There is a painting of some elk above my head. I’m at my dentist’s office, and although the waiting room is pleasant (and today I nabbed the comfy couch), they seem to be running behind this morning. I’ve already written four pages in my notebook, and I’m starting to get fidgety and look around.
I’m instantly worried about the elk. The largest is a bull with impressive antlers, standing tall, three females lounging around him. In the background is a landscape of severe mountains shrouded in mist. The bull elk’s breath hangs in a thin cloud in front of his snout. It must be morning; no snow on the ground but cold enough to see breath.
I guess I’m worried because he looks unafraid, and his antlers, as I’ve mentioned, are very large. Hunting trophy large.
Since moving north, I’ve learned a lot about hunters. Surprisingly (to me), many of them share my regard for nature and wildlife. But they manifest their appreciation quite differently than I do. Apparently, being a wildlife lover doesn’t always mean you just like to look at animals. Often, it means you also like to shoot them.
As a tree-hugging conservationist, I’m quite the opposite of a hunter. I’ve never liked to kill things, and I seem to become more and more committed to that philosophy the older I get.
Nothing dies in my house, at least not if I can help it. I used to spray spiders with Raid or smash them with a shoe. Now I catch and release them using a jar and a piece of thin cardboard; even the black widows, which are so slow-moving they are really hardly any threat at all. They seem to just want to be left alone, and they are handsome spiders.
In the old days I would crush snails in defense of my garden, but now I simply can’t do it. They are so cute with their shy antennae, so vulnerable and soft inside their fragile shells. If the snails decimate a plant I’ve bought, I make a mental note not to buy that kind again. Some plants I just can’t have – because of the snails.
My husband and I leap all over the house chasing prehistoric-looking relatives of centipedes we call “land shrimp.” We catch and release these, too. Even the ants, when they come into the house, are deserving of mercy. I try cleaning around them, a technique my grandmother swears by. Removing what the ants are after without harming them works for her, but my ants are more persistent. It is with great reluctance that I kill even one, and I am forced to do so only when the groceries are at stake.
Many do not subscribe to this “live and let live” philosophy. They happily write check after check to the pest guy, paying him to annihilate all life forms on their property that do not boast human (or barking dog) DNA. They plan hunting trips and dream of majestic heads that can be mounted and displayed on their living room wall, no doubt confirming their manhood forever.
I, on the other hand, rescue wolf spiders from the swimming pool by the dozens. I buy cage-free eggs and refuse to eat all but the most responsibly raised meat. And I sit in crowded waiting rooms worrying about fictional elk.
I’m not sure if this regard for all life is a curse, a blessing, or just an inconvenience. Whatever it is, I don’t seem to be able to do anything to change it. It’s in my DNA.