My young sons and I, led by the extraordinary nose of the House Wolf, discover a rat living under the porch. We’d watched the House Wolf track the scent, nose the hole, follow its nocturnal wanderings through the moist grass, for weeks; and then one twilight, while the Wolf is elsewhere engaged, we see the rat emerge and flow around the yard, investigating. Not a mouse—too long. Not a pack rat—no bushy tail. Not a vole—too lean. Not a roof rat—lives under the porch. I suspect this is a rat rat—the Norway rat of horrible history and evil lore. The Dad in me realizes I will have to have this creature executed. But he or she is a lovely and amazing creature. If he or she was a vole, I would not issue an execution order. Why is this? A rat rat is revolting, and I feel a shudder of fear, a protective urge to murder; yet the squirrels run free in the yard, and delight us with their supple comedy, and shrill cursing at the House Wolf when he bounds out, intent on their slaughter. Why do we kill some creatures so easily, and grin at others? Why is that? And for all the sensible and reasonable answers that we could offer, we both know that there is in the end a roaring inconsistency about which creatures we murder and which we celebrate. Just thinking, this morning, before my sons and I set the trap.
Brian Doyle is the editor of Portland Magazine at the University of Portland, and the author, most recently, of a novella, Cat’s Foot. Image by Takeuchi Seihō (1864 – 1942), from a series of full-page color woodblocks titled An Album of the Twelve Zodiacal Signs.