the collateral damage, which will still upset me, but nevertheless falls more under the category of “accident” than “execution for crime of being a minor inconvenience in a way the animal could neither comprehend nor be expected to avoid”

        As I mentioned in my response, insects are included under my protections, unless they are trying to bite or harm me or someone else. Under my ordinances, for example, bees are safe UNTIL they sting me. If it is an insect that can be assumed to bite, and that is near me or my dog or my horse, presumably, expressly for that purpose, it is not safe. Mosquitoes, horsefliess, deer flies, etc.

        June Bugs are my least favorite creatures on planet earth, and I don’t kill them. They don’t bite, so I can’t hurt them. I have even been known to save them from drowning. Then I run screaming across the yard the next night when they begin chasing me around. Ingrates.

        • Slade Ham says:

          I can dig it. June bugs really are annoying. Hideous little flying beetle army tanks… They may not bite, but they do tend to cling so tightly that they feel like they are biting. I would, and have, saved several of them from drowning myself. I have also, however, flicked several of them into walls for landing on me without filing a proper flight plan.

        • Richard Cox says:

          One time, at the golf course, I heard this terrible sound coming from the reeds adjacent to a nearby stream. It was awful. Something was dying and I couldn’t handle it. I went over with a two-iron in hand to investigate.

          What I found was a frog being ingested ass-first by a snake. His head was still poking out and he was dying and he knew it.

          I couldn’t bear him suffering like that, so I used my golf club to distract the snake and he let go of the frog, who scampered away.

          That was human intervention in the delicate balance of the ecosystem. The frog lived but the snake had to go find food elsewhere, and presumably ate some other frog that I didn’t hear screaming.

          So what was the right thing there? And why did I do it? To save the frog or to save me from having to listen to the frog die?

          Becky, do you not kill animals because you’re saving them or making yourself feel better about saving them, or both? Does the reason matter?

          I’m essentially a bleeding heart and I hate seeing or hearing anything suffer. But I have been known to make very rare exceptions, as noted elsewhere. Also, with the woodpeckers, they died almost instantly, so at least they didn’t suffer long.

          Round and round we go.

        • Becky Palapala says:

          I explained above, to Don, why I don’t kill animals.

          It matters to me. I’m all set on my priorities.

          Round and round you go.

        • Don Mitchell says:

          To expand “round and round,” but not in the way Richard meant, I note that what Tyler McMahon wrote a few days ago could be part of this conversation.

          I didn’t comment on his bullfighting/feedlot piece. I meant to, but I didn’t. I don’t think his piece got enough discussion and at least part of that is my fault. It raised some very interesting issues.

          Yikes, it was a week ago. We could go over there for a bit.

    • Don Mitchell says:

      Becky — I’m headed out to meet with that friend I’ve mentioned to you, so I’ll confine myself to something short.

      I don’t think you and I have a much to argue about here. Your position makes sense to me — it’s defensible. I would disagree about “wrecking inanimate objects” although it’s true that defending a plastic container full of birdseed is a stretch. I wouldn’t back down on chewed wires, damaged insulation, holes in outside walls, collapsing foundations, and so on.

      As I said in my response to Richard, though, I think I’d feel differently had I inserted my living space into theirs in the recent past. So I have zero sympathy for people who build and disturb habitat and then complain about what the animals they’ve ousted do. In my view, a habitat that’s been in a certain state for over a century, complete with buildings, has to be taken as one that’s settled into a reasonably steady state.

      Your comment got me thinking, though — always good. I think I see a difference between us (and probably between me and “animal rights” people, although I recognize that there’s an enormous range of belief within “animal rights”).

      What matters to me first is ecosystem health and ecosystem components, including animals as individuals, are second. In other words, a healthy ecosystem in Colden includes chipmunks, red squirrels, hawks, crows, woodchucks, raccoons and of course the ever-present deer. If there was a campaign to rid the area of chipmunks I’d oppose it, and the same for any of the other animals and almost all the plants (invasives!).

      So, to put it crudely, I’m not going to get excited about the rights of individual chipmunks but I am going to get excited about the “rights” of the chipmunk population, taken as a whole, because the chipmunk population has important functions in the local system.

