October 25, 2010
As for me, I was perfectly willing to let the little fella have the run of the house.
He looked out of the narrow trap, little button eyes shiny as glass in the beam of the flashlight, his right forepaw still resting on the peanut.
I mean, we were going to be at the little cottage on the northern Maine coast for three days. He was there all year. Who the hell am I to tell him he doesn’t belong?
It was the first visit for us. The place belongs to good friends, who had been urging us to give it a try for years and years.
There is no electricity, only a generator. And it’s maybe five miles to a paved road. For light, the house was piped for gas lamps, and there were plenty of kerosene lanterns, and a fireplace.
The house was so close to the shore that at high tide it was like living on a houseboat. It was invigorating.
So, filled with the pioneer spirit, I said what the hell. Leave the little critters alone. We kept our food put away, not that they ate much. And if you can’t live with a little bit nibbled off your bar of soap, well, you should stay in the ‘burbs.
Look, it’s Maine. It could have been worse. I was happy it wasn’t bears or moose. Bears smell bad, a moose can take out a lot of crockery with those antlers.
But I made the tactical error of telling my friend Candy about our roommates in a phone call.
Candy, it turns out, is not overly fond of mice. I don’t know how this came about, given that she and Alan have a platoon or more of Special Forces trained cats, and has probably not actually seen a mouse since the Carter Administration.
She got pretty excited. Candy at top RPM is a force of nature, a sort tsunami in a minivan.
She told me where to find the traps. There are the traditional wooden guillotine types that bash the critters’ heads in, and there are little Hav-A-Hart traps that capture them alive so you can release them out in the woods.
Naturally, I chose the latter, figuring that of all the sins I have committed in a long and interesting life, the murder of a couple of Mainiac mice would not be on the ledger.
The little traps are quite ingenious, really. A long, narrow box with a scoop-shaped trap door at the front, hinged at the top. The trap rests on its back end and on a little bar on the bottom just behind the front door. There is no mechanism. The weight of Mickey stepping into the trap makes the door fall shut, and Mr. Bright Eyes is in the slammer.
I dropped a few roasted peanuts into the box, laid the lid back, and set the trap on the kitchen counter.
I went back to my reading table and its kerosene lamp and settled in to squint at my book. My admiration for Abraham Lincoln grew steadily.
I heard a funny little plastic sound and an alarmed squeak. And there I was looking at the little guy with his bright black eyes. I swear he looked worried. Don’t worry, my friend, I told him, I’m going to put you out where you can make your living without leaving mouse emissions in the soap dish.
A little way out in the woods, I let him go.
I came in the house and set the trap again. Within moments, I heard the lid pop shut. Flashlight in hand, I lifted the trap door. No mouse. But the peanut was gone.
I set the trap again, baited with another roasted peanut.
Same thing, maybe 10 minutes later; no peanut, and no mouse.
I looked over at the drawer where the guillotine traps laid, springs coiled and ready for their dark purpose. I was tempted. My little friend had outsmarted the kinder, gentler trap three times. Did I really want to let a mouse with those kinds of smarts remain in the gene pool? Lots of Grade B Sci-Fi movie plots unspooled in my mind. Race of supermice building strength in the Forests of Maine, waiting for The Right Moment. That sort of thing.
I put the trap down, and went to get ready for bed. I may have left one or two peanuts on the counter by mistake. I really don’t remember. As I rolled myself up in the comforter for the long, cold night ahead, I think I heard him skittering and scampering here and there, and I might have heard what could have been the sound of gnawing on peanuts that might have accidentally been left behind.
I fluffed my pillow.
“G’night, Einstein,” I said, and settled in for the night.
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