Home Invasion & A River Runs Through It
I hope your New Year is off to a great start! For most of us, by the 10th of January the holidays seem ages ago. But one pre-Christmas, Little Farm incident is burned into my memory…
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“’Twas the week before Christmas and all through the house, Not a creature was stirring, not even a mouse…”
Well, that’s not the way things went down at our place. But let’s start at the beginning…
My favorite cartoon when I was a kiddo was “Mighty Mouse,” featuring a muscular, take-charge rodent who could fly. Wearing Superman-like togs, this mouse righted wrongs, and always got the bad guy.
(My enjoyment in Mighty Mouse’s exploits was pretty predictable: I was a mousy, underweight child, perennially bossed around by my older sister.)
But there’s where my mouse fandom ends.
I’m as revolted by rodents as the next person—although I’ve learned that living in the country means that mice are inescapable. My most memorable mouse encounter was back in the day, which I relate in my memoir Little Farm in the Foothills.
For a couple of months, my then-husband, my baby and I lived in a drafty old mobile home in the middle of a dairy farm. When we moved in, nearly every horizontal surface was sprinkled with mouse droppings.
You’d think that would have been my first clue, to keep all my food in mouse-proof containers.
But what did I know? I was a city girl. Anyway, one chilly December evening I opened my kitchen cupboard, filled with food wrapped in plastic—and caught a mouse by surprise. It jumped on me and ran down my leg!
Let me tell you, there was some shrieking—and I felt that sensation on my leg for years.
Fast forward to present day: my husband John and I will soon celebrate 17 years living in the Foothills. All this time—save for discovering some mouse droppings under the bathroom sink many years ago—all our mouse incursions have been outside the house.
These little critters, their droppings, and their nests are pretty much everywhere: in our shop, the woodsheds, and the carport, in every corner, cranny, and hidey hole.
A straw bale in the chicken coop shed once made for a very hospitable mouse abode, judging from the day I was fetching some feed and a mouse jumped out of the straw and dived into my muck boot. You can bet I tore off that boot and flung it away.
The sensation of a mouse wiggling against the top of my foot was one I also felt for years.
Mice have even invaded our car engine, finding their way to the air filter, which they chewed for nesting material. But let me stress: all those mice were outside.
So, just like I had been lo, those many years ago, I was confident our house was mouse-proof. That being the case, we stored lots of food in flimsy plastic bags.
And one week before Christmas, after stocking up on holiday items, the pantry was filled to the brim.
John and I had just arrived home, weary after a seven-hour drive from my daughter’s house. We trudged through the icy pathway to our house, schlepping my suitcase and totes and the bags of groceries we’d bought before the last leg of our trip.
I was trying to figure out how to stuff more groceries into our already-full pantry when I saw something on the lowest shelf.
A small dark flash, then a tail. It streaked out of sight.
My heart stopped. “Oh, s&%#!” I scrambled backward before the mouse could jump on me. “John!” I yelled. “There’s a mouse in the pantry!”
Running over from the living room, he said incredulously, “A mouse?”
We both peered into pantry. “I don’t see anything,” said John, cautiously moving pantry items out of the way.
I kept my eyes peeled, but I didn’t see anything either. For a second, I felt ridiculous. Had the mouse been a figment of my tired imagination?
“Maybe it was a salamander,” I ventured. In my mind’s eye, I could still see the intruder’s dark-gray skinny tail. I’d seen plenty of salamanders in the rocks bordering the shop, and inside it too.
And this critter definitely had a skinny, potentially salamander-ish tail.
Okay, I was doing my Pollyanna thing again—trying to think positive. Still, we had never, ever had mice in our kitchen.
As John cleared more pantry space (I didn’t have the courage to do it, afraid of the mouse-down-the-leg replay), I couldn’t delude myself. Behind every plastic-wrapped food item were tiny, tell-tale (tell-tail?) black bits, unmistakable against the white pantry shelves.
