the mousetrap mystery

'Bring mousetraps. Some fruit and veggies, but don't forget the mousetraps. They are all disappearing.

‘Bring mousetraps. Some fruit and veggies, but don’t forget the mousetraps. They are all disappearing.” I detected a note of panic in Sam’s voice. Apparently during my absence, mice had started to make themselves at home in our roof and voles had begun to clear cut our tomato plants. Sam was a bushman beleaguered by rodents and something out there stole the traps with the little corpses still in them.

At the store, I grabbed a few of the old-fashioned, simple traps. A trial of the clunky plastic ones, where the mouse has to pass an IQ test in the form of raising a tiny cover over the bait, had proved that our mice were none too savvy. Only the odd one bothered to be executed by its own skill and curiosity in those traps.

Another way of getting rid of mice is, of course, putting out a bucket trap where the unlucky rodent falls into water and eventually drowns. But I find that a particularly inhumane, if efficient way of killing, even if it is transporting “only” mice into the next world. If one needs to kill another creature, it seems to me that our status as an intelligent and compassionate species mandates us to kill quickly and inflict as little suffering as possible.

When I arrived at our wilderness home after my two-week stint in civilization, Sam showed only a fleeting interest in the new books, the coconut chocolate and the mangoes I had brought in. “And the traps?” he anxiously asked. Mice were step-dancing at night in the roof, right over his head. The greenhouse was slaughter field of chewed plants. As one trap after another had disappeared, Sam’s combat arsenal had dwindled down to the IQ-test traps, which remained peacefully undisturbed, while the mouse and vole population established a firm foothold in the cabin and garden.

“But where did all those traps go? Do you think an ermine made off with them?” I was baffled. Every now and then, a mouse will rattle off with a trap if it got caught only with a leg. But six or eight traps vanishing within two weeks?

“I don’t know if an ermine would bother with a mouse that’s already dead and stiff. When I went in the mornings to check the traps, they were usually still there and mice in them. But then I would go and have breakfast before emptying out the traps and next thing I knew, the traps had gone.” Sam began to feverishly tear off the plastic wrap that the traps were packaged in. “Maybe I’m going to drill a hole into these guys here, attach a wire and tie them to a nail or something. Then they can’t be dragged away anymore and maybe we’ll find out what’s carting them off all the time.”

After unpacking, I went out for a tour of the garden and greenhouse with Sam. It looked like jungle compared to when I had left. Except for the sadly diminished tomato patch. The remaining plants were fortified with metal stem protectors fashioned from tin cans. We left the scene of destruction to admire the peas.

“Those bastards!” Sam grabbed three shrivelled looking plants which immediately detached from the pea neighbour they were leaning against. Bitterly, Sam pointed at the chewed off stems. “Now they’re eating them too.”

“We’ll put up the traps right away,” I said soothingly and handed him a couple. We baited them with tomato leaves for the voles and used peanut butter for the traps around the cabin, geared at mice. Grey jays fluttered from tree to tree, eyeing our efforts, while hummingbirds zoomed by like combat aircraft. It was good to be back home, even if it meant entering the rodent war. “Lots of birds around,” I commented to Sam.

Two days later, after much grey jay activity in the mornings, we realized that they were the trap thieves. Or at least, this has remained our best guess. Pecking and tugging away at the mouse corpses in the traps, the jays kept flying into the air. But the traps, tethered to their little stakes, would not be carted off. Nervously, the grey jays landed again, pecked at the mice and flew up in another attempt to make off with their prize – in vain.

We shook the dead mice out of the traps for the birds. Satisfied that this mystery was solved, I still wonder about those other traps. Maybe a future anthropologist will be puzzled by the little pile of ancient mouse traps stashed, for some reason, up in a tree.

Lisa Hasselbring is a writer who lives at the headwaters of the Yukon River south of Whitehorse.