Saturday, December 17, 2011

Holiday Hamsters

While out Christmas shopping the other day, Susan and Boy#2 popped into a pet store to aaah over the furry animals. Boy#2 likes to get his kitten fix and I know Susan thinks about puppies all the time(!)  Of course, their time would have been better spent saving that love for moi. But I digress...

When they got home, they told us about how they watched the pet shop gal unload a massive mother ship of hamster from a shipping box into an aquarium.

They thought it was funny that the shipping box said FRAGILE: Handle With Care: LIQUIDS. Obviously, hamsters do not come in liquid form. But they must have run out of boxes marked FRAGILE: LIVE ANIMALS. The whole idea that one would mail hamsters is odd to me. I suppose they have be delivered somehow.

Why people go to pet shops to pay money for small rodents is also odd. Then they go pay money for rodent control devices to trap the free mice that live in the basment. People are weird. But back to the story...

This freshly mailed mama hamster lurched a bit as she got her bearings in the aquarium. Then she planted herself in the food bowl - but not to eat. She began methodically stuffing seeds into her pouches until they were nearly as big as the rest of her.

Pet shop gal proceeded to unload the rest of the box one occupant at a time. She gently placed at least a dozen babies in the aquarium with their mother. Each landed swaying on infant legs then began wandering around checking out their new home, oblivious to the frantic homemaking of their mother.

Susan and Boy#2 watched as the momma hamster continued gathering seeds, ignoring her children, and resisting her own urges to explore her new territory. Her eyes began to bulge with the load of seeds.

They wondered what her plan was...grab all the seeds and then go dump them in a stash a mere six inches away in the corner of the aquarium? Pretty pointless. This wasn't some desert. No competition - no one but hamsters here. There would be more food where that came from. But hamster mother just couldn't be sure.

Clearly, the mother was driven to gather and stash sustenance. Having spent the last hours in a box marked LIQUIDS, she couldn't be too sure when the next meal would arrive. For all she knew, the dish held all the seeds in the world. So she'd best grab and hide them. More likely there was no thought at all. Hamster sees seeds. Hamster gathers and stashes.

As I watch the holiday preparation madness, I can't help but picture this mother hamster stuffing her pouches. Sure there is excitement, even joy when Christmas approaches. The songs insist it is the Most Wonderful Time of the Year. But there is also a fair bit of of auto-pilot in the seasonal prep that swirls around me. People zooming about in their cars, stumbling out of stores laden with bags, clicking Proceed to Checkout on Amazon, wrapping and piling gifts to be dispersed to family and friends.

From where I sit, this holiday work isn't all that different from hamster work. Holiday rituals seem so ingrained that I think they too must be deeply rooted in instinct. The drive to exchange gifts, a ritualized passing back and forth of wealth, is quite similar to the hamster gathering seeds from the food bowl and moving them over to the corner of the aquarium.

No doubt December behaviors are so entrenched that people just can't help themselves. Must give gifts, must put up tree, must play Bing Crosby, must clean house, must prepare Christmas foods...I like this last one very much.

But like the hamster, it must feel awfully good to empty out the stretched-out pouches and get back to normal business in the New Year.


  1. I read this on my phone while I was out Christmas shopping. Made me want to go home and curl up with a book. Good dog!