As autumn approaches field mice, once happy to live in a field, are now trying to take up residence in our home. There is some primordial clock that tells them to seek cover and this dwelling, for some reason, looks pretty good to them. We are not really comfortable living with these mice so we have put out traps and they are pretty deadly. I have to say that this makes me feel bad. I long ago tried to make a vow that I would not kill animals unless it was for food. And yes, for those of you who do not know, I do hunt for food. It is a skill that has been passed down through the generations. It is part of my culture. But more than that it is part of me partaking in the life and death of the natural world. But killing wantonly is not in my blood. Still I am inconsistent. I swat flies and mosquitoes but move spiders and beetles carefully out of our house. I believe that life is precious and I worry about the impact that I leave in the frothy wake of my life.
But these mice they perplex me. Quite a few years back I used a wire box trap that caught mice without harming them. I moved the mice quite a distance and was very proud of myself. One day I moved a mouse who only had half a tail and had a white spot on the side of his nose. Two days later I caught the same mouse again. The little fellow liked our house so much he had crossed a stream and found his way back through a quarter mile of woods-a long, long trek for a creature with legs that are only a couple of centimeters long. It was then that I realized that I was probably trapping and moving the same mice over and over again. So I went back to using the deadly traps. To this day I don’t feel very comfortable with ending a life in this way. I just don’t.
I rationalize that the mice can chew electrical wires and do other harmful things to our house. I know that mice are not very sanitary and can even carry some strange diseases like the hantavirus that is getting so much attention in Yosemite. And I know that mice are prolific (a single female can produce 40 babies each year) so it isn’t as if I am going to eliminate the species from the planet. The mice get into our food in the cupboards. They eat through plastic bags to get to nuts, through thick plastic containers to get to grains, they even leave little piles of scat around to let me know they’ve been visiting. Still, I feel bad. There is no other way of explaining it.
I wish mice could read. I’d put up signs telling the mice that our house was very dangerous. They’d be polite signs saying “please find somewhere else to live”. They might think me obnoxious or even a snob but that’s better than them thinking I’m deadly. Thirty years ago we planted mint all around our house. We had read that it would keep the mice away. Most of the mint was eaten. I think it might have been mice. Their fresh aromatic breath gave them away.
I’ve given up trying to seal the house up so tight that a mouse could not enter. They have soft cartlidge and squeeze through a hole smaller than a dime. Unless I were to tear down this house and start over again there are going to be holes here and there as small as a dime. No, mice are a fact of life and we just have to try to keep them at bay.
I have learned to set the traps late so I don’t have to hear them go off. But I have some particularly industrious mice that come out before I go to bed and get caught. I doubt they do it just to make me feel guilty. Still, it does.
We live in the woods. There is a very healthy rodent population. We have voles, deer mice, and many shrews in our area. They are a necessary part of the ecosystem and food chain. I want them to be part of my world but not the part of my world where I eat and sleep. A few years back a mouse wandered into our living room and scurried right past our large male bloodhound, Cooper. Cooper is a very gentle fellow. He jumped up and got in front of the mouse. He laid down so that the mouse was between his two large front legs. The mouse stood on its hind legs. Cooper thought it was trying to play and attempted to lick it. The mouse tried to bite his tongue. Cooper was confused, very disappointed that he did not make a new friend, and went off to sulk in the corner. The mouse found a trap that same night. He would have been better off if he had made friends with Cooper.
And its not just our house. Last spring when I was cleaning up the yard after the last of the snow melted. I moved a piece of plywood that I use to put my snow plow on. Under the plywood there was a nest with a mother mouse and four hairless babies. The mother ran off in fright. I knew if I left the babies alone that she might return to retrieve them. Within an hour they were gone. Initially I could not imagine where she had taken them and then I realized my fishing boat was only a few yards away. I rejected that thought given all the work it would take to transport the babies into the boat that was sitting on a trailer high off the ground. About three weeks later I was bass fishing with Smitty, one of my best friends. He was in the front of the boat happily casting for small mouth bass when he suddenly jumped up. A mouse was running down the gunwale. Smitty, an ex-marine, took matters into his own hands and used the tip of the fishing pole to flip it into the water. The mouse swam around, crawled back up the side of the wet hull (no easy feat given it is more than a 90 degree angle), and jumped back into the boat. Not wanting to use his rod he grabbed my best rod and reel and tried flipping the mouse back into the water. He was successful but in the process lost a grip on the pole and the entire rig went into the drink. Blub, blub, blub. My $150 rod and reel was now at the bottom of the lake. The mouse climbed back on board and stared at the Marine. At that point I interceded and decided the mouse could stay, it was a survivor, and evidently so where his three brothers and sisters and mother and father who all started to run around the boat. We called it a day and motored back to the boat launch with the mice enjoying the ride on the way back. Mice like sight seeing evidently. That night at our camp we watched them jump off the boat one by one. Only this time the boat wasn’t in the water but parked on the trailer next to our campsite. And yes, you guessed it, our tent was full of mice that night. It could have been worse. I could have been arrested for transporting wildlife across state lines and releasing them. And I doubt the mice would have bailed me out of jail!
So maybe I do have a right to fight back. After all my life with mice hasn’t been exactly easy! Maybe I don’t have to feel so bad. But I will. There is no doubt about it. I am destined to a life of guilt for killing innocent mice. I can’t help myself.
Written for www.wildramblings.com in September of 2012.
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