mice, pinecones, and falling baby robins
Sunday, May 30 2010
Over the years there have occasionally been Deer Mice living in our gas-powered kitchen range. There is a void beneath its top surface, around the base of all the burners, where crumbs occasionally fall through. Having an area of about five square feet and headroom of several inches, for mice it's like the level of a parking structure. They can slip out through a gap in the back and wander the countertop to the kitchen sink or over to where the garlic and dry commodities like flour, sugar, and rice are stored. All that stuff is normally stored in sealed containers, though it's not uncommon for us to leave a frying pan half-full of food (pasta, beans, Indian food, etc.) on the stove all night long, and usually food in that state is not sufficiently sealed to keep out mice. I know there have been lots of mice in the stove over the years because two years ago when I'd been working on the stove hood project, I'd had to open up the stove's top surface for some reason, and when I did so I'd discovered that the floor of the void beneath its surface had been completely covered with mouse droppings.
Normally the impact of any mice living in the stove is minor and can be safely ignored. But lately there has been some sort of mouse population explosion seemingly centered around that stove. Every morning I find myself having to clean fresh mouse turds off the stove and counter tops, where they resemble spilled caraway seeds. If I'm not careful with the piling of pots and pans, I'll also find evidence of them having reached into the lower cabinets. The mice seem to shit pretty much everywhere they go, including in the food they're in the process of eating. Their presence hasn't escaped the notice of the cats either, particularly Wilma. She spends most evenings camped out on the floor nearby, and in the morning it's not uncommon to find her lifeless little victims, who must have jumped like lemmings from the countertop in hopes of escaping the crowding of their circumscribed homeland.
Yesterday I'd taken delivery of a couple of Havahart mouse traps, which catch mice alive (because, unlike the Tin Man, I have a heart). It wouldn't make much sense to catch House Mice alive only to release them into, say, the forest, which is not their natural habitat. But the mice that plague us are native Deer Mice, and before the arrival of Europeans they lived happily in hollow trees and fallen logs. So I'd baited the traps with peanut butter and set them on the stovetop.
Within an hour, both traps had fallen shut, but the mice had evaded capture. The traps work by tilting under the weight of the mouse, causing a door to fall down and catch behind a latch. Evidently the door had been falling before the mouse was safely inside. So after a few more failed attempts, I'd relocated the traps to the granite countertop. And in this location, for whatever reason, one of the traps had finally worked. I'd opened it up and inside had been a cute little mouse staring back at me. So I'd taken the mouse down the farm road or up Dug Hill Road and released it. This had happened three times.
By today, the trap was no longer tripping and I wasn't finding any more caraway seeds sprinkled on the counter top. It seemed I had rolled back the rodential demographic tide. So I cleared the counters and gave everything a scrub, including the lids of some of the dry foods, some of which were speckled with mouse shit.
I drove into town this afternoon to get more cheap booze and a replacement shut-off valve for the washing machine. After I'd loaded up the dogs (who'd been bored and were, as always, very excited to be going for a ride), Ray came up from the basement and asked if he could go. He said that he was feeling, well, bored. On the way back from town, I stopped on the Esopus floodplain across Wynkoop from the Hurley Mountain Inn and Ray helped me collect five buckets of fill from one of the Town of Hurley piles. Usually I try to just get topsoil, but this stuff was more like rock flour mixed with organic matter. I ended up using it to cover and regrade some of the exposed clay adjacent to tomato patch number two, what might be the most creatively-mulched garden on all of Dug Hill Road. I say this because the mulch is a tiled pattern comprised of whole pinecones, and it looks really good.
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