Of Mice and Zen
This account is not a warm and fuzzy one; it depicts cruelty in its most abhorrent form, and will universally incur the wrath of animal rights individuals everywhere. The odd thing is, I have always considered myself to be an animal rights person. I am not a violent man, by nature, I revere life in all its diversity, and I have a great respect for those who go out of their way to circumvent the need to kill, arbitrarily. Unfortunately, war is an evil creation, one which tramples principles and thrashes reverence for life.
There are many varieties of war, fought for a plethora of reasons, which take place on a multitude of battlegrounds. All wars are the same, only different. Some wars follow periods of time, during which tension has built, in which both sides reinforce their battlements, polish up their swords, and spew rhetoric. Other wars ignite spontaneously, when one side or the other steps across the line, permanently drawn across the sands of time. One of those “lines” involves the interior of my domain, my castle as it is, and any invaders who defy animal logic, and attempt to take up residence, will find themselves embroiled in an instant battle.
At this moment, however, the morning is silent. I am at peace with the cosmos, reposing in the pre-dawn hours, my fingers poised above the keyboard, ready to dance a minuet, the result emerging in the form of a piece of writing. I enjoy this creative process immensely, and nothing serves as perfect a setting, than the early morning stillness, that allows me to pursue my literary endeavors without distraction. I am in the process of running through a brief litany of tasks, preceding my written efforts, when I become aware that I am not alone in the room.
A scritching within a wall of the kitchen, indicates a visitor-and not a visitor I welcome with any degree of warmth or hospitality. The noise which accompanies this guest is not only irritating, it guarantees that what is going on within the confines of the wall, will result in trouble in the attic for me. Whereas we have lived up here on the mountain 31 years, we have probably only had a half-dozen or so invasions of mice.
The rules concerning wildlife are simple: stay outside of my space, and I have no problem; come inside the boundaries of my house, and it is all-out war, with no holds barred, and no prisoners taken. The days of the have-a-heart traps are over; now ruthlessness rears her ugly head.
The result is always the same; we set out the traps, take care of business, do a thorough pantry cleaning, and move on. Now, as I sit here, I ponder how on earth I am going to get inside the wall to get at the little beastie. I do not have to wait long, to realize that I will not need to get inside the wall; she comes to me, and I hear her again-in the pantry, I think. I go over, open the door, shine my headlamp around, shake a few packages of cereal, wait, and then return to my chair, leaving the pantry door open.
A minute later, I repeat the empty gesture, shaking some dried macaroni noodles, in a vain effort to force whatever is in there to show itself. I do this another three or four times, before I decide it is kind of pointless, so I leave the pantry door ajar, and decide to wait for the noise again. Inevitably, it starts up, only this time I listen without moving, taking in the direction from which the noise emanates, and realize the sound is actually coming from within a little side set of enclosed shelves, housing only two things: a row of cookbooks, and three shelves of preserved jars of goodness.
Shutting the pantry door, I open the side cupboard door, and staring me right in the face, is a billowing pile of shredded paper, the unmistakeable evidence of a mouse-nest. It is disconcerting, and a tad revolting, but not especially tragic; it just means we have to go back to some more aggressive means of dealing with the invader(s). An instant later, I catch my first glimpse of my adversary, a long, velvety smooth, gray mouse, the kind with the ears that stick straight up in the air, as opposed to lying flat against the head. She is calico-colored, with light gray alternating with a very dark shade of gray, and a white stomach.
I have met the enemy, and I am not impressed. I wonder vaguely why she is building a nest; she does not seem especially rotund, as she would if she were expecting, any time in the immediate future. Now I have in front of me, a little rodent, darting in and out the jars of peach preserves, and jars of tomato sauce. I reach for the first thing I can lay my hands on, and that is the flyswatter, which hangs behind the stove on its nail. Grabbing it, I begin thrusting it in between the jars, pursuing the little varmint, without knocking any of the jars off the shelf.
After going back and forth several times, she unexpectedly bails out, and skitters across the kitchen floor, diagonally from the corner where the pantry door is, to the opposite corner, where it miraculously vanishes beneath a panel of sheet rock, that covers a nine-inch-wide swath of wall, representing the end view of two walls, up against each other. There is a space between the two walls that was required for upstairs plumbing, the net result of which is a one-inch wide corridor between the two walls, through which the mouse has gained ingress and egress to the kitchen.
