Tag Archives: Animals

Marginalia, no.270

In 1499 some sparrows were excommunicated for depositing droppings on the pews in St Vincent, in France. In 1546 a band of weevils were tried for damaging church vineyards in St Julien.

~ Richard Mabey, Weeds

There’s no word on whether these actions evoked any contrition in the offenders, or if the poor sparrows were ever restored to communion. I suppose nature’s apostates might also include things like polio, malaria, and cholera. They say that influenza lives in constant fear of Vatican lawyers. Unfortunately, cancer, as an aggressive mutation of one’s own cells, cannot be excommunicated without at the same time excommunicating the patient.

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A Domestic Bestiary


First there is the TABBY, seventeen years old, spry but of poor temper. She will tolerate petting for only a moment, then it’s nature red in tooth and claw. She has a restroom all her own while the four human residents of the house must share one between them. She eats nuggets of dry cat food one at a time, fishing them out of a bowl with her paw. After several minutes she will vomit up the mess and eat it a second time. She is a connoisseur of banana and cantaloupe, and of whistling.

Until recently, six EARTHWORMS lived in a styrofoam bowl kept in the refrigerator. This past week they moved to large plastic water bottle filled with alternating layers of soil and sand and capped off with wilting lettuce. Their life and habits will be studied by the children who have, so far, named only one of them (“Wormy”).

Since time immemorial, the daughter of the house has kept SNAILS. We have two of them now and neither one cares for arugula. One of our former snails managed to escape from his jar. He made a slow-motion midnight dash across the countertop undetected and was never seen again.

The occasional HOUSEFLY slips in the front door for the purpose of keeping yours truly from sleep until I’ve risen in my pajamas to stalk the intruder with bow and lantern. After a half-hour of desperate combat, by a lucky shot with a rubber band, the infiltrator is blasted to fragments. The smudge of his spent biography is wiped from the wall without remorse.

In the kitchen is a mason jar of very small GUPPIES. These are pretty fish with nervous manners. They sparkle somewhat in the afternoon light and move by a strange choreography: keeping still for a moment, making a quarter turn, keeping still, turning, etc. If they are worried, they’re right to be. These guppies are maintained in our home only to serve as food for

The baby GARTER SNAKE recently purchased for my son, which is proving itself as poor a sport as the household cat. Garter snakes, we were told at the pet shop, do not bite. This is a lie. “Edward Shoelace” hadn’t been at home with us for fifteen minutes when he bit my daughter hard enough to draw blood. Half the day and all night long, the little snake buries himself in the dirt of his terrarium.

Finally, on the windowsill by the record player we have a colony of SEA MONKEYS (which is a heraldic name for brine shrimp). These live in a state of utter savagery and dissolution, constantly engaged in acts of cannibalism and incest. Their colony was founded a year ago and untold generations have come and gone. The population fluctuates between two and eight adults. Children are hard to count since they’re so small on hatching and are generally eaten by their parents. The few that make it to adulthood are the most depraved and enter wholeheartedly into perpetual sexual congress with their siblings and feasting after the style of Kronos.

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Marginalia, no.78

Witness the elephant who was rival to Aristophanes the grammarian in the love of a young flower girl in the city of Alexandria… They tell also of a dragon in love with a girl, and a goose smitten with the love of a boy in the town of Asopus, and a ram that was suitor to the minstrel girl Glaucia; and every day one sees monkeys furiously in love with women.

~ Montaigne, Apology for Raymond Sebond

Could it really have been every day in sixteenth-century Bordeaux that one saw monkeys ‘furiously in love’ with women?  To borrow L.P. Hartley’s famous phrase, the past is a foreign country.  And so is France.  Of course, French women are famous lookers, so one can hardly blame the monkeys.  But perhaps Montaigne had in mind local men who were uncommonly grabby and hairy.

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