      It’s really a difference in level and by “level” I mean nothing more than “level of analysis.”

      For me, the precious entity is an ecosystem. For you (if I’m reading you correctly) it’s individual animals. I don’t see that they are necessarily opposed to each other.

      • Becky Palapala says:

        I think this is one of the rare cases in which you will find that I’m operating almost entirely on pure empathy. The rules I’ve set are logical, but that only comes as a result of a fiercely logical brain trying to make sense of intense feelings. It’s not par for me. I had to put order to it.

        I don’t think of animals having “rights” in the sense that humans have “rights.” Nor do I think of them as individuals, necessarily–at least not in the sense that I anthropomorphize them. I don’t imagine some squirrel frau in an apron weeping because the Mr. never came home from “the field” or something.

        I think of something primordial, I guess. Something common to all creatures in death. Adrenaline, on a purely scientific level, but in humans, the feeling we call “panic.” Most animals will feel, physically, based on chemistry, not emotion, much of the same things a human does if they are, say, shot in the lung. Choking, suffocating. These very basic being-an-alive-thing things.

        So while I do, on the one hand, consider the creatures’ individual experience–the little not-understanding brain as he chokes and sputters and the lights start to go out–I don’t think it’s correct to say I think of him as an individual in the way that I would a person.

        • Don Mitchell says:

          Becky — I didn’t interpret what you said as anthropomorphizing. What I was using was a technical definition of an individual, that is, a single organism.

          In my intro class I had a section called “Individuals, Pairs, and Populations,” in which I talked about the different ways we study organisms one by one, as mated or potentially mated pairs, or in larger groups, as populations.

          I think that most of us, when we think about animals, favor thinking about them as individuals — meaning this one but not that one, the one over there not the one over here, the big one, the small one, the one I’m used to seeing — rather than thinking of them as populations, larger units with their own structure. They are of course both those things, depending on why we’re interested in looking at them.

        • Becky Palapala says:

          Right. I understand.

          You’re an anthropologist, after all. Populations are your thing.

          And, normally, in most cases (especially human cases), they are my thing, too.

          That’s why I was quick to point out that this pattern of thinking is not normal for me. That it’s an emotional response for which I’ve sorted out a logical companion theory.

          It is, simply, despite my considerable powers of rationalization, not within my abilities to kill anything without justifiable need according my definition of “need.”

          I am a big fan of my definition of “need.” I think it’s a good one. But recognizing that it’s subjective, I don’t say, “No one may ever kill needlessly.” I only say that I refuse to and that if others do and make a point of making it known to me or try to do it in my presence, I will not restrain myself in standing up for my position.

          Them’s the breaks, I guess. I have to cope with you or Richard picking off unwitting wildlife for violating some constructed rules of yours they don’t understand, and you guys have to deal with me riding your asses about violating constructed rules of mine you don’t understand.

          Jai Guru Deva ‘n’ Dao ‘n’ shit.


        • Becky Palapala says:

          But leave me saying, “Awesome. Thanks.”

          So it looks like I’m congratulating and appreciating myself on a comment well-done.

    • Don Mitchell says:

      Nice. But I don’t have that problem anymore, as I said. The red squirrels and I have an understanding about who goes where. They don’t come near the feeder any more, they leave the wrens alone, and I keep the birdseed stash inside.

  4. Richard Cox says:

    This is an interesting conversation because to me it demonstrates a point that occurs again and again in our culture, which is the vehement defense of positions that in practice are almost identical, but in presenting them they can be construed as quite different. Basically this is the function of cable news punditry*, and if there’s anything I hate about popular culture, it’s news and politics as entertainment.

    In my twenty or so years as an adult, I have knowingly killed two birds, as well as a handful of scorpions who entered my house. And some ants on my kitchen counter. Also, a couple of years ago I accidentally ran over a squirrel who had a death wish, but he darted in front of my car before I could react.

    In practice, the difference Becky’s position and mine, over a period of twenty years, is two woodpeckers. Not very much difference, really.

