Fence Rats and Monkey Traps

The other side of the back property line where we live has what we lovingly refer to as a fence rat — a cute little dog who sticks his head under the fence and yaps every time I come or go. I tried to make friends by giving him dog biscuits. Len’s afraid his collar’s going to get caught on the bottom of the fence and he’ll be stuck there until someone comes to his rescue. “Greedy little bugger!” (referring to the dog), “See what you started?” (referring to me).


The neighboring dog reminds me of the monkey traps described in Robert Pirsig’s Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, where certain tribes leverage the monkeys’ greed to their advantage. They hollow out a gourd, leaving the opening just large enough for a monkey’s hand to go through to reach a sweet treat. When the monkey (unaware that the vine attached to the gourd is staked to the ground out of sight) reaches in to get the treat, the opening is too small for its now-clenched fist to pass back through. Escape is entirely possible if he’ll just let go, but he won’t because he chooses to hang on to the treat. At this point the tribespeople come along and it’s easy pickings…

What won’t you let go of?

© lauriebuchanan.com

60 thoughts on “Fence Rats and Monkey Traps

  1. Evidently, EVERYTHING! I’m in the middle of a mid-winter “sort and clean” and have come to the conclusion that I never let anything go. Maybe it needs to become a “sort and clean and purge.”

  2. Material things – too many. I have this fear that as soon as I get rid of it, I’ll need it. Bad memories – very few, but there are a couple that pop into my head at odd times. Good memories – as many as I can.

  3. That is such a cute dog , in both senses of the word , he has you over a barrel . Like my dog ,Oscar, when he comes back from his walk, he gets a handful of ‘dog’ chocolate buttons ,but he has worked out, that even if he just comes back from the three quarter house, or for a ride in the car ,if he looks cute enough, he gets another hand full of buttons ( they learn fast ).
    Clothes , Laurie , are what I hang on to wardrobes of them , even if they they don’t fit anymore…they ‘MIGHT’ one day lol
    I bought a taffeta ball gown in the 80’s , my friend rudely said it looked like something Princess Di would have worn to a royal function , I liked it then and I like it now but I’ve never worn it he he he !!!

  4. Five years ago I moved to a much smaller home, from a very large one. I knew I had to sell, give away, or throw away a lot of things that I was holding on to. It was hard, but it was so freeing. Every time I take a bag of used clothing to our Salvation Army or SPCA store it feels good.

  5. Sometimes when I have a habit that I am pretty sure is no longer serving me anymore, I take extra long observing and say to myself – nope still not working. I find things much easier to release than habits of practice and comfort. My latest is the habit of staying up a little later than my partner for what feels like “free time” when the house is quiet and my own. But lately the mister is staying up later as well. So I have been noticing these after midnight bedtimes and sayng – nope still not working. Time for procuring a new “free time” during another part of the day I think.

    • Terrill — I’m so glad you shared your excellent example, thank you. Sometimes the thing we hold onto isn’t “tangible” (something you can actually hold in your hand). It’s somewhat more elusive (and easier to sneak up on us).

  6. Thanks to your fine example, Laurie, I am learning how to say good-bye to no longer needed things. I have a box right outside my bedroom door that I fill and take to the local thrift shop. And I’m slowly learning how to put a positive and supportive spin on old, negative self-talk.
    The key for me is determine why I have the thing or the words. If it no longer services me then I try to let go.
    If you fill your life with what no longer services you then you won’t have any room left for what does.

  7. Laurie, now that is certainly what I call a “searching question”! Like most of your readers today, I didn’t have to search far or for long to find enough Stuff to fill a page. I too am in the middle of a “Mid-Winter Purge”. Clothes, books, odds and ends I am tired of shuffling from one place to another. I don’t even want to get started on habits or attitudes, not yet but their time is coming! Love the doggy asking, “Whatcha doing over there?”.

    • Sandi — Yes, indeed. Even if its our precious books that someone else can make better use of. What my mom used to say bears repeating: “Travel light. Travel fast.” My hat is off to your Mid-Winter Purge 🙂

  8. In all honesty, as I’ve sat here pondering your question, I can’t think of anything I’m hanging on to. Downsized already (and LOVE it); reconciled with lost loves years ago; still mourning our golden Henry, but in loving ways, seeing him in my dreams almost a year later, but they’re happy welcoming dreams. I do have some people in my life who have disappointed me, but I have learned to let the hurt go, figuring they need to figure things out, and it’s not personal. I guess the things I refuse to ‘let go’ of are my love for my husband and children and grandchildren, and those things I want to hang on to forever 🙂 What do YOU hang on to?

    • Roughwighting — I thoroughly enjoyed reading the great examples of what you don’t hang onto. My hat is off to you!

      You asked what I hang onto. It’s my belief that the only thing we can take with us when we draw our last breath is memories. Hence my exit strategy: make as many memories that are positive, uplifting, constructive, and healing as possible 🙂

  9. Like others, I could make all sorts of lists of stuff. And it is a matter of judgement/choice as to what is trap, and what is “being prepared”. Where do we each set that balance point between preparedness for the low probability high impact event, and simply going for the much more commonplace. I tend to think quite long term, so have quite a bit of “stuff” – most of which is very low maintenance (just store and remember where it is stored).

