Thursday, July 10, 2008

Mice, Dead or Alive

This morning Jake, our barn cat was playing with a soaking wet, not-yet-dead mouse. I couldn't bear watching him stalk, pounce, nip, pat and then release and follow the wobbly little thing, so I picked it up by the tail and tossed it in the pasture. A few of our pullets noticed it, but unlike the hens who will fight one another for a mouse or frog, they just gathered around and watched it with their heads cocked to the side.

It's funny how I have less trouble dealing with live mice than with dead ones. A few weeks ago I nearly screamed when I removed the compost container from my lower cabinet and found a dead mouse there. Sebastian took a paper towel and removed it for his grateful mother. For the next few days I opened every cabinet with some trepidation, whereas Sebastian and Gabriel inspected all the cabinets every day for several days with a flashlight, hoping to find another dead mouse.

Years ago in Tucson we had a little furry invader eating holes into bread loaves and cereal boxes. Our two fat, pampered house cats seemed to have no inkling that they were sharing their territory with a rodent. Bret bought a glue trap and we set it in the kitchen. I wished he had purchased some other type. Each day I would go off to the bindery where I was an apprentice and on the way home I would pray that the trap would either be empty, or that the mouse in it would be dead. I didn't want to deal with a live mouse stuck in a glue trap. I wasn't sure how I'd deal with it, but I have never killed anything larger than a cockroach in my life, so I knew it would create a real dilemma until Bret came home from work.

On the third day of the trap, I came home and found the poor mouse with all four feet and the side of its face down in the glue. And it was alive. The cats were only vaguely aware that there was something there. I sighed. It would be hours until Bret returned. So I picked up the trap, and gathered a few things: cooking oil, denatured alcohol, cotton swabs and what not, and I went into the bathroom and shut the door to keep the cats out.

I spent the next 45 minutes extricating the mouse from the glue, while the cats meowed outside the bathroom door. At the end of it, since there had recently been an outbreak of hantavirus in the Southwest, I made a call to the CCD. Basically, I wanted to know if there'd been any reported cases in Tucson and what my life expectancy was if the mouse had it. There had been no reports of it in Tucson. Good.

"Where is the mouse?" I was asked. I looked at the mouse, now in my kitchen.
"Um, he's in a quart-size yogurt container eating a saltine." There was a moment's silence on the other end.
"Are you crazy? We are talking abut a potentially deadly disease here."
"Well, I couldn't kill him."
"If he has hanta, he has the potential to kill you."
"Well, one's gotta do what one's gotta do. Guess I have to deal with the consequences of that, right?" I put an apple slice into the container, and the mouse moved from the saltine to the fruit.
"I guess so. Good luck, ma'm."

After a few minutes of deliberating with myself, I took the container and the mouse and walked across the street out into the desert. I released him, and he took a few uncertain hops before scurrying away. I figured the chances of a mouse surviving long in the wild were pretty slim, being part of the diet of everything from hawks and owls to snakes and coyotes.

I have city-bred sensibilities, and I didn't become an active killer until I started a little garden. Then I finally began to pull weeds and drown bugs in buckets, not with any pleasure, mind you, but purely for the survival of the tomatoes. And that's the crux of it, really...there just isn't anything I need to kill outside of bugs and weeds. Yes, we raise our own meat here at Patch O' Dirt, but if I had to kill anything myself, I think we'd be vegetarian, which would be bad news because my kids dislike most veggies and I am, at this point, still a terrible gardener. So maybe then killing would become a matter of survival. I managed to do without meat for 20 years of my life, but that's another story...

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