I released Number 17 a few days ago.
Mouse Number 17.
This is an embarrassing confession.
I had a mouse infestation. A doozy.
For years my straw bale walls harbored nothing that concerned me. Occasionally a mouse got in the house, and Coco the cat was on the job in no time. Good boy.
Until one night, when I was awakened by the pitter-patter of tiny feet, trotting on the paneled ceiling above my head. There were many. Definitely.
All Coco could do was listen to their tiny tootsies, running races above us. Must have frustrated him. One evening an errant mouse went exploring and dropped down from the ceiling onto the floor of the loft. Coco was on him. He meowed for me to come look, his mouth full of a squirming critter.
“Good boy,” I said. Then he dropped it, and the mouse scampered right in front of me and ran behind a dresser. Coco stood guard for several hours, but the mouse had retreated into the ceiling, into the walls, foiling my hunter.
I baited live traps with peanut butter on crackers. I slipped the traps through an access door to the ceiling, and the great mouse capture began.
There was a pattern. About 11:00 PM the entire gang was running laps on the ceiling planking, leaping electrical wires and dancing jigs. Then around 3:00 AM, I’d hear them nosing the plastic traps, and a door would spring. Frantic thrashing ensued, the captured mouse seeking escape.
The noise kept me awake, so I’d get up, retrieve the trap, and move it to the holding area outside on the porch. For the rest of the night, I wouldn’t hear much noise.
Soon after dawn, I’d take the frightened mouse, balled-up in the end of the trap, to the release area a few minutes’ walk up the street. I’d set it free into the big world beyond the straw bales, wishing it good luck at the bottom of the food chain. Deer mice have huge ears and large innocent eyes; that’s what I thought as it bounded away.
Then I’d rinse the trap in a bucket of water outside and reset it.
I kept count as I released one after the other, figuring there’d been at least three litters of deer mice raised on the seeds in the straw bales.
And the most frightening question I asked was, will I ever get ahead of the mouse population at home in my walls? They breed any time of the year with up to eleven pups per litter, with an average of four to six. Females reach sexual maturity after 35 days. If I didn’t get them all in one growing cycle, I could have a permanent infestation.
I continued trapping, noting each individual animal. Mouse Number 13 was a real heartbreaker. It stayed paralyzed in the trap, refusing to move when I opened the door. When I finally shook it out, it cowered on the ground for the longest time, shocked in its new environment. It limped away, unable to orient itself to dirt and juniper trees.
Mouse Number 15 was a real fighter. While in the holding area, it gnawed the plastic nub under which the spring door catches for resetting the trap. Number 15 destroyed that live trap.
There were fully grown adults and young ones, some with ungainly huge ears and some with budding ears. Some got their long tails caught in the spring door, and I had to push on the door so they could pull their tail inside. I apologized to each one.
But then it happened. One night the bait was gone, and the spring door remained untriggered.
They were teaming up. One mouse must have been holding the door down while the other nabbed the bait.
Then the captures ceased.
The rodents are still there, at least I think so. Sometimes I hear a light scamper. Whispers. Plotting.
They know. They know to stay away from the baited live traps. The kingpin issued warnings. “If you want to stay in our comfy straw walls, stay away from the peanut butter.”
They’re social animals, after all. They bunch up and sleep together, share warmth and stories. Tales of Grandma Bess and Uncle Harry and Little Norman, becoming too bold and adventurous, thirsting for the butter, being whisked away to distant lands. Or maybe eaten.
The survivors are busy now, whispering and churning out future generations, wiser and determined to stay in their protected village. Maybe they’re sending an ultrasonic signal to their released relatives, calling them back to their paradise in the shelter of the straw bales.