Offbeat 19 June 2015

Scorpions are not keen on winter. As the temperature drops, I regularly find them traipsing into the house. I suppose a roof and walls makes the indoor climate a more moderate proposition for them, but I am very glad they haven’t become familiar with the idea that, by night, I run a heater in my bedroom.

Normally one of the animals finds them. The cat reacts with a hiss. The dog goes all weird. Then I get slightly shuddery. My immediate response is to grab a glass, put it over the creature and dump it outside, after taking a long look at the thing. I feel a bit of pity whenever I do this: it’s cold outside.
Scorpions are supposed to be rudimentary creatures, so I find myself wondering how it is they know to try and come inside in winter? Do they have a broader awareness of their surroundings, and understand that there is somewhere warmer, likely more comfortable? Or is it a migratory instinct, like the birds that head north or south when the temperature drops?
I have a strange relationship with scorpions. I know I am supposed to abhor them. Most people see them as a terrifying sting on an alien looking body, with two scary pincers at the front end, if the sting isn’t enough. I see them that way as well. But there is another side.
Once upon a time, more than four decades ago, as I was playing, my mother came into my room, and after a few seconds told me to ‘look over there and sit dead still’. She then brushed something off my lap, which turned out to be a scorpion.
I learned, from that incident, that the scorpion is not always aggressive: if you don’t threaten them, they won’t threaten you, and you can coexist. The scorpion became totemic to me on the basis of that incident.
I forgot about that for quite a while until, in my late teens, I killed a scorpion at a braai, stepped on it to prove my testosterone-fueled manhood. It wasn’t a smart thing to do. The guilt welled up immediately. Now I choose safe removal with a glass rather than the broom, shoe or bug spray.
Aside from the moment that I coexisted with the scorpion as a child, I can also remind myself that they are concerned parents that carry their young on their backs. The same applies to spiders, though I have to brush and vacuum them from time to time to stop the house from developing terminal cobwebs.
Scorpions don’t have the luck of other creatures. Bats, once an icon of horror are being rehabilitated by Facebook. On my feeds, baby bats regularly show up, wrapped up and being fed from bottles. They inevitably have, what look to me very much like, contented smiles. Scorpions are challenged in the ‘cute puppy smile’ department. But as they care for their young, I have to assume that they experience contentment and love.
Humanity has a way of evolving in unexpected ways. Once upon a time, creatures other than humans were things. Now, it feels as if, by hundreds of thousands of examples, and the common consent of social media likes, creatures are being recognised as having emotions. It’s a far cry from the old religious concept that nature is there to be used without the recognition that creatures have feelings as well.
It’s a path to some kind of spirituality. Unfortunately it also leads me to the idea of being a vegetarian, and I don’t feel ready for that by a long shot. I will somehow have to deal with the idea that whenever I cook meat I am about to eat something’s dearly beloved mother, father or sibling.
The idea that others have emotions is, in a sense, still revolutionary. It might even lead to the concept that humans that appear different, might have feelings and souls, and be valued on that basis as well.
Humans have developed remarkable partitions in their thinking. Mostly, I think, similarity and proximity, determine the value of life. Difference and distance make it easy to dismiss the value.
Perhaps I should not be naïve and expect this to take root too fast. But perhaps there is cause to reevaluate the scorpion, and understand that its life should be valued.


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