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Monday, September 19, 2011


"He looked at it for several minutes, admiring the delicate ears and the curve of its tail, happy with was a wooden mouse with a tarred string tail, a common enough toy but fashioned with such love of mouse that it was almost more mouselike than a real one.  It revealed, so to speak, the essence of mouse, swift and slinking, endearing and alarming all at once. "Elizabeth Goudge, The Dean' s Watch                                                                                                          
S. Stark

            “On the night that you were born,” my mother always used to tell me on my birthday eve, with a kind of lilt and wonder in  her voice, “there was a mouse  in the wastepaper basket.”
            I’ve often wondered about that little creature, sticking his pinkly translucent ears over the rim to see what was going on in the bed. Was he my herald angel? I always liked mice, and I even had white ones with twitchy pink noses for pets. As the smallest child in my class my nickname was “petit souris” until, after some daring exploits in the second grade, I was promoted to “mighty mouse.”
            None of this cheers me particularly when I arrive at my northwestern Michigan cottage every spring to roust dozens of deer mice from their complacency. I draw the line at droppings on my kitchen counters, knawed-over soap, toilet paper shredded for nests, neat stashes of shiny black seeds nestled among my socks in the bureau drawers, and pathetic little dead bodies curled up at the bottom of my coffee cups.

            One glorious May day, delighted to be back Up North, I popped a nice piece of raisin bread into my toaster, only to be assailed by the musty odor of toasting mouse. That’s why I thought it was roasting mouse I smelled when I cooked my first meal in the oven. I didn’t come up with a single baked mouse when I searched inside, but every time I turned the oven on the smell filled the kitchen, so I called the appliance man.
            “Mouse all right. Not mouse mouse, I mean—mouse urine.”
            He had settled down for the long palaver beloved of northern Michigan workmen, so I gave him a cup of coffee.
            “Thing is, it’s the insulation along both sides—they like to pee in it. Get in there,  pee over and over down the sides with your insulation, all winter long. What you need, see, is a spray bottle. You could try bleach, or maybe white vinegar? White vinegar, I think—one part in four. That should do it.”
            That did it, and very nicely indeed. When I turned up the oven for my meat loaf the odor had vanished, so, after disinfecting every counter top and drawer with Lysol and plugging mouse zappers into every room, I settled down for a mouse-free summer.
            A mouse zapper is an electronic device (therefore of no use in the winter when the electricity is turned off) that emits exquisitely high pitched sound waves inaudible to human ears, but excruciating to mice’s. Since they refuse to enter a room with a zapper in it, these are nicely humane devices to make sure they stay outside of my cottage, all summer long.
                                 ♬ ♬
            Then I discovered that the acoustical sensitivities of these very same deer mice (the leaping ones with tawny fur and darling white tummies) extend to musical accomplishment. Very late on a moonlit spring night, a researcher who was recording bat sonar picked up a lovely trilling melody. Almost supersonic, it was the mating aria of a male deer mouse, singing his little heart out at the edge of the forest. After an interval (was she assessing the musical quality of the love song and comparing it to others she had heard?) a female took up her part in the exquisite little duet.*
            I was struck with worry about what my zappers might be doing to the fine-tuned ears of these lovely little creatures, not to mention the havoc I might be causing to their romantic arrangements. Nevertheless, I left the zappers plugged in, since the only alternative was my far less merciful method for cutting down on mouse mayhem—a trip made from a large plastic bucket with three right angled entry tubes set in the lid. I fill it three quarters full of sunflower seeds and put it on my kitchen floor. The poor little things crawl in and eat themselves silly, perishing by dehydration.
            In some cultures there’s a belief that, when you die, your soul escapes through your mouth in the form of a mouse.  The terrible spring when my husband lay dying, I got a brief weekend away from the hospital to open the cottage. (There was no hope and all, and before the week was up I had to remove his life support). So there I was, emptying my mouse bucket over the wood pile on a bleak Easter morning just as the sun was coming up, offering words of regret and apology over the pathetic little corpses.  Imagine my joy when a tiny grey soul aroused itself to scurry away into the safety of the forest with the Easter dawn shining through the golden veins of its translucent ears.



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