The good news is that the little thief has had to travel all the way to the other side of the kitchen to escape, indicating that it is probably the only way in and out. The bad news is that that little gap has existed in its present form for 25 years. That’s a lot of time for comings and goings. Now that I realize what is up, I think I can take care of it pretty handily. I snag a chunk of foil, and stuff it into the gap under the sheet rock, and figure that is the end of the story, except for cleaning up the detritus of the mouse-nest.
Unfortunately, not more than five minutes later, as I am approaching the mouse-home, rubber gloved, I become aware of tiny peeping noise(s), and pause, listening. No way to ignore it-I still have company. All of the sudden, the pieces fall into place. The mouse is not fat, because she has already had the blessed event take place, and I am hearing the result, firsthand. Knowing already what I will find, I poke and prod the recently-discovered nest, until I am able to count four little pink, somewhat curved sausages, with four tiny appendages each, identifiable as feet.
I will not dwell on the particulars, as I derive no enjoyment over the antiseptic means, with which I dispatch the little innocents, apologizing to the gods as I do so. There are no free passes in war.
I am intent on my writing, fifteen minutes later, my fingers dancing merrily over my keyboard, when I hear a scritching in the wall... Mama is back and she is frantic. She returns to the spot where, formerly, she was able to get into and out of the kitchen, only to find it now blocked with foil. She begins prying and digging at the tightly balled foil, making tiny, tinny noises, repetitious and determined.
As I listen, feeling simultaneously bad, for having been the cause of the demise of the babies, and for what I am contemplating doing to the mother, I remind myself, war is war. I admire her tenacity, and I can sense her air of desperation, as she encounters a metal barrier, where before there has been none. She must sense that the noise she is making will sound the alarm, yet maternal instinct propels her onward.
Now I start to get drawn into the arena of the strategist. What if I allow her to get through the barrier, only to blindside her the second she makes it under the foil? I can lie in wait, with my trusty flyswatter, which only has to stun her long enough for me to finish the job. When did I get so blood-thirsty? I think it was seeing all of that shredded paper, which undoubtedly came from the cookbooks that lined the top shelf where the nest existed. Sigh. Any thoughts of mercy dissipate as quickly as they appeared.
The plan is a good one and I wait, as the mouse has withdrawn back from the entrance, now that I have removed the foil, and am poised above the entrance. When she does show her whiskers again, it is only for an instant, before she pulls back again. Then again, she sticks her head out, and waits. Interminably it seems, but is only one full minute, before she withdraws again, only to dart out so quickly, that my flailing flyswatter never comes close. She is past me, all the way to the pantry door, where she once again disappears.
Now I know where she is, and I know where she wants to end up, so I contrive a little corral, formed by the door of the pantry, and a little chunk of plywood, that I retrieve from just outside the screen door, where it awaits transport to the workshop. I place the plywood so that it serves as the final wall of the enclosure formed by the pantry door, the cupboard of shelves where the mouse wants to return, with its open door, and the plywood. Of course I want to slam that cupboard door shut, as soon as the critter ventures outside the pantry door. And I again wait.
I want the little varmint trapped in my pen. With no way to escape, I will make short work of the situation, with a chunk of oak replacing the ineffective flyswatter. It’s called bringing in the big guns. So now I again wait. My patience is rewarded when the little sucker again goes through the drill of peeking, withdrawing, coming out again, and so forth, until she fully departs the pantry and dashes across the enclosure to the other side, where I have just slammed the door shut, trapping her outside both doors, but within my pen.
Except that the little miscreant has been too fast, and slipped into her original home-base, just ahead of the slamming door. I am saddened once again because I know she is going to proceed directly to the now-removed nest, where the only reminder that she is a mother, will be the rapidly fading scent of her babies, who now sleep with the potato peels, in the bottom of the compost bucket.
Short of having to remove the jars from the cupboard in order to gain access to the little jaboney, I await again, the pantry door shut, the corral awaiting the presence of a victim. Having come to the inevitable conclusion that her babies are gone, the mouse once again pokes her face outside of the cupboard door, goes though the drill, and ends up inside the pen after I slam the cupboard door shut.
She has lost her motivation to be greased lightning; her reason for venturing into dangerous waters has disappeared. She has lost more than a step, and I easily finish the job with a precise jab of my oak club. I am the great white hunter, but I am feeling less than great. Where is my sense of victory? Where is the euphoria of the victorious hunt and kill?
I don’t know-maybe at the bottom of the compost bucket. What was I going to do, bottle feed four blind mice? Transport the whole family out in the great outdoors? I don’t think so. When all is said and done, she broke the rules and she paid the price. It is the price of war.