Woman vs. Mouse: 5 Things I’ve Learned

If you’re a regular reader of this blog, you may be aware that I have, over the years, had some very interesting *interactions* with mice (not the wild, prophet-in-the-desert style hantavirus kind, but clever little fondue-eating metro mice). Or, you may have skipped/repressed those particular posts because they grossed you out or otherwise offended your sensibilities concerning the place of rodents in the natural order of things. In any case, if you are new to Live Clay, you can catch up on the back story and my general policy on killing things here and here.

It’s time to finish this story once and for all. I don’t know why it’s taken me two years — almost a year since I posted the trailer.

Perhaps it’s because it has taken this long for me to acknowledge that what I once referred to as “seasonal inconvenience,” was actually more of an “infestation.” The movie comparison here would be Ghost vs. Poltergeist, except without the Ghost love story bit, or Patrick Swayze having sex with Demi Moore as she worked on the wheel, because every potter knows that’s soooooo unrealistic. Her clothes were too clean and hands at entirely the wrong angle to actually be making something.

Anyway, mice:  the year was 2009 and the events were preceded by countless exchanges of this variety:

“Isabella, clean your room or you’ll get vermin!!!! “[empty threat.]
“Ok, mom.” [nothing happens, or the floor is cleared by tossing everything into the closet.]

It went on like this for some time, until one day, Isabella did actually see a mouse run across her bedroom floor.  And thus it began. She was 11, I was 43. The game was on.

After the mouse sighting, we began a dedicated effort to clean and organize Isabella’s room to find out why the mouse was there, i.e., it must be eating something. But there was no food in her room, so what? The last thing we cleaned was the closet, and I’ll describe it this way:  an accumulation of stacked & compressed items from different phases of Isabella’s life, formed in a way not dissimilar to sedimentary rock, each layer a unique record of the raw materials, pressures, and environmental conditions of that era.  We excavated down through the sequins and tulle of The Dress-Up Years, the plastic-y limbs and tiny clothes of The Doll Years, the anxiety and training bras of the Pre-Teen Years.

Finally, we hit bottom, and there in a corner we located what was later appreciated to be the epicenter of mouse activity:  a forgotten bag of Halloween Candy, cir. 2007. There was very little left, just some hard candy and chewed wrappers, but it was enough to tell the story.

The first thing I know about mice:

They love Halloween candy more than kids do.

Next to the almost-empty bag of candy was a suede necklace that someone had given Isabella, once decorated with corn that had been dyed blue to look like turquoise. I held up both ends of the suede and saw that the “turquoise” had been mostly chewed away, nothing left but a few blue “teeth” in an empty smile.

After throwing out all the trash, hosing down the floors with disinfectant, and organizing Isabella’s room for maximum visibility, the next step was catching “the mouse.” I bought a couple of live traps at Lowe’s for $10, loaded them with peanut butter, and placed them along the walls where the mouse was likely to run.

Boom! Within 24 hours, I’d caught “the mouse”.  Then another. And another. Which brings me to the second thing I know about mice:

There is never “a mouse”. If you see one, know there are at least three more keeping it company. They are pack animals.

I was soon hearing weird noises in the middle of the night, had they always been there? No, it seems that since I’d disrupted the food source, the mice were scrambling to find other things to eat, raiding the dog food, lifting furniture, opening cabinets as they saw fit. I kept the traps set. I stopped feeding the dogs. I caught more mice.

I set up a holding bin on the back utility porch where I housed the captured until I could give them a second chance at left elsewhere. Catch and release. The fact that it was winter presented a slight problem because obviously, dumping them outside (at least one mile away or they would come back, if the research is true) would mean certain death. But I had an idea.

My loose plan was to relocate the captives, in a highly illicit and clandestine effort, to one of the zoo buildings, like that weird, steamy tropical room with the tarantulas. Then nature could just take its course and their fate would no longer be in my hands. Granted, they would’ve been at a slight disadvantage, as toucans and monkeys are not likely among their natural predators in New Mexico, but whatever. I could only do so much.

I ultimately decided against that plan because I didn’t want to risk exposing the exotic zoo animals to the rebellious and subversive attitudes of urban mice who might incite an Occupy Zoo movement, demanding freedom and equal distribution of treats, protesting by turning their backs to visitors and giving them the finger until their demands were met.  No, I couldn’t be responsible for that. I chose instead a local greenhouse where the mice would stay warm through the winter, then move outside when spring came and the food ran out. (Yes, I left food at the greenhouse. And bedding material.)

Isn’t it beautiful? I would like to live here.

The third thing I know about mice:

They are smarter than me.  Case in point:

I hit the anxiety apex one morning when Isabella screamed from her bedroom, “Mom, a mouse in my chair!” I went to investigate, removed the large cushion of her [seldom used] reading chair, and what did I find… but a nest… with two… babies in it?! YOU’VE GOT TO BE KIDDING ME.  Holy crap, this was more serious than I’d thought. The obvious dilemma of what to do with these tiny, helpless, blind creatures was more than I could contemplate at 6 a.m. So I just put the cushion back and lapsed into a convenient fugue state, behaving as if there were not two fetal-esque beings in my house that might be flushed down the toilet by a different, stronger person, one not so steeped in denial and Buddhist flavorings, and left for the day.

