This past Sunday, October 28, Anne and I dedicated the day to preparing our home and property for the inevitable coming of winter. There really wasn’t any single big job to be done as much as there were many little jobs to do. None of which I was really looking forward to doing with the exception of one.
The one job that was more of a treat than a labor of need was the burning of the brush-pile. Out here in the country, we simply pile up the dead branches, and when the time is right, we light it as a bonfire and enjoy the flames.
But this summer has been so hot and dry that we never really wanted to burn anything for fear of starting a grass fire. So, we just kept adding to the burn-pile until all the conditions were right. This was a very big pile.
So, armed with a pitchfork, with which to stoke the fire, and a little kerosene to set it ablaze; the match was dropped. And within seconds, the whole desiccated tangle of tree limbs, brush and discarded hay went up in flames.
There is usually something very pleasant and relaxing about a bonfire. But not this time. Within a moment or so of the fire catching, I noticed movement within the flames, and what I saw were tailless, plump, mice-like animals called Voles; scurrying for their lives. Inadvertently, I had torched an entire community of living creatures who became so panicked that they ran in every direction to save themselves. Even back into the fire.
Anne and I tried to keep the Voles that ran from the fire from running back in. But they were so frightened, confused and disoriented, they just ran. And try as best we could, only a few were able to get away, while the rest ran headfirst for their home that was now consumed by flame and smoke. Even those few that escaped, I am certain left with painful burns.
As we watched this drama unfold, we heard the Voles scream in pain and fear, and even wondered if they were actually running back into the fire to save a Vole they cared about, or to save their home, just as humans would do.
We saw those that ran back into the inferno hit the hot debris, curl-up and die; and appear to melt much like chocolate figurines on a hot burner. The scene was emotionally devastating. So, what started out to be a pleasant way to end our Sunday preparation for winter, turned out to be a very sad day indeed; for the Voles and for us.
There are of course many people who will read this story and say so what. A bunch of pudgy little rats with no tails died. What’s the big deal? But; to Anne and myself, it was a real big deal. Had these Voles been living in our house, we would have had them killed by our cats, with traps or poison. But they weren’t invading our space. They were living in their own house. And in their house, we came and massacred them.
These unsuspecting Voles were minding their own business, doing exactly what Anne and I were doing, preparing for winter. When all of a sudden, out of nowhere, there was death and terror all around them; and nowhere for them to run.
And then another thought struck me. Here I was lamenting the tragedy I inflicted upon these unassuming little creatures, who were doing nothing else but living their lives. While in a different microcosm, there are human beings dancing and celebrating the loss of human life amidst the terror that was intentionally inflicted upon other living creatures on September 11, 2001.
How can one small incident caused by accident bring my wife and myself so much sadness, when a horrific occurrence such as the intentional murder of thousands of innocents in the USA, could bring so many people so much pleasure?
The cries of the Voles defined for me whom we are at war with, into all too clear a perspective. And that’s the difference between the Islamic fundamentalists and us. They take pleasure in murder, while we recoil in disgust.
We better win this “war” real soon. I heard the scream of the Voles. And it sounded too close to home.