My grandma managed a two story, ramshackle hotel in Boynton Beach, Florida some decades back. The structure is gone but my memories remain. One of the most vivid happened during one of our family’s summer visits.
I had not gotten my way about something, and rushed into my hotel room to fret, slamming the door behind me. The slam disturbed a horde of rats that came running out from under the bed. It was a frightful and absurd experience. Grandma came to my rescue (I must’ve screamed), and attacked the rats with a vengeance. She whacked at the scurrying creatures with a heavy broom, and as I watched from my perch on top of the bed, I saw one dark grey rat run across the exposed flesh of her foot, clad in a flip flop. Shiver!
Rats in my mind are nasty, though my friend owned a hairless rat as a pet, and people like to remind me that the sweet backyard squirrel is nothing more than a rat with a fluffy tail.
Mice are not rats. I looked them up. They’re different – cleaner, nicer and cuter.
Months ago, I was feeding peanuts to baby possum. One evening, I saw a fleeting movement. What was it? I kept watch, and was rewarded with my first mouse sighting. The little thief was stealing peanuts. It was swift and soundless. It came from – somewhere – and then disappeared. I was enchanted.
Sometime before, I had noticed a small, round hole in a flower bed outside my backdoor. I filled it up, curious about its digger. Days later, the hole reappeared. Across the path in another flower bed, I found another hole. The dimensions were the same. I covered it up. It reappeared. This continued a few weeks until I filled the second hole with cement and covered it with gravel.
By then, I’d spotted the mouse and belatedly figured things out. One afternoon, I watched as one, two, three mice exited their hole, scrambled over the gravel and found bits of birdseed I’d left for the Cardinals.
Meanwhile, I was hearing odd noises inside my laundry room. Something was chewing, crunching, grinding. The sounds always came late at night. I’d rush in, pound my feet on the floor in a mad human attempt to scare away whatever was destroying the foundation of my home.
When the outdoor holes opened up again, I gave up. The inside noises stopped. The possums stopped coming for peanuts. Then one night, a new set of sounds came from the laundry room, behind the water heater, far from light and out of reach. These were the unmistakable squeaks of a newborn animal. Plural. Animals.
Aaah, the mice had found their new digs. They ate their way through the wood foundation and tile flooring and set up camp in a safe, dark spot just in time for the delivery of a new family.
Now came the realization that actions have consequences. If you feed the mice, they will come. The cute guys with the round ears and soft bodies will bulldoze their way in, bring their little suitcases and nesting material while crafting no less than three points of egress.
Maybe mice are not so cute anymore.
The new family was hungry. My cat would whine at her always empty dish. I began storing her leftovers in a plastic bin. The mice got into a bag of corncob. I had to move that, and the thistle and sunflower seeds into another room.
I would hear them racing across the dryer vent. Mice at play. They’re rambunctious. I’d catch a flash of grey between the washer and dryer as the micelings frolicked. My cat watched, ears forward, yet motionless, unable to squeeze through the cracks that led to micedom.
One afternoon, I entered their room and heard a crackling sound. I traced it to the garbage can. Oh look! A mouse, caught at the bottom. It looked up at me with surprise and terror. It lurched for the top, couldn’t get purchase. Jumped again and again. What to do? I opened the door, grabbed the container and immediately, the mouse began screaming.
This was the most plaintive, heartbreaking, animal scream ever to enter my ears. It tore at my heart. It was a cry for momma – a save me from death – scream. Quickly, I pulled the container to the door, tilted it forward and the mouse flew out, flying a good four feet in the air, landing beyond its outdoor hole and ran off around the corner.
Good lord, what to do?
I talked it over with close friends (housing mice isn’t a subject for everyone). I researched humane methods of removal. For awhile, I hoped on their nature – that they would move out of my home and into the wilds of my backyard just like the arrival and departure of the raccoons and possum before them.
For a few weeks, I tried the peppermint strategy. Mice hate peppermint. I soaked gauze pads in oil of peppermint and tossed them in the play spaces and nesting area. My laundry room was lifted in the fresh scent of mint.
There was silence. No scurrying. No mice in the trash. One day, two days, three days. I declared victory.
On day four, the mice returned.
This has been going on now for two months. I’ll be buying ultrasound machines next. I guess. I’ve procrastinated about this. These can bring on convulsions, cause brain injury. I don’t hate the mice and I don’t want to harm them. I don’t want to cause that wrenching mouse scream again. I just want my laundry room back.
It’s difficult living with one foot in the wild and one in domesticity. In fact, it’s not possible. The wild belong in the wild.