After regaining my senses at work, I analyzed the situation and came up with a brilliant idea for a homemade trap: I would put the babies in a long, cardboard wrapping-paper tube sealed at one end.  The mother would surely come into the tube to care for the babies and I would simply lift the tube to catch all three. Perfect! So, I went home and did just that, gently lifting the two babies with a plastic teaspoon and placing them with some chair fluff in the cardboard tube. I left the room. Two hours later I came back, quickly lifted the tube and looked to the bottom, but it was empty — no babies, no mother. In a panic, I searched the area and soon found them… in the nest. The mother had simply gone into the trap, taken her babies, and put them back.

I tried to catch the mother once more using the same strategy (checking the trap after only 20 minutes), but she was smart, and again, I found the tube empty. And this time, the babies were not in the chair.  They were nowhere.  I searched the entire room, the furniture, the clothes, the clean closet floor. Nothing. They had simply disappeared.

Three weeks later I was standing on a high stool searching the top shelf in Isabella’s closet for one of her dolls.  As I lifted the wig pictured here, two sleepy, adolescent mice dropped out. Surprise! Our eyes locked in mutual alarm. By then, my reflexes were finely tuned and I immediately grabbed a plastic trash bag and scooped one of the mice into it with a piece of cloth. But the other one, upon whom natural selection was clearly smiling, jumped off the shelf and flew directly at me.

The fourth thing I know about mice:

They can fly. They are brave and they can fly.

That’s right, given the opportunity and a high enough launch, mice will leap directly at you, soaring through the air toward an unsure landing, secure only in the knowledge that you will shriek and/or flail like a headless chicken, jump in the opposite direction and/or pass out, clearing their path to freedom.  That’s exactly what happened here; the flying mouse got away while I shrieked, flapped, and hit the wall.  I’m lucky I didn’t break a leg.

Eventually, all the mice were captured and removed from our house, old-house nooks and crannies were filled with spray foam, outdoor tunnels that they had literally dug into the basement were found & filled, and the bird feeder (attracts mice) permanently removed. So we win.

But I can’t help but harbor and a sense of awe, respect, even, for that mouse, the devoted mother who twice recovered her babies from the trap, the second time managing within 20 minutes to carry both to a high, wiggy nest where I did not think to look. Had she pre-chosen that place, or was it found it in a moment of desperation, when experience had taught her that the babies were no longer safe? She must have been watching me the whole time as I set up the trap, laughing a shrill and affected laugh. Waiting for me to leave so she could execute her own plan. The fifth thing I know about mice:

They learn.

This fact was demonstrated by not only the mother mouse in this story, but the whole bunch of them. Over time, the live traps became less effective because, I’m convinced, word got out in Mouse Town that those who went in to the dark, peanut buttery caves of pleasure never came out. I had to resort to other methods for the last catches; I won’t go into details, but you can contact me directly if you need advice.

UPDATE:  Mice sing! Check out this National Geo article about their vocal similarities to dolphins, whales, and people.

High Five image by Adrian

13 thoughts on “Woman vs. Mouse: 5 Things I’ve Learned

  1. Very entertaining! Deserves to go viral.

    I could have lived without the insider knowledge on the authenticity of that scene in Ghost, tch, there goes another of my fantasies……

    • Oh, Roggie, you can still fantasize about ergonomically appropriate and physically possible ways to create art even if your body is in the wrong position. You’re an engineer! I truly appreciate your feedback, too. 🙂

  2. I am still laughing at the thought of flying mice! My daughters had “pet” mice when they were younger. They are amazing creatures.

    • Thanks Deborah, and yes, they really are amazing. There are so many things I left out of the story, too, like how amazingly high they can jump. We lost a few captives that way until I found a deeper bin…

  3. Oh, Laura. I just LOVE this blog in such a huge way. I’m not sure what I adore the most. The writing, the photos, the stories, the fact that you had such concern for saving the mice. The description of your daughter’s closet as sedimentary rock is priceless. The photo backs you up, but I could have envisioned it perfectly based on your colorful and descriptive language. Likewise, the Occupy Zoo movement was hysterical. I can’t help but feel a little bad for the people who own the greenhouse, but I would have probably done the same thing. Of course, Matt and I have kept pet rats in the past, so I’m fond of all kinds of little critters. Wonderful post. Keep it up, you talented lady!

  4. Aw, bestie, thank you very much for the kind words–so appreciated, especially from someone whose work I really, really enjoy! (I meant it when I said I hadn’t come across that many writers that I just couldn’t get enough of… until I stumbled across both besties.) Oh, and don’t feel sorry for the greenhouse people, they love animals and usually have a goat and some chickens in pens there too. Once there were baby ducklings and we got suckered in to taking 2 home… another story, but in any case, I didn’t take many mice there. When it warmed up, they got sent to an outdoor chicken coop at the back of someone’s property.

  5. I really do admire your dedication to life, Laura, but I still would have annihilated the little suckers. Or actually, I would have let my CAT annihilate them. He was the most effective mouse trap I’ve ever witnessed. Then, you don’t have to feel guilty, it’s just nature taking it’s course! LOL.

    Cute story, hope you’re mouse-free for many years to come.

    • Hey Selena, thanks for the comments/advise! Yes, we definitely considered the cat option, but the small problem of Velma then eating the cat would have likely added to my burden. Not to mention Isabella’s, who begged for a kitten for many years until we got Velma, and it was then ruled out by that whole predator/prey thing (as opposed to me being the Meanie Bad Guy who just doesn’t like cats, which I sort of don’t). You know those “New Mexico Terriers” (Pit Bull x anything)… they are hunters. Too bad I can’t teach her to hunt mice!

  6. Pingback: Scatter my ashes in a wood kiln « Live Clay

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