I never intended on buying a hamster. But I blurted out “Let’s get a hamster!” to my fifteen-year-old daughter in the middle of a heart-break moment, when I was searching for any way to help her feel better.
“Really?”, she said, as she looked up from her sobs.
“Really, we’ll go and get one today”, I said.
The baby shrew she had found and adopted just two days before had died, and she was devastated. Of course, the shrew was only orphaned because one of the stray cats I feed had killed it’s mother, so I kind of felt bad about that to begin with. It’s always like “Wild Kingdom” in my backyard. There’s a complete gamut of emotions you run when you’re an animal lover. “The thrill of victory” (I’ve just earned the trust of all the cats in a mile radius!! Alright!!), and “The agony of defeat” (Crap, now they’re killing the shrews and leaving orphans). And moments of “bleeding-heart insanity” (Oh, I know I’ll buy my daughter a hamster because one of the shrew orphans in her care died and she’s devastated).
So we went and got a hamster and we named her “Snow Pea”. She’s been alive for two years now, which has got to be some kind of record when there’s also a cat in the house (yes, an adoptee as well – whole other story).
Snow Pea the Hamster lives on the dryer in the laundry room, where it’s both warm and cat-free (most of the time). Since I do around 35 loads of laundry a week (ishityounot), Snow Pea and I have become rather close. So, I thought I’d write a post about her and about her resilient little spirit. This is a food blog, yes, but we’ll just call this post part of my “Animal Kingdom” collection. I’ve got a lot of “Animal Kingdom” stories. Since I’m a Marine Corps spouse of almost twenty years, and since we’ve moved a dozen times, and since I’ve adopted a whole little collection of local “orphans” everywhere we’ve moved, it’s only fitting that they get some airtime. Once when we lived in New Orleans we “saved” a couple crawfish from a crawfish boil, and they lived in an aquarium in my kitchen for two years. Well, I mean one of them lived because they had this epic battle-to-the-death that lasted for four days. In a nutshell, “Cayenne” the crawfish killed “Tobasco” the crawfish. So we had “Cayenne” for two years. Details.
So, my little buddy Snow Pea and I do 35 loads a laundry a week. She hears me exclaim as I pull rocks out of my boys’ pockets, and pull soggy playing cards from the bottom of the washer. She hears me say unmentionable phrases when I find that the dryer has shrunk the cheap shirt I got at the Exchange (yet again). ^%$#!!!
What I’ve noticed about Snow Pea, is that she has a remarkable “interior life”. Meaning, she’s made quite a good life for herself in her little cage, with her little wood shavings, and her little bed. She has a routine. She’s self-reliant. She’s independent.
I used to always wonder why rodents are so celebrated in literature. The Secret of NIMH, Mouseguard, Reepicheep in C.S. Lewis books, The Rescuers…are some that come to mind. I mean, why are we personifying rodents all the time? What makes them so admirable?
After observing Snow Pea, I think I know why. A rodent is absolutely focused. They are not only self-reliant and independent, they are the consummate “survivalists”. They will quietly build an empire while the whole world is looking at someone or something else.
Snow Pea’s not entertaining any pillars of the hamster community (ha), but she still keeps her house clean and tidy. For herself. She’s not going to the beach in a bikini (ha), but she keeps herself on a great exercise regimen. For herself. Her “interior life” is rich, and good and healthy, no matter what happens on the outside.
She even has a “hater”. The cat. Can you imagine what it must feel like to have someone fixated on your demise ALL DAY LONG, every day of your life? That cat wants nothing more than to eat Snow Pea. Snow Pea knows this, but she still stays on her schedule and lives her life.
Several times, the cat has gotten into the laundry room and has pushed Snow Pea’s cage to the ground. The cage shatters and Snow Pea is left vulnerable. Sometimes she hides, other times she lays on her back and furiously strikes with her claws. She fights back when she has to. Then we throw the cat out, fix her cage, put her back in and she resumes her life. She never quits her routine just because that cat threatened her and she had a horrible experience. She never gives up.
If that’s not enough to admire Snow Pea, here’s something that happened that was truly impressive:
A few months ago, the cat (once again) pushed Snow Pea’s cage to the ground. But this time, Snow Pea’s back paw was broken. I noticed it flopping around, swollen, gimpy. I told the kids that Snow Pea probably wouldn’t make it this time. Broken legs are pretty fatal in the animal world. We put her back into her cage and I expected her to curl up and sleep until she was dead.
Do you know what she did? She got on her hamster wheel and RAN. She ran with a broken leg! She ran, and ran, and ran. I don’t know why, I don’t know how, but she just ran. A few weeks later we checked her foot and it was healed. A little crooked still, but not swollen. It was functional.
She effectively healed herself. She just minded her own business, and got back to her own life. And she got better.
She didn’t wallow around. She didn’t give up.
And that’s why she’s my hero.