Monday, March 2, 2009

Wild Pigs in Berlin and Thoughts of the Animal Kingdom

Just the other day I got snookered on story of the the fish that ate a cell phone. This one is for real. I promise. Wild boars are multiplying and making life difficult for people living in Berlin. I read this story in the Wall Street Journal over a year ago. Today I found a video which included footage of the wild pigs, who are rapidly becoming an urban nuisance.

When I was a kid, we had raccoons. They knew how to open our garbage can, which was recessed into the ground and had a lid that opened with a pedal. We had to put a large rock on the garbage pail and encircle it with an old automobile tire. My nephews and neices used to think it was great having deer nibbling grass in their front yard until they found out that the cute little creatures carried ticks with Lyme disease.

A friend of our family went to Singapore for a family reunion. The boys were delighted at the wild life. Instead of squirrels, there were monkeys in the trees. They were making noise and pointing at the boys. Everything was calm and pleasant until one of the kids stuck his tongue out at the monkeys. The monkey attacked the boy, throwing a rock at him. The wound required several stitches to close. Local children knew how to coexist with the local wildlife. Sometimes outsiders get a painful education in animal etiquette.

I used to live in a building when I was single that had heavy mice infestation. We used to have a cute little mouse that had a route that it used to patrol in the front of the apartment. The guy I rented from did not want to kill the mouse. He claimed that if we killed it that our mouse problem would get much worse. Sure enough, the mouse fell victim to a well placed sticky trap. As soon as he was gone, we had multiple mice who replaced him. There seems to be some territorial behavior among rodents. That little mouse probably had his own territory. When he died, it went up for grabs, We see an apartment building with ten or fifteen dwellings. To rodents, there is a network that transcends our property boundaries. The space we live in is a small part of the world of a rodent.

I have owned rats, mice and gerbils. I am very fond of domesticated rodents. Wild mice repulse me. Wild rats frighten me. I used to have a pet rat that had the disdainful air of a house cat. It would spend three or four minutes washing itself off after I picked it up to play with it. Rats are much smarter than mice, and there are noticeable differences in intelligence between one rat and another. I had two rats in a cage once. One was a master escape artist. The other couldn't chew her way out of a paper bag.

My favourite animal to have as a pet is a dog. We once had a dog who was very smart. My father was washing his car and left the hose lying on the ground. It was a hot day, and the dog wanted to drink from the hose. Unfortunately, it was running too fast. So the dog dug a hole in front of the hose and started drinking from the hole.

Seeing intelligence refracted through the abilities of different species gives me a perception of oneness in the world. When I go to the park and observe the maternal feelings of ducks, I feel a sense of parental solidarity that transcends the boundaries of species. It deepens my appreciation of humanity. It accentuates a feeling that the space that I walk through every day is really a multitude of worlds superimposed upon each other.

My father was a skilled photographer. I have little doubt that he would have found the wild boars of Berlin to be a fascinating study in photography. His photographs were his way of taking a piece of the world and yet leaving it undisturbed.

I do not have the photographic gifts of my father. But the news of wild life from the city of his birth is an odd reminder to me of the many worlds that adjoin and occasionally overlap our own.

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