All Creatures Great (and not so Great)

Posted by on Jun 3, 2006 in All things natural, Just for laughs | 0 comments

I have always taken a good deal of pride in my attitude about the natural world. I have no fear of anything that scurries about the ground on multiple legs, or even those strange reptiles with no legs at all. I credit a lot of things for making me fearless, not the least of which is watching my beloved grandmother pick up a rooster by the feet, march it to the chopping block, and sever it’s head from it’s body in one practiced whack of the ax. Her son, my father, had hunted by necessity as a lad to put food on the table during the long illness and subsequent death of his father. He loved being in woods and rivers, and if I wanted to tag along, I better be able to put my own worm on the hook and not complain about anything that crawled, bit me, or scuttled through the underbrush.

My fearlessness got me in trouble at Girl Scout camp when I picked up a little grey mouse that was sitting on my bunk. The startled wild mouse chomped down on my finger and held on tight. I shook my hand quickly and his small body landed in my adjacent water basin. My terrified screaming roommate ignored me totally, threw her basin over the top of mine, clasped it tightly in front of her, and ran 2 miles on a rough trail to the main office to summon help. The poor mouse did not survive her insane flight, so she arrived at the camp director’s office with a dead mouse in a washbasin, trying to tell her story while gasping for breath. I still think they way overreacted, sending the mouse to a lab to check for rabies, and taking me to town for tetanus shots. I considered myself lucky to get off with just one shot after I heard that if they hadn’t been able to test the mouse I would have had to have a series of rabies shots. I mostly left wild mice along afterwards, but continued to find all little creatures intriguing.

Eventually I came to live in the city where all living things have learned to adapt or die. The vermin that live in the shadows of the bright lights are hard, wary, and defensive, not like their more careless country kin. I was sitting outside my house in the wee small hours one morning, negotiating my immediate future with a young man, when I saw a long tailed beast walking boldly up the sidewalk. “Look”, I said, “it’s a opossum, I didn’t know they came into the city.” He rolled his eyes and said, “That’s not an opossum. It’s a rat”. I didn’t argue with him, but neither did I believe that rats got that big. It was a few months later when I opened my swinging kitchen door, flipped on the light, and saw one about the same size glaring at me from the kitchen counter. Now this was not the cute little mousy from my scout camp bunk, this was a street tough, hard core, gangster sort of animal, and you will forgive me if I backed out of the kitchen quietly. The very next day I said to hell with them all being Gods creatures and got in line at the Safeway with a big box of DeCon rat poison. I had heard the stories from other mothers at the playground and I wasn’t messing around with my child sleeping in the same house with that beast at large. Cora, my cat loving housemate, told me not to put out the poison because her precious Fluffy would chase off the bad rat. That very night I heard a blood curdling scream from the kitchen and a shout from Cora to put out the DeCon.

I noticed a strange rotting smell on the steps several weeks later, and with no new sighting, I considered our problem solved. My housemate still crept around warily, unable to smell what I told her was decomposing rat. She insisted I produce the body, but search as I might, the smell seemed elusive and impossible to track. Several months later, with the rat and the smell a memory, we decided to clear out an area behind the paneled wall of the basement. It looked like a good place for storage, and indeed, there was a lot of stuff stashed there. I heard the second rat related scream when I was on the way out the back door with a load for to put in the garbage cans. Dropping my bag, I ran back down to find Cora hyperventilating and unable to speak. She kept pointing to her hand and the spot behind the wall. I focused on her hand, believing her injured, but she was already headed to the sink for water and soap. I saw no wounds, but when she finally calmed down she explained that she had picked up what she believed to be a dirty cloth, and discovered she was holding a mummified rat carcass. Not wanting to be seriously injured, I did not say anything about my keen sense of smell.

When my husband and I first moved to the country with my firstborn and his big dog Bear, we had all been city dwellers for some time. It was fall, and the time for all living thing to find a warm winter nest. I’m sure the family of mice that took up residence in our house thought they had found a great spot. We had no cats, they could run in and out using the empty dryer vent, and the eats were great. I got tired of gnawed open cereal boxes and reluctantly decided to go the poison route again. With no clothes dryer, I was up every Saturday morning before light to start the wash, so it would have time to dry before the day was over. I shared the utility room with the dog, and his water dish sat on the floor near the washer, giving the mice a nice place to come for drinks and tidying up. I was working that morning in my bare feet, tossing towels and sheets into the machine. I kept stepping on something soggy and thinking there was a wet washcloth I needed to add to the load, I finally turned on the light. There on the floor was the squished body of a tiny field mouse that I had been walking on for about 10 minutes. I was thinking of Cora as I tried to form words and tell my husband why I was gasping for air and washing my foot with the garden hose.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *