It was all about a squirrel or maybe it was more than that, maybe he was just the messenger sent as a martyr to rescue me from my deep slumber, my silent ignorance. What ever he was, he saved me, he woke me up and I was never the same since and never want to go back.
I remember the day clearly, it was the point everything changed – I changed, the world changed or actually my view of the world changed. Like a rush it hit me and in that instance everything became clear – from that point I didn’t know if I was going to live or die, but I was no longer going to contribute to death and suffering in the world. Little did I know I just joined hundreds and thousands of other beautiful people in the world choosing to live a compassionate life.
It was 1999, chilly Alaskan fall morning, driving down a long dirt road to a cabin I lived in just the summer before. As I think back to that summer, I recall how I made a unsuspecting friend that changed my life forever. The cabin was a simple A-frame nestled close to Montana creek in Alaska, with just a dirt road connecting it to civilization – I was in happiness – calm, peace, tranquility. No electricity, no running water except for a sand point well you pump by hand, gas mantles for light, and a wood stove for heat. Now, don’t get me wrong I wasn’t without all luxuries – I had a propane fueled fridge and stove – and not too long after moving in I built an outdoor shower on the front porch. It was a quiet place, a place of reflection and peace – the kind of place that you can sink into the silence of the soft rushing river water and the gentle dance of the trees as the wind moves them.
When I arrived at this little bit of happiness, I found a mess inside that looked like rodents had gotten into what food was left there. I was pissed, I spent the better part of a day cleaning it up and cursing at every chewed bag and dropping I found. What I didn’t realize is that I had actually just walked into someone else’s little peace of happiness. The next day I was very sorely reminded of that. After painstakingly cleaning the kitchen I restocked it and then climbed up into the little loft and fell asleep in the silence, not at all thinking that what I just cleaned up could happen again.
The next day when I arrived home I discovered a disaster of proportions that would have had me rid the forest of every living being within a 5 mile stretch. Someone was happy that the kitchen got restocked and in their excitement must have wanted to taste a little of everything. I was fuming and in my mind I thought I am going to have to kill what ever is doing this so it stops. Now, before you gasp – realize I was not conscious yet, I was just another person with very little understanding of life – it’s how most people are, I was just another. Luckily, I was able to calm down and get enough whits about me to ask someone in the area what could be going on. That’s when they told me it was squirrels and that killing them would do no good, another would soon move in. Apparently the are territorial and I would always face the same problem. So where does that leave me – am I to just deal with this incredibly inconsiderate and messy roommate? No, the answer was clear – I needed to figure out how he was getting in and then seal it up. Brilliant, right!? Well, it took about a week to figure it all out and get things buttoned up. Then, I thought – I can have peace now, I can rest and be happy.
My first real evening of not cleaning up, I head back to the porch and sit on the couch outside. Listening to the soft rushing of the creek, enjoying the peace and soft sounds of nature. Then he shows up, that neighbor who feels he needs to express himself – yep, Mr. Squirrel decides to walk right up under the pine tree next to the back porch and in what I can only describe as the most intense cussing I have ever heard – tells me how pissed he is that he’s not allowed inside anymore. My peaceful evenings were gone, I couldn’t seem to get out on that back porch without getting an earful. Realizing what I had done, I felt this sense of empathy – he was there before me, even if he was an uninvited guest. I couldn’t necessarily let him back in – he wasn’t very clean and I didn’t think he would be interested in picking up any human customs in regards to cleanliness. So I did the next best thing, I bought a bag of nuts and spent my evenings on that back porch passing my new friend treats to the likes I don’t think he’s ever experienced. We would spend almost every evening out there together, each time him getting more comfortable and less argumentative – until one day he was close enough to touch and at that point I felt something inside. I felt this closeness, this connection with him. Although we don’t speak the same language, we found a way to relate and connect. We put aside our differences and found peace in a bag of nuts.
Now I know what your thinking, that’s when you woke up and realized you shouldn’t eat or support the harming of animals. Sadly no, apparently I wasn’t that in touch- it was cute and we shared a bond, but I walked away still seeing him as an animal and me as a human – this sense of hierarchy that pervades most people’s thoughts. We spent the summer together and at the end knowing I would be gone and he would be missing his nuts, I built a rather sizeable house on a nearby stump and packed that thing full of nuts – couldn’t have him going hungry could I. Like that we parted ways, he back to his tree and me back into Anchorage.
It’s a year later, it’s the fall and we have just arrived at the cabin. The nostalgia of the scene is overwhelming, the warm memories and feelings I had from this place – it made me feel good and warm inside. The reason we were there was to install electricity to the cabin, I had been working as an electrician and wanted to give back. We started up at the road where the meter was to go in and I trenched all the way up to the cabin. I installed the panel on the porch and ran the conduit and wire. It was tough work, but we got it done. Now I should say at this point that I don’t own the cabin, someone I knew did and they were nice enough to let me stay there – I was happy to repay in kind by putting in electricity. So as we finish up, burying the trench and checking the power – tired and dirty we decide to go inside the cabin to rinse off.
As I open the door, I can’t explain the emotions that ran through my body – the feelings that rippled into my very core. Below me laid what I can only guess was Mr. Squirrels partner – his mate. She was obviously pregnant and her head was broken within the clutches of a large rat trap. My gut turned as I realized in horror that she didn’t die instantly – you could see the blood and torn claws from her small fingers as she tried to get out. My head was starting to spin, I couldn’t even begin to fathom what was running through my mind and then I looked up and saw him. My sweet friend laid out on the ground with dried white foam clinging to his mouth, his body limp and lifeless. He had eaten poison that must have been set with the trap. I bolted from the door and ran into the woods, my stomach turning so bad I threw up. Tears in my eyes, exhausted, and mortified – it hit me, it was like every synapse in my brain fired at once. What kind of world is this that his life meant so little that he could just be poisoned and his partners neck broke without any consequences. Then it really hit me, what was I doing – how many lives was I sacrificing in ignorance. It’s one of those experiences that lives in you and changes you. It’s one of those experiences that you can’t turn away from and you are never the same after. I didn’t know what I was that day or what it all really meant, but I knew I wasn’t going to contribute to the suffering or death of another living being.
I would like to say I was cool and became an instant label reading idiot vegan savant, but in truth it took me time to make changes – new realizations every day it seemed. Meeting my friend Sarah who helped me to realize I was trying to be Vegan and then later meeting Delisa Renindeo who helped teach me how to eat healthy and enjoy good Vegan food. From there it’s been an interesting ride that I think we will save for another day……