They can be scary, those encounters with the animal kingdom: close up, when you least expect them. I sure wasn’t prepared for one when I got up from the couch and put my headlamp on to visit the outhouse one more time before going to bed. I gave the cabin door, which always sticks when it’s wet out, a great heave to pull it open, heard a thud and found myself face to face with an animal that must have clung to the outside of the door and had now fallen into the cabin.
“Argh,” I gargled, and understood for the first time the impulse to climb to higher ground when confronted with a mouse. That’s all it was – a beady eyed deer mouse, just as startled as I was, crouched on the floor in front of my gumbooted feet, frozen in the white beam of my headlamp. Her long whiskers quivered uneasily.
“What?” Sam wanted to know.
“Just a mouse, it fell off the door,” I said, already feeling foolish. But what to do, how to get it out again? “It’s sitting here, inside!”
“Step on it,” Sam said laconically.
I looked at him in disbelief. “On the mouse? Are you nuts?” The little rodent recovered her wits or else grasped the deadly tenor of this conversation and quickly ran past the wood stove, behind the boot collection and underneath the sofa that Sam was sitting on. Sam took a dim view of the way things were developing: “Great, that’s just great. Why didn’t you just kill it? Do you know what a mess that mouse is going to make? All that chicken feed and dog food in here, the rolled oats, the bread … Maybe it’s a female, do you know how fast they multiply?”
“Oh come on, we’ll just set a few traps, what’s the big deal? Anyway, I have to pee.” I left man and mouse to attend to my urgent business.
And that’s how our reluctant experiment in cohabitation began, for the mouse wouldn’t let itself be caught in the traps. It’s not that she seemed too favourably impressed by her new surroundings: twice, I watched her as, clinging to the door, she flattened her body to sickening proportions and tried to squeeze through the crack. But she couldn’t achieve the paper thinness required for such a feat and when I went over to assist by opening the door, the mouse just duplicated her falling off the door act that had originally gotten her into this mess and scurried back behind the bags of chicken feed.
Little dark pellets began to appear on the counters, on the bookshelf, and some evenings we listened to a quiet, metallic swishing sound as the mouse danced in the empty dog bowls or licked them clean. To our dismay, the dogs seemed to have accepted the new tenant from the get-go. Nooka and Milan are, after all, excellent mousers, not only hunting down and digging out voles and mice around the cabin and in the garden, but eating what they catch. Now, however, they turned a deaf ear to the pitter-patter of little feet.
Stunned, Sam and I watched as the mouse ran along the wall straight to Milan’s blanket, along its edge and then stopped for a rest about four inches from the dog’s nose. Milan opened his eyes, looked at the mouse and succumbed to sleep again. The mouse cleaned her whiskers, bade her canine friend goodbye and continued on into the kitchen, by now with Sam in hot pursuit, a deadly slipper clutched in his hand.
“What kind of useless dogs are you guys, anyway,” Sam demanded from Milan in rage when the mouse escaped unharmed underneath our propane stove. The dog wagged his tail tip hesitantly.
“You know what, it’s probably because we’ve had all kinds of injured and baby animals in here and the dogs have always had to be good and ignore them,” I said. What an unfortunate side-effect this in-house mouse tolerance was, though. Sam sighed and reluctantly agreed.
In the end, after days of evading the traps, slippers, and dogs, the mouse came to an unexpected end. We had been out with the dogs and when we returned, there lay the mouse, dead on Nooka’s blanket – maybe succumbed to a lack of water or too much stress. I’m just glad it was only a mouse and not a bear.
Lisa Hasselbring is a writer who
lives at the headwaters of the Yukon River south of Whitehorse.