While we were gone, visitors moved in, and when we returned, more came.
Fortunately the second set of guests – the landlord, his father and a few friends – reversed the effects of the first group. While the dog and I had been away in Michigan, mice like squatters took advantage of the temporary emptiness, and we arrived home at 10:30 one night to a downstairs that looked like it had been sprinkled with sesame seeds or extremely small confetti.
Rodents might be my least favorite animals – mice, rats, bats, even squirrels – the group a friend refers to as rats who knew how to dress themselves to look cute enough not to be killed. I’m sure there will never be any absolute proof of that theory, but I tend to go along with it, because there is no doubt that squirrels have the requisite intelligence and contemptuous attitude to be lumped in with rodents – or humans, for that matter.
I’ve given up altogether trying to outwit squirrels. I have lost thousands of dollars worth of spring-flowering bulbs to those clever, devious pests, but I still draw my line in the sand at mice in the house.
Oddly, in Michigan, the dog and I had been staying at a mouse-besieged cottage on Lake Michigan, owned by my brother and sister-in-law. They assured me conditions were much improved over my last stay a decade or so ago, when I remember watching with a sort of Willard distaste as a mouse ran across a beam over our heads while we were intent on conversation.
At the time my sister-in-law dismissed it as a regular and harmless experience, but I have failed to achieve that kind of philosophical good will or neutral co-existence with mice – even 10 years later.
When I arrived for my most recent visit, my brother informed me that a renovation to the kitchen had resulted in successfully closing off most of the mouse entry points. But, he said, every now and then one would still get through somewhere near the furnace.
For the moment, though, he assured me, the coast was clear.
“And at least we removed the carcass,” he said.
One of the deceased had been discovered in the hallway just before our scheduled arrival and had been promptly disposed of, though – knowing my brother – I am sure some serious consideration went into leaving it there, or even placing it someplace else where it would startle and unsettle me even more.
I did not look for any more mice while I was at the lake cottage, and I saw none. I chose the nearest and most effective form of denial available – a few electric floor fans to create enough noise at night to muffle the sound of scurrying, tiny rodent feet in the walls.
So it was probably a twisted form of karma that led to my home in Maine being overwhelmed by mice in my absence. I suppose I could have ignored the dots of evidence and simply herded the dog off to bed when we got home, since I had just completed a grueling 14-hour, more or less nonstop drive, much of it through monsoons of Midwestern rain.
But nothing spells grubby invasion more than mice scat, so I stayed up till 2:30 a.m. cleaning and finally ended the wee hours by bathing both the dog and myself and crawling into what I hoped were clean sheets that had been spared the assault.
Mice always pose internal conflict for me because I don’t like poisons or traps – and certainly not those sticky trays that leave a captured rodent alive and squirming for hours. I have, after all, evolved a healthy tolerance for almost everything non-lethal – or even borderline dangerous – in the natural world, including snakes and questionable (to me) companions, like coyotes, but I cannot accustom myself to the idea of sharing my living quarters with mice.
I feel confident that we always have cohabitated – because mice are able to get just about anywhere and everywhere without much effort – but this is one area of life in which I turn a blind eye to unpleasant developments, unless they are as obvious as they were upon our return to Maine 10 days ago.
I prefer to keep my mice at the level of books like “Stuart Little” and “Rabbit Hill” or claymation characters from movies like “Chicken Run,” a title which could do double duty in a narrative of my lifeliong relationship with rodents.
Therefore, if you come calling, you should not expect to find me up and out wandering the catacombs of the cabin with the dog late at night. I have no desire to see the fleeting shape of a mouse moving along a wall illuminated by the blaze of a wood stove or the soft glow of oil lamplight.
It’s barely winter but I think it’s likely we will choose to retire early whenever possible, turn on some form of white noise – a DVD, an electric fan, a background noise device – and ignore reality.
I don’t ask much from these animals, really. Just steer clear, I beg of you. Don’t tread on me.
North Cairn can be reached at 791-6325 or at: