OF MICE AND MEN, PART II

We share our old farmhouse house and grounds with the mice whose ancestors and ours did the same, with my species’progenitors being the newcomers to the scene. There were mice here long before humans and there will be mice here long after, I think.

I have learned a bit about mouse personalities, mainly that they in general mirror our own. We are not such different creatures as we humans would like to assume. There are brave mice, frightened mice, curious mice, introverted and extroverted mice and probably even contemplative mice who wonder about all this variety.

If they would learn to stay in one place, and take their eliminations outside, we would be happy to share our dwelling with the cute little critters, but alas, they will do neither. So we can’t have them in the pantry or the living spaces, getting into our food and laundry and other such places. Like many relationships that seem like they would be a good idea, but aren’t, we will have to break up.

I cannot abide the notion of poison, even if it would affect only the mouse that ate it. And killing traps are just too brutal. I tried that once for a mouse that we couldn’t seem to deter any other way and the result put me off such things forever. So after much research and many false starts, I have arrived at a kind of humane cage trap, a small version of what I use for the groundhogs when they get too numerous and intrusive.

I bait the live traps with a whole-wheat cracker smeared with peanut butter which seems to work better than cheese, despite hundreds of cartoons to the contrary. Some mice eat the whole thing overnight in the trap, sort of the equivalent of a human eating a family-size pizza all by himself. Others just nibble around the edges after eating the peanut butter off the top. Once in a while, a mouse will ignore the food entirely as if in self reproach for being so foolish as to allow temptation to put them in this fix.

When trapped, some mice seem to explore the cage with curiosity, not being bothered too much by me picking it up to look at them. The dog, who always must accompany me on our relocation trips, takes great interest in the mice and some come willingly to the wire to touch noses with him, perhaps understanding in some way that if they can’t get out, he can’t get in.

Some bounce all over the inside like some sort of CGI superhero in a movie. Others cower in a corner of the cage, remaining still so that predators such as humans can’t see them. Some hide under the trigger plate, with a thin tail sticking out being the only betrayal of their presence. One recent occupant managed to push the cracker up under the trigger plate, presumably to have something to eat while hiding.

At first I trapped them and took them up on the hill, about 500 feet from the house, on the other side of a creek that could be crossed on stepping stones that I thought were too wide apart for mice. I was wrong. For a while I was getting several at a time, nearly every morning. Then as I was releasing them, I noticed that instead of searching about wildly for shelter, as they had in the beginning, they were making a beeline for the brush pile near the release point. It hit me that these were the same mice and they had learned the routine. They were getting back to the house within a few hours, making it across the creek and looking forward to their next peanut butter treat and a ride up the hill. I had created a parkour course for mice with a reward at the end.

More reading revealed that two miles was the minimum necessary distance to put between me and them to dissuade their return.

Now I drive them to a patch of woods about four miles from the house, located beside an interstate highway, a “gore”, the triangular space between the entrance ramp and the two lane, about 3 acres or so. I can’t see that it could be developed in any way, certainly not in the reasonable life expectancy of a mouse. There are no houses nearby and I assume it is owned by the state or federal government as part of the highway right of way. It is rough woods, on a slope, with lots of underbrush for hiding places and nest sites. Not as cozy as our basement, I’m sure, but one can’t have everything one wants, regardless of species.

Our rate of incursion has dropped dramatically, now one or two a month at most, usually only in the cold weather or during severe rainstorms. I have no illusions, however, that I have won the battle for the territory. They will continue to find a way and eventually I will be gone and they will be here, waiting to challenge the next resident.

About johngrice

Retired small town lawyer, lifelong motorcyclist, traveler and old guy sitting around thinking.
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