Mouse droppings. My heart sank all the way to my dog-tired toes.
What now? I hoped our presence had scared the mouse enough to sneak back to wherever it had come from and leave us alone.
But I knew one thing: I wasn’t going to put any more groceries in my contaminated pantry! I stuck them back in their paper bags and left the bags in the middle of the kitchen floor.
Surely no rodent would be bold enough to cross the floor right under out feet!
John started heating some dinner, just as we both heard it.
A very loud rustling. We stuck out heads back in the pantry and listened, then I pointed to the top shelf. “It’s right there.”
John, far more heroic and far less mouse-revolted than I, reached for the shelf and moved a can of pumpkin out of the way.
The mouse was there, all right. It streaked behind a roasting pan full of picnic supplies, and emerged on the other side, next to a liter of olive oil. There it paused—I swear it looked right at John, as if taking his measure. Then it flashed out of sight again.
“Honey, can’t you just…smack it with something?” I asked desperately.
“What do you want me to do?” replied John. “Go after it, breaking all kinds of stuff along the way?”
I could see his point—imagining the two of us madly flinging groceries aside, John trying to hit the mouse with the bottle of olive oil, as it led us on a merry chase.
“I’ll get some traps,” said John, and headed into the cold to fetch a couple from the shop. He’d learned over the years that peanut butter was a terrific mouse bait, and kept a jar of the cheap stuff dedicated to mouse-bait.
More recently, he’d found out that peanut butter topped with a dab of bacon grease was even better!
“The peanut butter is frozen solid,” he said when he came inside. “So it’ll just be bacon grease.”
“I’m sure that’ll work.” It would be easy to catch this guy. If he was fearless enough to find his way into the house, he’d come back for more chow!
John set two traps and placed them on the pantry floor.
I was too grossed out to eat dinner yet, so I yarded out all the vulnerable food items, in either plastic or cardboard, and filled more paper bags.
Now we had a small island of overflowing grocery bags sitting on the floor.
The whole time, I listened for a Snap! And though I heard nothing, every other minute I peered into the panty to see if our mousetrap had gotten a customer.
“I wonder if it’s the cold that tempted them into the house,” John remarked, getting a fire going in the woodstove. (In addition to being more heroic, he is far more philosophical than I am about things like rodents.)
“I was thinking that myself,” I said. The forecast for the next few days showed a severe northeaster on the way, and temperatures would drop near zero. Pretty much unheard of in our area.
Any sensible mouse would be seeking a warmer place to hang out.
Obviously, I had plenty of other, more critical things to worry about, like frozen pipes and power outages. But the thought of that mouse haunted me.
Way past midnight, I was still checking the pantry every few minutes, knowing I would hardly sleep a wink with that rodent in my kitchen.
But the critter had completely disappeared.
The next day, I arose without my usual enthusiasm. Here it was, just days before Christmas when, after being away, I was eager to start my annual holiday baking binge, and listen to Christmas carols.
Instead, I had no choice but to houseclean the pantry from stem to stern.
The next day, spent decluttering and wiping down pantry shelves—and tossing the mounds of plastic bags I’d been inexplicably saving—I saw no sign of a mouse. Nor heard the welcome snap of a mousetrap.
Apparently this mouse wasn’t as gutsy as I thought, staying on the down-low while I was in his way.
Still, it was kind of ridiculous that such a small critter could have such a mighty effect—it had compelled me to tackle this pantry makeover, which would have never happened otherwise.
By evening, after hours of cleaning, I had discovered the mouse had not limited himself to the two shelves where we’d seen him: there were droppings on every single shelf.
He’d chewed on a sack of popcorn and a one of sunflower nuts, and had created a little pile of them inside my roasting pan.
Clearly, he was setting up his digs for the winter.
Not in my pantry! I vowed. As I shook the nuts into the trash, John came in from the back part of the house. “You won’t believe this,” he said grimly, “but I saw a mouse in the bathroom.”
