Saturday, October 18, 2003

Byrd, Bush

It seems, some days, that GWB passes up NO chance to deliver someone or something over to the grim reaper: from his days as Lord High Executioner in Texas, to his current project for a new century of endless war, he is one hell of a thanatocentric dude.

Even when he eats Thai food there is occasion for sacrifice and suffering -- an intraperitoneal injection of pad thai cannot be a positive experience for a mouse.

I am thinking of the deer mouse, Admiral Byrd, who lived with us for three months last frigid winter, snatched from the jaws of feline death one midnight by my son. Miraculously, he (she?) lived through the night, and I had to decide what to do.

How could such a quivering nubbin of protoplasm survive near zero temps and snow ? Following various snippets of advice, and secretly terrified I'd be dead of hanta virus within hours, I got the little creature a plastic cage, nesting material, water, food, swaddled the cage up in a towel to "simulate the inside of a wall," and left it alone as much as possible. Byrd took over the guest room, door shut, of course to keep out four kitties who just KNEW something delectable was in there.

And there he endured until April, when I upended the cage under the rhododendrons, and he scampered off.

Was I jailer or savior ? These categories do not pertain, probably, in the mouse mind. His months with me may have been worse than having presidential Thai food injected into one's abdomen, for all I know. My coworkers, save one (my compadre semi-veg, animal-rights L.), thought I was nuts.

But I do know that my mouse truly earned his name. In 1934 Admiral Byrd wintered in Antarctica alone in an ice hermitage, Bolling Advance Weather Base, eventually sickened and half crazed by a malfunctioning stove; he survived, and wrote an amazing account of it in "Alone," one of the seminal books of my reading and mental life.

A diary entry of his, April 14, describes the utter beauty of the landscape observed during a walk "at 4 pm in 89 degrees of frost" -- the sun sinking below the horizon, Venus rising, the aurora, the silence -- and he concludes, rapturously: "In that instant I could feel no doubt of man's oneness with the universe...It was a feeling that transcended reason; that went to the heart of man's despair and found it groundless. The universe was a cosmos, not a chaos; man was as rightfully a part of that cosmos as were the day and night."

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