In which thoughtlessness kills a mouse
For anyone who lives in the country, rodents are an inevitable fact of life. They are predictably unpredictable, turning up in places you never expected to see them; in fact, pretty much anywhere they can build a nest. But one thing the country person can be sure of is that they will turn up.
One of my recent battles with them started last spring with the squirrels, the little red ones that would hang on our bird feeder feasting, feasting and keeping the birds from getting a bite to eat.
Or maybe it started with the dogs, who barked and barked at the squirrels on the feeder and got so agitated I thought they might go through a window trying to get at their furry nemeses.
Anyway, it really got started when I got sick of listening to the dogs bark at the greedy squirrels and took the bird feeder down, stashing it in the garage.
That took care of that, and I felt quite satisfied with myself for ending the dog-barking problem. Of course, there were still plenty of other things for the dogs to bark at, including the birds themselves, which liked to hang out in the lilac bushes right next to the house, but they didn't arouse the same level of frenzy as the squirrels, so I counted it a victory.
Over the summer, we were surprised by a couple of mouse nests, one in a large quantity of grass that had gotten packed inside the clipping chute of our riding mower (I won't go into the details of how the grass came to be there; it's a long story). While I was getting rid of this accumulated grass, out tumbled several baby mice, followed eventually by their mother, along with a ton of oily dead grass.
Then there was the family that made a home inside our grill while we were away for several weeks. I had to remove the grates and the pan underneath that catches the grease to get Mom and her brood out of there. Luckily, we discovered this nest before we tried to cook anything on the grill. Also lucky was the fact that the grates were rusted anyway, so we just replaced them.
In case you haven't noticed the theme here, I am the person in my household who deals with mice. Maureen, while perfectly calm about a number of things that scare me — handling live jumper cables, for example — has to run and hide if she sees a mouse indoors, and refuses to have anything to do with them outside, either. The one exception is that she will take a live mouse in a Have-A-Heart trap and release it somewhere away from the house. But only if she can't get me to come along and release it for her. So I'm the designated dealer-with-mice.
I don't really mind, in general. I put on gloves before heading into a mousy situation, try to handle the live ones in such a manner that I won't kill them and the dead ones in a way that won't make us sick. I also don't mind setting traps — the kind that break the neck of the uninvited guest — for mice, and emptying said traps when they have had their intended effect.
If there seems to be a contradiction here, this is how I resolve it: If a mouse is outside, I am willing to let it live, as long as it is not destroying something of mine or keeping me from using it. If I catch a live one inside, like the ones I have removed from our kitchen sink recently, I take them outside and let them go a little distance from the house.
But if they're in my cupboards, fouling my shelves and cooking utensils and getting into my food, that's another matter. That's when the traps come out. Perhaps I would be a holier person if I were willing to live cheek-by-whisker with the mice, but I simply am not.
But I digress. I'm the mouse-handler. And just last weekend, Maureen asked me to dispose of a couple of dead mice. One had gone to that great cheese factory in the sky among the paint cans in our basement. Why, I cannot tell. There was no evidence of foul play, that I could discern. It was just lying there, dead, among the cans of paint. If its last meal was semi-gloss, I take no responsibility.
And then there was the one in the garage. In the bird feeder. The bird feeder that I had taken down last spring and put, with plenty of bird seed still in it, in the garage. Little mouse came along and had himself a mighty good meal. In fact, he may have had more than one. He may have decided just to live in the bird feeder while the seed held out. One could hardly fault him for such a decision, survival being the dicey thing that it is for a little mouse.
Only, at some point, whether because he was gorged with bird seed or for some other reason, he tried to get out of the feeder — and couldn't. The little holes through which the birds peck the seed would not allow his body, small and flexible though it was, to pass through. He was well and truly stuck. Couldn't go forward, couldn't go back. Stuck.
He almost certainly starved to death in a feeder full of bird seed. Probably didn't appreciate the irony, either.
When I came to remove his desiccated body from the feeder, I couldn't get it out, either. I struggled, pushing this way and that, trying to get the corpse out of the feeder. I didn't want to grasp the fragile body too tightly, for fear of crushing the skull, the tiny bones — why? I'm not exactly sure, only it seemed disrespectful of the life that once inhabited that tiny body.
In the end, I did worse. I gripped the body firmly and felt the bones, the skull, give way beneath my fingers. And in pulling it out of the feeder, I separated the body from the head, the final desecration.
Or perhaps the real final desecration was when I tossed both pieces of the mouse corpse into a nearby garbage bag.
The thing that I couldn't get away from was this: I killed that mouse, as surely as if I'd set a trap for it. Simply by not thinking, leaving the bird seed where a mouse could get it, I ensured that one would come along, eat and get stuck in the feeder.
I'm not going to carry an unbearable burden of guilt for this, or even lose any sleep. But it is a reminder: any action can, and probably will, have unintended consequences. If I care about my fellow travelers through this world, human and otherwise, I must be mindful of that.