Monday, 4 June 2012

Rats in the freezer, snakes in the basement

My sister just emailed to say they bought a 4-foot king snake for their daughter's birthday (at her request), along with a year's supply of food. They now have 75 frozen rats in their freezer. Now while I might be a bit leery of the idea of rats mingling with my frozen corn and asparagus, part of me has to laugh. It's like watching our childhood repeat itself.

We had a zillion pets growing up, from hamsters, mice, and rabbits, to frogs, dogs, cats, and horses. My sister would come home with garter snakes in her pockets (there would be surreptitious hunts through the house when one got loose - "Quick, help me, before Mom finds out!"). Once I came home with a field mouse in a paper cup. Once a hamster got loose and turned my only Barbie doll into a pile of chewed bits of rubber under the bed. And our parents were amazingly calm about it all. Dad would build wonderful cages with elaborate latches for taking Snowy to show-and-tell at school. Mom let us bring Pipkin the bunny into the house in a cardboard box so we could keep watch over him when he was ill. When Grandpa showed up one evening with a gift of a new horse in a trailer, my parents staked her in our suburban backyard without batting an eye until we could find somewhere to board her, and they let me stack a ton (literally) of hay on the lawn. Dad helped me break her, walking patiently around and around the paddock behind her with long reins in hand. We children learned lessons in birth and death, in hard work and compassion.

My parents took us out into nature, bird watching and animal tracking, hiking up the canyon to see golden eagles, down to the lake to feed ducks. They allowed me to disappear for hours on end in the trees on the hillside above the house. They let us wade and chase water skeeters in the irrigation ditches. They let us take a roll-away bed out to the carport, where we spent the night reading Tolkien by flashlight and hiding under the covers from the mosquitoes. We went camping a lot, and I remember listening to Dad play the harmonica as all seven of us watched the night sky, hoping to see a shooting star. They encouraged us to be curious and courageous, and the encyclopedia was always somewhere handy to the dining table, so we could explore some more while we ate and discussed.

I am extremely grateful to my parents for encouraging us to experience and love nature. It has added a rich dimension to my life. And my sister with the snakes in her pockets - now the mother of the seven-year-old king snake owner - grew up to get a Masters Degree in conservation biology. So I suppose it's not new to her, having small mammals in her freezer. 

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