    At another level, it seems to me that most people are more trapped by the ideas that they hang onto than by any material objects.
    I love the quote from Mark Twain “What gets us into trouble is not what we don’t know, it’s what we know for sure that just ain’t so.”
    In this sense, it is the ideas that most of us hang onto that trap us within prisons of our own (mostly unconscious) making, far more surely than anything anyone else does to us.

    Of these, it seems to me that the idea of “truth” is the worst of all. The very idea that we might be able to know anything with absolute certainty seems to me to be both a logical nonsense, and an act of hubris.
    It is quite understandable that as children, we must all start making simple distinctions, and the idea that something is either true or false is about as simple as ideas get (and works really well inside the binary world of computer programming, but not so well outside of it).

    It seems clear beyond any reasonable doubt that reality doesn’t very often deal in simple binaries, but mostly deals with very large collections of variations, and even sometimes with actual infinities.

    It similarly seems clear to me that the most dangerous thing any of us can do is to hang onto the simple notions of True & False, Right and Wrong, beyond our early childhood years. We all need to start there, and it seems clear to me that we need to let go of those “sweets of the mind” as soon as we reasonably can – by about age 7 seems to be healthiest.

    Where that leaves us seems to be in a world of profound diversity, that requires of us a profound tolerance and love. Those politicians and preachers and advertisers and propagandists that tempt us with their simple binary choices have us firmly trapped in their gourds the moment we accept them.

    • Ted — I really like the Mark Twain quote you shared: “What gets us into trouble is not what we don’t know, it’s what we know for sure that just ain’t so.”

      Even more so, I love the idea of “a world of profound DIVERSITY that requires a profound TOLERANCE and LOVE.”

      Like you, I’m not a fan of the “my way or the highway” mentality. It’s my perspective that if something can’t be questioned or examined (if it can’t withstand deep scrutiny), then it’s not worth believing.

      • Hi Laurie,

        Yeah – I seem to have taken that to the point that it seems that its not worth believing in belief.
        It seems that while we need to make choices based upon best available information, it doesn’t pay to be too certain of anything – so in that sense, I don’t believe in anything, and I do have operant habits and heuristics that seem to work most of the time.

      • Ted — I believe in belief because I believe that thoughts are things. You were told by physicians that you were going to die. You believed you were going to live. I believed you were going to live. Others believed you were going to live. Add the energy of those beliefs to the positive, uplifting, constructive, and healing action steps you took and you’re alive.

      • Hi Laurie,

        As I see it, we are all complex organisms, in both the physical and spiritual senses (hardware and software for computer geeks).

        I was told that medical science couldn’t do any more for me, and I could be dead in 6 weeks.

        I understood that asymmetric probability functions have long tails – and I simply focused on getting as far out that tail as possible in one sense.

        At another level, I acknowledge the impact of all of the efforts of others like yourself, in giving me the sense of self value that enabled me to override the very many urges to stay in my old ways (I still carry that crystal you sent me, more for the physical symbology that someone I have never physically met thinks enough of me to send something half way around the planet to me, than any belief in powers of the crystal itself – and it seems to me that that understanding makes a real difference to me – so once again – thank you 😉 ).

        It seems that as a species, we are fundamentally communal and cooperative organisms, if we have enough security that we are not forced to take stuff from others for survival.

        I understand that we have multiple pathways in our biochemistry to produce most outcomes, and in most cases there is a large (potentially infinite) class of possible ways for our neural systems to effect those metabolic pathways, and for our thoughts to influence those neural systems. So in this sense, it seems clear to me, beliefs (or more accurately neural patterns, which can be influenced by our intention, and our choice of context) can and do make a huge difference in all aspects of our body’s function.

        Thus it seems that our explanatory frameworks are very different, and there is substantial phenotypic (practical) overlap. That is, we seem to be able to agree on the what, if not on the why.

      • Ted — Amen to agreeing on the what, if not the why 🙂

        If you and Ailsa were here (or Len and I were there), we could knock ice cold, organic, green smoothies together and shout CHEERS! 🙂

  10. Every week I marvel how you find such rich topics right under your nose. And you often give life lessons with animals. Why you could collect these into a book of fables, like Aesop, Chapter 1, the Tale of the Rat and the Monkey.

    What won’t I let of? I have teaching files that are taking up space in my desk drawers. A few months ago I tossed out one set. The other three must follow suit. I mean it!

    • Marian — I just put a “tickler” in my calendar for early spring when you’ll receive an email from me asking if you’ve let go of the remaining three teaching files. (Yes, I’m that kind of gal) 🙂

  11. apparently, I find it impossible to let go of fat and inflammation…and all those thoughts about how that makes me feel!

    • Patricia — “People often say that “beauty is in the eye of the beholder,” and I say that the most liberating thing about beauty is realizing that you are the beholder. This empowers us to find beauty in places where other have not dared to look including inside ourselves.” ― Salma Hayek

  12. I’m about to test this very question with a group of friends tonight. What can I let go of to gain more freedom? Sometimes others can see what is less obvious to me.

