When Bev and I decided to build our home in the woods, we looked forward to encountering the local wildlife on a regular basis and we have not been disappointed. Over the nine or ten years that we have lived here we have looked out our windows and seen everything from squirrels and chipmunks to foxes and bears. Whitetail deer and turkeys are not uncommon and the occasional striped skunk can add excitement to mundane chores like bringing in the groceries. The mixed oak forest surrounding our house is always busy with birds. In the spring and summer the tiny songbirds whistle away in the tree tops mostly unseen apart from a flash of feather here and there. While most of our local birds would rather be heard than seen, we do get the infrequent extroverts like the impossibly bright Scarlet Tanagers and Bluebirds wearing a pastel pallet of blue and rusty-orange. By the time the leaves come down in the fall the fair weather birds have fled south. Our patch of woods is left to the heartier, year-round residents like the chipper little Chickadees and Nuthatches. We often see several species of Woodpeckers including the diminutive Downy Woodpecker and, the undisputed heavyweight champion, Pileated Woodpecker who wields his beak like a jackhammer in pursuit of ants and grubs burrowed deep under bark and cambium.
We live in a truly idyllic setting but, just as most idealists eventually meet with reality, we have had to face the facts that those Whitetails do host Deer Ticks and a family of Black Bears can sure make a mess of the garbage.
Our largest source of human/wildlife conflict has been with one of our smallest neighbors – the resident mouse population. To be clear, we have never seen any evidence of mice in our house, but our vehicles are another story. Apparently when your average mouse sees a parked car or truck she does not see a noisy, smelly, dangerous machine, she sees... home. I’m picturing a tiny mouse real estate agent leading prospective mouse families through the air vents of my Ranger squeaking things like “And down this hallway is a lovely little spot for a nursery. It wouldn’t take much, some shredded leaves and tissue paper, a little fur and you’ve got a cozy little nest all snug and dry and with great security.” Like any good salesman, he glosses over the negatives “The house is a bit transitory in nature but you’ll find it is almost always parked right here overnight.” “It’s a great opportunity for outward mobility.” “A lot of my clients find stationary housing quite confining after experiencing life on the open road.” And Mr. and Mrs. Mouse are soon in a room with their lawyer signing here and here and here and initialing here, here, here, here, here and there (mouse mortgages being much shorter than ours of course).
There is nothing quite like jumping in your truck on a hot summer’s day, cranking the AC all the way up, and being engulfed in your own little personal ticker-tape parade as the shredded remnants of the nursery come streaming out the vents. Worse still were the sickening crunches and thuds when Bev turned on the vent fan in her Suzuki. After a few days our noses confirmed our suspicions and she took her car in for servicing. The bill reads “Labor to remove mouse nest and three mice (deceased) from blower motor and replace cabin air filter.” Parts and labor $108. Then there was the morning I jumped into my truck, cranked the engine, heard a squishy sort of thump from under the hood and immediately lost my power steering. Upon opening the hood I was treated to a shower of nuts and seeds raining down from the insulating blanket under the hood. My serpentine belt was lying unbroken next to the pulleys, apparently dislodged by the unfortunate rodent that happened to be perched on the belt when I started the truck. I don’t have the bill from that episode but it wasn’t cheap.
Not every mouse/vehicle encounter has ended in tragedy for the mouse and expense for us. For instance there was the time that I stopped at the local video rental store on my way home from picking up a pizza. As I got back into the truck I saw that a mouse had been lured up onto the seat by the savory smells of cheese and pepperoni. Upon suddenly having what I can only assume is a mouse’s ultimate food fantasy (one small mouse, one large, steaming hot pizza…) interrupted in terror the mouse headed for daylight. The passenger window cut short his run for freedom and he hunkered down on the window ledge frozen with fear. Knowing a good opportunity to rid my truck of a mouse when I see one, I quickly powered down the window. The mouse was apparently too scared to notice so I slowly leaned over and flicked him out with my finger. He scampered off across the parking lot to find his way on the mean streets of Tyrone.
A few months later I experienced déjà vu when I got back in my truck at the same video rental store and once again saw a mouse on the passenger seat. The mouse had apparently read the script and immediately scrambled to the passenger window ledge and hunkered down. I knew just what to do so I powered down the window and started my slow lean towards the mouse. Before I could get within flicking distance a car pulled into the space beside my truck. Now I’m no Emily Post, but I do know that it is not polite to go flicking mice at strangers in the movie store parking lot. The mouse resolved my dilemma by crawling to the outside of the window ledge allowing me to put the window up. So there I was, sitting in the parking lot with a complete stranger pointing and laughing and mouthing “There’s a mouse on your truck.” I just nodded and waved but I was thinking, I should have flicked it at him when I had the chance.
I turned out of the parking lot and headed toward home. The mouse decided to stay put on the window ledge since I seemed to be going his way. At 25 MPH down Pennsylvania Avenue he was doing pretty good. His ears rippled in the wind and his whiskers streamed back over his cheeks. When I made the turn onto RT 453 and began to accelerate, 35…45…50 MPH I could see determination on that little mousy face. By the time I hit cruising speed of 60, determination gave way to desperation. His ears were flapping like a tent in a storm on Everest in a National Geographic Special. His whiskers were vibrating too fast to see and the end of his tail was a blur. We traveled like this for more than a mile and with only a couple of miles to go I have to admit I was starting to root for the little guy to make it home. Alas, it was not to be, and as we rounded the bend down by the river we parted ways. I swear he looked just like a minuscule sky diver, legs splayed, back arched as he shot from my vision but I’m pretty sure I just imagined the tiny “Bonsaiiiii… “ that I heard as he left the window ledge. I like to think that he landed on something soft and survived to tell the tale. I realize that the odds don’t favor that outcome but either way, what a way to go!
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© Allan Sutley 2015