    Of course if new woodpeckers arrived every year, maybe it would be different. I dunno.

    I also realize if I said I had killed two humans over the same time frame, that would be different. Even two cats. So maybe the number isn’t the most relevant thing.

    There isn’t a widely-accepted view of how to handle the killing of animals, particularly those damaging your property. Unlike, say, human murder. So this conversation seems to me largely about the sanctify of life.

    I would venture that in almost every conceivable circumstance or situation, Becky and I would likely handle it the same way. And yet we could debate the rare exceptions forever.

    Which is part of the fun, of course. We love having discussions like this on TNB. But in a larger sense, society-wide, it’s also an example of how humans with the luxury to do so tend to focus on what divides them instead of what unites them.

    C’est la vie. 🙂

    * Not to be confused with Joe Daly punditry.

    • Becky Palapala says:

      This is nothing more than an elaborate defense mechanism against an old guilt this conversation stirred back up.

      That is, you already felt guilty about it. And you felt guilty about it because you shouldn’t have done it. Rationalizing won’t help. At least not in the long term. You have to come to peace with it. Make peace, man!

      But there is a difference. You pulled the trigger and, barring some kind of profound psychotic break, I would have never even gone looking for a gun.

      I’m not sure exactly what the net significance of that difference is, except that given our respective personalities, it is a surprising inversion.

      • Slade Ham says:

        How would you have resolved the woodpecker issue? Assuming it was incessant and very, very close and loud.

        CLANG!!! CLANG!!! CLANG!!!

        • Richard Cox says:

          This is pretty much how it sounded, except multiplied x1000 by the entire chimney amplifying the resonant frequency and the attic carrying the sound throughout the house.



        • Becky Palapala says:

          Earplugs. Sleep somewhere else–different room.

          If neither of those were options, I would have done nothing. Coped.

        • Simon Smithson says:

          Before I weigh in I need to know: where do woodpeckers rank on the T Scale?*

          * – the T is for Tastiness!

        • Becky Palapala says:

          Except in the case of the endangered Piliated variety Richard likes to kill, they rate “T” for “Tiny.”

          Wings like your pinky finger.

          *waves pinky finger at Richard*

        • Don Mitchell says:

          I had a Pileated Woodpecker in my trees once. It was spectacular, partly because it was so large.

        • Slade Ham says:

          Wings like your pinky finger.

          Yeah, but what if we had like fifty or sixty of ’em? 😉

        • Simon Smithson says:

          And, in terms of deliciousness, they are…?

        • Don Mitchell says:

          You want deliciousness? I’ll give you some deliciousness.

          I never liked eating flying fox too much. They are tough, and people in my village cooked them with the head on, so when they came out of the pot you had to look at the head. True, that meant you knew what you were eating.

          Anyway, one time a guy I didn’t know came around with a couple of dead flying foxes and traded them to me for some sticks of tobacco. They were smaller than I was used to seeing. They didn’t taste very good.

          Later, one of my friends came around and said, Oh how did you like those flying foxes?

          I said, Not that much, they didn’t taste quite right.

          Yes, he said, that’s because they are the kind that sleep in hollow trees and they all piss on each other and therefore they are always soaked with piss, and that’s why they don’t taste so good.

          Now, that’s deliciousness, no?

        • Slade Ham says:

          That would be enough to make me vegetarian.

          Not really, but pee covered bats do sound pretty bad…

        • Dana says:

          I hear Pileated woodpeckers every morning when I’m walking my pooch. They sound like monkeys. I only see them occasionally though. I hadn’t heard that they were endangered so I checked and according to wikipedia they’re in the same category as humans, “least concern”.
          BUT, all woodpeckers are protected species, and it’s illegal to shoot them. So don’t do that again Richrob.

        • Becky Palapala says:

          GOD you guys. It was a dick joke.

          50 or 60 of them?

        • Richard Cox says:

          These two woodpeckers were not Pileated. They were a much smaller variety, I don’t remember which one anymore. But someone told me later they were protected, and I looked it up and they were correct. Oops.

  5. Zara Potts says:

    Jinkers. And Jinkers to Richrob and Slade too.