  13. Ha – I’d be just like you, Laurie — wanting to make friends (and then I’d worry like your hubby about the collar). That looks like a Brittany; do you know if it is?

    I guess my ‘won’t let go of’ is my dream of publication. The more times I DON’T get there, the more determined I am TO get there (after copious amounts of pouting and crying, of course).

  14. Like some others, I too need to let go of some of those extra pounds but being more attentive to my eating habits. Sure I consume plenty of blueberries, strawberries, spinach, salmon, walnuts, humus and other heathful foods, but not all that much exercise and always failing on portion control. Always a struggle! 🙂

    • Barbara — I used to hang onto my books, too. Then one day we donated them all to our local library for their annual fundraiser. What I learned was this…we can go there and visit (or check out) those books any time we want. The library (not us) is now responsible for their care, maintenance, and all of the space they once took up in our home. The icing on the cake? When we moved 1,700 miles last April, we had that many fewer boxes to pack and haul 🙂

      • Oh Laurie, I have culled my collection and donated many books to libraries and used book stores many times over the years, but I fear there is no cure for me. The best I’ve been able to do so far is limit my collection to the size of available space on my bookshelves. If I buy a new book, an old one has to go. Sticking to this system has slowed me down and made me think twice before I purchase.

  15. Hello Laurie!

    I have often wondered about the source of barking of late from the back driveway area, hoping that it was not of disturbance to you and Len, and Ken and Amy! Now you have captured the culprit! As I was raking today along that property line, I noticed some boards propped up from the other side of the fence to block the space between the bottom of the fencing and the ground level. Now I know why!! I worry about this dog when I see it on top of the accumulated neighbor fence debris along our driveway, just hoping that it doesn’t jump over and run into Walnut Street! So, for one, I guess that I can’t let go of my concern for the welfare of this dog, even though I have no control here!

    Injustice is just another “hold on” issue for me. While living in Oregon I was a CASA for the six children of a very poor and undereducated single young mother who was just visiting family in Oregon when her children were taken away from her due to what I thought were trumped up charges by DHS. It was at least a 2 year battle for me to get 5 of the 6 children back with her, an advocacy due to the unquestionable love for the mother by her children, and vice versa. The 6th child, Bobby, was in residential care when the mother left Oregon and returned to Oklahoma with the five children driven in fear that the DHS would take them back from her again. Bobby was in the wrong place at that right timing for Cherie to escape Oregon for home, leaving Bobby behind because she had no access to him.

    So I advocated for Bobby in his family’s disappearance and he eventually became our own foster son living in our home in Lake Oswego. In the end, because of his emotional issues, he lived with us for just over a year before being placed back in psychiatric residential care. DHS allowed our involvement with him afterwards with the hope that we were interested in his adoption. Once we stated that that was not a possibility, DHS just cut us off from any further connection with Bobby. We were the only support connection for him, and yet we were cut off without even the opportunity to say goodbye to him, just another perceived abandonment on his part I am sure. To this day I cannot let go of my anger against DHS there given their power to take Bobby away, much to his detriment as a result.

    Then in 2010 I began a legal process to get my second cousin’s guardian and trustee of my uncle’s estate removed from both positions. I had clear proof that she was abusing Beccah and stealing from my uncle’s estate and using drugs in the home. However, as an outsider to Ventura, CA I was treated as the pariah from Idaho, instead of a family extended member with great concern over the welfare of a relative. I was actually laughed at in court, as the attorneys involved tried to discredit this outsider. All of them had reason to protect themselves so they joined together in their successful attempt to discredit me. I was devastated and finally brought the case to a close; however, I was the only one who paid out of pocket for my own legal fees. Every lawyer fighting against me charged their fees to and were paid from the estate monies given Judge approval!.

    In the end, less than a year later, Beccah refused to take the bus home one day from school because she protested living one more day in the home where she was being abused. She was placed immediately in foster care as a result. Meanwhile, this guardian was allowed to continue to live on in my uncle’s home by those same lawyers, during which time she was arrested for drug possession a few times over and was in the court system (including jail) as a result. The injustice here so angered me, and to this day I can’t let go of a process that supported those in the wrong in the end, making me look somehow sinister in my pursuit of Beccah’s best interests! It took me at least a year to get over a feeling of humiliation given my treatment, and the preference for a druggie over me for Beccah’s guardian care. These are emotional issues to be sure, but of more significance the recognition of injustice that just makes you want to fight on!

    On the lighter but more fattening side, it is next to impossible for me to let go of my love for Mexican food. I made myself two delicious tacos tonight, which I looked forward to all day long that ended in a a fulfilling taste treat! My husband is on a scuba diving trip that allows me the opportunity to fulfill all of my personal preferences in his absence, including the watch of two movies, each up for Academy Awards. I have no guilt here on subject to let go of! 🙂

    • Jan — The events you described are appalling, to say the least. It would, indeed, be difficult to let go of the injustice. Thank goodness there are people like you with an advocate’s mind and heart set!

  16. I just scheduled a blog post on Simplicity and it seems, on reading blog post today, that everyone has this same theme this week in one way or another. Great post…love the doggy pic.

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