“All the way to the back bathroom?” Oh, dear Lord, we had a mouse subway in our house! “So that’s where he got to!”
“I’ll move the traps,” said John, and I followed him back. He carefully placed one near the toilet, where he’d seen the mouse, and one in the bathroom closet where it disappeared.
I checked the closet, where we’d been keeping more of our extra winter food: jars of nut butter, maple syrup in thick plastic jugs, tomato sauce in lined, aseptic boxes, and a plastic bottle of olive oil, and found more mouse droppings behind the groceries.
Despite the sturdy packaging, the mouse had smelled the food!
Doubly grossed out that the mouse could be all over our house, I worked on finishing my pantry project. A couple of hours later, I went to use the bathroom. And what do you know.
On the floor were two dead mice.
One had been caught in the trap in the closet. The other was a bit of a mystery. It was lying dead, about a foot away from the other mousetrap. I suppose it had sprung the trap and been injured, but had somehow extricated itself.
Instead of making a clean getaway, the mouse kicked the bucket.
Well, thank God it hadn’t died where we couldn’t find it.
I took photos for posterity, but it seems a little grisly to post them here. In any event, John took care of the corpses, as he is our “doer of the dirty work,” while I cleaned the floor. He rebaited the traps and set them in the same spots.
We left the traps in the bathroom all week. And nothing happened. I finally took one trap back to the shop, then a few days later, the other one.
Two weeks later, the inside of our house still seems to be mouse-free. John has rededicated himself to keeping the traps in the crawlspace and the shop freshly baited, with solid success.
I have dedicated myself to keeping the pantry in shipshape order, taking impeccable care that anything that might attract vermin is secure in mouse-proof storage containers.
And checking for little black bits every time I go in there.
Even if this invasion was an isolated incident, though, I’m sure of two things: I can never unsee that live mouse in my pantry, or the dead ones in the bathroom.
Never again will I be blithe about food storage…from here on out, no mouse will find so much as a crumb to nosh on!
A River Runs Through It: Writers’ Ideas
Most writers have more story ideas than they know what to do with. Many of them have more ideas than they can write in one lifetime. I’m no different.
Bits and pieces of ideas come at me all the time. Remember that river of ideas I talked about in my November newsletter? For a lot of creative folks, there’s constant and endless stream of them.
Sometimes a tsunami!
Some of the more have-it-together people keep tidy notebooks of their creative ideas. Others might maintain computer files with specialized software, designed to organize all your jottings and photos and web links, all the miscellany that might go into a potential project.
I would love to be one of those people. However, my “idea files” are as messy as my pantry (before I cleaned it).
You might think, how can you find anything in that pile of papers? It’s true, I seldom look at them.
But I actually keep sort of a running tally of ideas floating in the back of my mind—characters that have already appeared in my books just waiting for another story, or half-formed characters waiting to blossom into someone real.
Most of these stories are part of my Irish Village of Ballydara world, and I’m eager to start wading into the current and bringing them to shore!
But one back-burner idea is finally seeing the light: after years of making notes to stuff into the box above, I’m putting together a fourth Little Farm book. Details TBA right here on Substack!
January 12 Update: Last night, I was putting away Christmas decorations into a box full of bubble wrap—a box we store in the bathroom closet.
It had been sitting right next to our winter cache of nut butter, tomato sauce and maple syrup. Can you guess where I’m going with this?
There were more little black bits in the box! The mice had had a party chewing on bubble wrap. They’d made a nest with it, leaving tiny plastic shards in the bottom of the box, that you might mistake for fake snowflakes.
Maybe that mouse lying dead in the middle of the bathroom floor had croaked from ingesting plastic. But what does that matter. I’m going to have to houseclean that closet too, and make sure that mouse nest is the last one!
I’m grateful for all of you who take a look at my posts—and I’m sending out a big thank you to my new subscribers too! I appreciate each and every one of you.
Cheers and all the best to you for 2023!
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