    I’m firmly with Becky on this one. I don’t care if it’s a mouse or an ant, a cow or a human. I cannot kill anything -not even the spiders, which I loathe.

    I do realise that I am a hypocrite though. I sometimes eat meat and I do have a rabbit fur jacket which I justify to myself, because it’s vintage. (which is pathetic, I admit!)

    • Becky Palapala says:

      I don’t think you’re a hypocrite, Zara.

      The “if you wouldn’t kill it with your own hands, you shouldn’t be eating it” argument is one of my least favorite (and, logically, one of the most feeble) animal rights/veganism/vegitarianism arguments out there.

      It’s a vermin in logic that, like other vermin, slips in through a small foundational hole. You don’t even know it’s there until later, when its offspring are shitting in your cornflakes.

      It assumes that people accept a whole host of preconditional arguments that, once exposed, most people don’t accept at all, sometimes even the person espousing the position. It’s very easy to sidestep.

      Often (though not always) one of the holes it slips in through is the so-called “natural fallacy.” The natural fallacy says that what is natural is necessarily moral. The person arguing in favor of his or her right to eat meat will imply that it is natural and therefore morally correct for humans to eat meat. That path–almost inevitably with any person experienced in the vegetarianism debate but inexperienced in sentential logic–will lead to: “If natural is the correct and moral way, then you should be killing the animals you eat in a natural way in order to be moral.”

      It is bullshit, but it’s bullshit born of bullshit. The person who tried to use the natural fallacy–the one who was arguing for his/her right to eat meat on those grounds–brought it upon him/herself.

      If you never make the mistake of offering the natural fallacy as your rationale for eating meat, you will never be painted into a corner by the “kill it yourself” argument.

    • Don Mitchell says:

      Z, what does “jinkers” mean? I’m not sure. From context, it seems like an expression of surprise or horror.

      I know I could Google it but I’d rather learn from you.

      • Zara Potts says:

        Don, you are right.
        Jinkers is an expression of horror or surprise and sometimes even happiness.
        I was calling ‘jinkers’ in response to you calling the little squirrel a motherfucker.

    • Slade Ham says:

      No jinkers’ing me, Z – I haven’t killed anything… yet.

      Then again, I am the catalyst for this entire conversation and I definitely lured Coxy out of the gun closet, so maybe I do deserve the “jinkers” after all.

  6. Matt says:

    I think I’m pretty much with the consensus opinion here (don’t kill an animal unless it’s a direct threat or are going to eat it, etc.) but I would like to state that I am all in favor of eradicating an invasive species from an area where they were introduced by man and are damaging the ecosystem. Don’t brake for mongoose, indeed.

    • Don Mitchell says:

      There are a few people on the Big Island who take up the cause of introduced species such as the coqui frog, mangroves, and the strawberry guava, because they are being persecuted.

      The way I see it, these people are failing to think about ecosystems and are stuck on individuals. Context-free thinking, in other words.

      Some time I’ll write a piece about the neighborhood coqui hunters. I should say that coqui are small frogs that some moron introduced from Puerto Rico in the mid-late nineties. With no natural enemies, they have reproduced explosively on the east side of the Big Island. They are unbelievably loud. If there’s a coqui infestation in a patch of woods, you can measure sound levels well over 100 db. It’s spectacular, and awful. They can only be controlled by going after them one by one, hunting them, literally, and spraying them with citric acid or sometimes lime. If they have colonized your woods, it’s all over. But if they haven’t gotten in yet, then you can keep them out with serious nightly hunting. My neighbor in Hilo is the block coqui killer and he’s very good.

  7. Trespassers Will is one of my favourite Winnie the Pooh jokes!

  8. Dana says:

    Yes, we people who feed the birds are odd ones. The seed is ONLY for the birds. And they have to be pretty birds. Crows and grackles and starlings need not apply. I’ve had to come to peace with all critters eating our sunflower seeds though, because I’m not about to kill a squirrel. And I LOVE my chipmunks. They’re adorable! Although I imagine that their tunnels are why we now have moles…

    A few years ago we had an opossum that would come at night and eat the fallen seed under the feeder. Oddly enough, my dog seemed not to mind and would peacefully go outside while it was there and never bothered to even bark.

