When I was in second grade my teacher, Mrs. Williams, once scooped up a black widow spider, from a corner of the classroom, on a sheet of paper and, rotating it around to keep the spider from climbing onto her hand, she walked to the window and dumped it out, all the while telling us how poisonous black widows were. This made quite an impression on me. Even things that were dangerous deserved to live.
I remained true to that belief, walking my own spiders outside (even two black widows) even after I married My Own Farmer and moved to the farm. Two years into our marriage, I accidently dislodged a mama mouse from a bird box. She scampered away from her nest, leaving five pink, pencil-eraser shaped nubbins behind. They were her babies and it was my fault that they were now homeless. I gathered them up, took them to the house and called my vet to see if he could recommend a suitable formula. I think he covered the telephone receiver and snorted a few times before making his suggestions.
When My Own Farmer came home that night and discovered the tiny box full of hairless, blind babies staying warm under a light bulb, he looked at me in total disbelief. "You hate mice in the house," he said. "What are you doing?" I shrugged. "I don't know. It just seemed like the right thing to do." He raised his eyebrows and then sat down to read the paper. I have to admit that I was thankful when they died in spite of my care.
Later that year, I was at my mother-in-law's house when a raccoon wandered into the barn yard. Geneva went outside and pitched rocks at it until it died. She asked for my help, but I was too horrified to watch. Then she took a pitchfork and carried the body to a rock pile where she buried it. "It might have had rabies," she explained. Although I still didn't think I could have helped her kill it, I remember thinking what a strange new world I had married into. Things like racoon stoning just didn't happen in the city.
My lingering soft heart died one day when we were making hay. As we rode around the bumpy field, tossing bales to the back of the wagon and sweating in the brutal sun, the front wheel dropped into a deep groundhog hole. The wagon pitched and yawed, almost righting itself before it finally keeled over, dropping all 140 carefully stacked bales onto the meadow. We could have been killed, plus we had to re-load and re-stack that wagon full of bales. It is twice as hard to stack bales that have to be pitched up from the ground than to stack the ones that are conveyed right to your hands by the baler. I believe there was some cussing involved.
The next time My Own Farmer got out his gun to shoot a groundhog in the hay field, I didn't whine about the sanctity of life. I still didn't like the idea of killing critters, but suddenly I had a new perspective.
Since that time, I've even requested the killing. When my youngest was celebrating his fifth birthday, a skunk wobbled out of the woods above the house and headed down the hill to the celebration. Perhaps he just wanted a slice of cake, but skunks don't usually come out during the day. I wasn't sure that he was healthy, so I rounded the children up and took them inside and called my husband who came home and shot the skunk.
When a snake reared its head in the front yard and rattled two feet from my toddler, I screamed until someone brought a pistol out and killed it. I still carry house spiders outside, but if I ever see a black widow in the house, I believe I'll squash it.
Two weeks ago, when Lori and I went out at dawn to walk, we saw what we thought was a raccoon wobbling down the road. It disappeared into the barn in front of my house and I worried about it all day. Where was it in relation to my livestock, my pets and my house? Was it rabid? That afternoon my questions were answered by my beagle Luke who began barking madly. When I went outside to investigate, I discovered a mangy racoon hunkered under my chaise lounge on the patio. It screamed at me when I peered underneath, so I grabbed the dog and ran inside. My Own Farmer was at work in town, so I began dialing, looking for a neighbor with a gun. Meanwhile, the racoon paced around the outside of my house, looking in my glass doors and chittering. Not Normal!!
By the time I reached a willing neighbor with a gun, the racoon had started staggering up my driveway. It was getting away, and getting away meant that it could come back. I would be trapped in the house forever. As soon as the racoon was far enough away, I ran out to my car. I couldn't let it disappear.
As I followed the sick animal up the driveway it occurred to me that I did have a weapon I knew how to use. My car. I could run the racoon over. So, I pushed the pedal to the metal and bounced up the hill. The racoon dodged my wheels and continued climbing. I followed it up the driveway, trying several more times to kill it, but missing. When my neighbor finally arrived and shot it, I was so shaken that I could hardly talk. I realized that I had finally gotten to a point where I could consider killing something myself.
I want a .22 caliber rifle and I want to learn to shoot it. It's funny how your opinion changes when you're trapped in the house by a crazy racoon. It makes all the difference in how you see things. I don't think I could ever deer hunt, even though I like to eat venison, but I want to be able to defend myself from snakes and rabid animals. I've had enough experience, living out here in the back of beyond, to realize that sometimes a girls' gotta do what a girl's gotta do.