    I know what you mean about altering the natural order of things — I’ve chased many a hawk or kestrel away from our feeders, but I rationalize it because the little songbirds wouldn’t be in our yard if we didn’t keep a bird bath, plenty of shelter and food for them.

    • Don Mitchell says:

      I’ve noticed that my smaller songbirds — chickadees, nuthatches, and others — don’t seem fearful of the hawks. This has been a surprise to me. The hawks hang out in trees and on my barn where they could easily raid the birds at the feeder, but they don’t — and when they fly over, the small birds don’t head into trees for cover, either.

      It could be that because the feeder’s near the house, the hawks understand that they really don’t have enough room to stoop and so, not being idiots, they don’t bother.

      I know what you mean about pretty birds, but Ruth and I have worked through that and are willing to have the grackles hanging around. Some years they’re common and others, like this year, none show up. I get a lot of jays, which I find really amusing.

      We’re both always happy to see crows, though. I love crows.

      The hawks around my place seem to prefer small mammals.

      That’s very interesting about the possum and your dog.

      • Erika Rae says:

        About a month ago, a hawk caught a chipmunk not 10 feet from where I stood. I had just walked out of my front door. To my right, I saw a flash and a swoop and then heard a “chatta-chatta-chatta!” all the way down the road.

        I’m not sure why I’m telling you this here. Seemed appropriate at the time I first thought it…

        • Don Mitchell says:

          I have a predator-prey thing that happens once or twice a year, and I’m not sure what it is because it happens at night, usually late, in early summer.

          There will be the saddest cry of what’s got to be a small mammal, a cry with a descending note pattern that seems almost resigned to me. It’s not shriek or a chatta-chatta-chatta. It’s not like the normal alarm cries I hear. It’s like a mournful oooh, ooooh, ooooooh, and it goes on for maybe 2 or 3 minutes and then it’s over, as if whatever it is is saying, “I’ve been taken, so goodbye, goodbye, goodbye.” Talk about anthropomorphizing. But it’s very affecting.

          As for the predator, I’m thinking perhaps snake (though we don’t have any very large ones), or raccoon or the much rarer weasel or fox or coyote. Perhaps a feral cat. As for prey, I’m mystified. I don’t see that it could be a chipmunk or squirrel or a vole, and there’s not much else. Maybe a juvenile groundhog, somehow. It sounds like the cry of an animal that has some size to it.

          I suppose it could be the cry of a night bird of some sort.

  9. Zara Potts says:

    Your piece, Don, has brought this piece of beauty to mind…

    Hurt Hawks



    The broken pillar of the wing jags from the clotted shoulder,
    The wing trails like a banner in defeat,
    No more to use the sky forever but live with famine
    And pain a few days: cat nor coyote
    Will shorten the week of waiting for death, there is game without talons.
    He stands under the oak-bush and waits
    The lame feet of salvation; at night he remembers freedom
    And flies in a dream, the dawns ruin it.
    He is strong and pain is worse to the strong, incapacity is worse.
    The curs of the day come and torment him
    At distance, no one but death the redeemer will humble that head,
    The intrepid readiness, the terrible eyes.
    The wild God of the world is sometimes merciful to those
    That ask mercy, not often to the arrogant.
    You do not know him, you communal people, or you have forgotten him;
    Intemperate and savage, the hawk remembers him;
    Beautiful and wild, the hawks, and men that are dying, remember him.


    I’d sooner, except the penalties, kill a man than a hawk; but the great redtail
    Had nothing left but unable misery
    From the bones too shattered for mending, the wing that trailed under his talons when he moved.
    We had fed him for six weeks, I gave him freedom,
    He wandered over the foreland hill and returned in the evening, asking for death,
    Not like a beggar, still eyed with the old
    Implacable arrogance. I gave him the lead gift in the twilight. What fell was relaxed,
    Owl-downy, soft feminine feathers; but what
    Soared: the fierce rush: the night-herons by the flooded river cried fear at its rising
    Before it was quite unsheathed from reality.

  10. Great story Don! If we put all your posts together it will appear as if you’ve lived about forty lives–all of them interesting.

    Did they disprove the dinosaur/bird thing? I was still hanging on to that one.

    • Don Mitchell says:

      I’m glad you liked it. As for all those lives — some of them were very short.

      I think it’s well-established now. Our birds are descended from dinosaurs.

  11. Lorna says:

    Don, you went to war with all the cute little woodland creatures because you invited the birds? Uh oh, I had better rethink restocking my bird feeder with seed, huh?

    • Don Mitchell says:

      That’s putting it crudely, but — yes, I suppose so. What you say is a reasonable interpretation of what I wrote.

      Taking better care of the spilled seeds would have helped, and that’s what I do now. I did bolt on the tray.

  12. Gloria says:

    I mean, I guess I get it – defending your home turf. I guess for me, it’s a matter of exhausting all other options first. But, yes. If it came down to it, I’d kill an animal if it meant that my home was safe and healthy. I don’t generally even kills spiders though – unless they’re in my bedroom. Then all bets are off. So, I mean, I get the rules are kind of arbitrary.

    • Don Mitchell says:

      No, the turf they can have, even the Japanese beetles. The house, it’s mine.

      I do know what you meant, Gloria.

      After I posted this I remembered a time when I was married to a realtor who took me to see a house in a decent suburb of Buffalo that had been wrecked by squirrels. I was astonished — all the insulation had been pulled out and scattered all over, the ugly dropped ceilings were destroyed, it smelled beyond bad . . . and somebody was still trying to live there. I mean, had I not been told what the cause was, I’d have said that vandals had had a series of parties there.

      My place was never in that kind of danger.

      The rules are arbitrary but I was trying to make the point that they are graded. It’s not very far from my workroom to where everybody can do as he or she pleases. There were four deer in my wildflower beds this morning. Go for it, deer — so season plays a part, too. If it had been summer I’d have yelled and them and they’d have run away. They had plenty of food elsewhere. Now, no.

  13. Erika Rae says:

    Our chickadees are mean to each other. That is to say that the Black-capped chickadees and the Mountain chickadees are meant to each other. Inside their own little feathery click, they are all perfectly well behaved. But man. Try and eat from the feeder at the same time and they go all Bloods and Crips on each other.

    I like your stories, Don.

    • Don Mitchell says:

      I only have the black-capped dudes, but they are always skirmishing with the nuthatches.

      My favorite at-the-feeder fighting scene was hummingbird vs. wasp. I have plenty of wasps, which usually don’t cause any trouble, but every so often they decide to get into the hummingbird food. So I was watching this all happen about 10 feet from my workroom window and my first thought was, Wasp, you’re owned by this deadly bird insectivore. But no — it was a faceoff, a standoff (hover-off?) and then I realized that the hummingbird, all 3 or 4 grams of her, wasn’t going to take a chance on an insect with enough poison to hurt an adult human being.

      I’m glad you like these things, Erika.

  14. Irene Zion says:

    I’ve left three comments that have vanished.
    I think it’s because I’m in Singapore,
    and it’s got to travel too far.
    I did read this and enjoyed it,
    but I’m not going to write my whole comment
    a fourth time.
    This probably won’t show up, anyway.
    Losing hope here.

    • Don Mitchell says:

      Irene — sorry to hear that.

      Here’s a nice coincidence – I have friends currently in Singapore because the Heathrow problems have stranded them. Qantas has them in a hotel. I mention it because the guy is from the group of people I worked with on Bougainville (and wrote about trying to get news from in my recent piece (“Voices Return. . .”). He’s getting a PhD in Anthropology from St Andrews University in Scotland, which is exceptionally cool. His grandfather was a man I knew and admired and a central character in my novel is based on him (the grandfather). He’s stuck in Singapore with his wife, also from Papua New Guinea but not from Bougainville, and also a PhD candidate, and their child, not yet two.

      So there you have it. For all I know, you’re all in the same hotel. That would be amusing.

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