Story by Cris Paravicini
Recently, I headed out to run my trap line at one of the summer homes where I'm the "damage control expert." The first trap was as hungry as when I had set it the week before. I was disappointed, because I'd painstakingly calculated the creature's trails of urine and droppings to and from its meal, its mate, and its lodging. This trap, too, had been baited with a special scent that could whistle in critters from all corners of the county, and was blessed with a hair-trigger set sensitive enough to catch even the faintest whisper.
The second trap was sprung and empty, too. It lay there taunting me - upside down in a tangled wreck. Something had wrestled desperately to escape the trap's gaping mouth, and all that remained to tell the story of the brave battle was a clipping of grayish-brown fur and one twisted claw.
As I approached my third trap - the one I almost didn't set and then forgot to bait - I could see that it had more than done its job. The jaws had snapped shut at just the precise moment and swiftly, almost painlessly, crushed the intruder's neck. His wide, bulging, black eyes stared at his once peaceful world, as if still trying to see what horror had snatched the life from his unsuspecting body. I pried the trap open, scraped the body loose, and gave it a mighty heave into the nearby stream where the evidence of The Great Mouse Hunt floated silently away.
Mice, it seems, have always trailed through my life in some form or the other. My first memory of the little rodent was when I was a little girl living with my family in the lopsided homestead house that still sits here on the ranch. On rainy nights the mice always held a grand ball in the ceiling above my bed. As the lightning burned and the thunder growled - magnifying all my childhood ghosts - it was the tiny, carefree feet of "one thousand" dancing mice that would take away the terrible lonesome of a stormy night.
But a problem arose soon after, with this same herd of mice prompting the sage advice of "Uncle" Buck Baker, the elderly gentleman from whom my folks had bought the ranch. Uncle Buck addressed my mom's dilemma. "Why, that mouse poop will sift right outta your flour, Pat."
So Mom gritted her teeth, and for a while, sifted the flour from the bin each time she made biscuits, pancakes, bread, and pies. One day, though, when she pulled open the bin door, a mouse jumped out of the speckled flour, straight at her. She couldn't stand it any longer and rounded up a mouse-proof container from "Grandma" Ruth Hardy.
One day, my mom again questioned Uncle Buck about the putrid odor that was coming from beneath the kitchen floorboards. "It smells like an elephant died under there. What do you think it is?"
"Oh, don't worry, kid, it's just a little, old mouse," he replied, encouragingly. "It happens all the time. The smell will go away in a few days." He was right on all counts.
My dad's answer to our surplus of mice, however, was to have a great mouse hunt of his own. He filled a five-gallon bucket with water and rigged a wobbly, hand-carved, wooden paddle that bridged the span of water. On the paddle, he smeared a universal scent - peanut butter. Every night when we'd hear that "Mouse overboard!" sound, my dad would fish the victim from the water by his limp tail, step out the back door, and give him a burial in the irrigating ditch. All the German Browns in the deep hole near the house soon began to like this arrangement. One night as the moonlight shimmered across its liquid mirror, we watched a big, athletic lunker jump from the water and snatch the mouse from the mid-air toss.
Eventually, we moved out of the old house, but the mice didn't. They stayed on to harass the hay crews that bunked there - chewing the pages of Louis
L'Amour and nibbling on the men's hair as they slept, only then to perch boldly at the foot of the bed, licking their paws and washing behind their furry ears.
To this day, mice are with me still, quietly roaming the winter hallways of summer homes and peacefully homesteading in the haystacks and barns. But, sometimes, the fork's in the other hand and the surprise is up "your" sleeve. Because there's nothing quite like the feel of a mouse scooting up the ragged arm of a baggy chore coat with a bad zipper, as you reach deep into the bottom of a dark, 50-gallon barrel to scoop up a coffee can of oats. No respectable words can describe how both you and that mouse regret this accident as his panic quickly matches yours, and the race is on to see whether you will rip free of the feather coat, or the mouse will make it to your armpit, first.
But, after it's all been said and done, I guess I respect and admire a mouse's dedication to his simple way of life. They don't care in whose off-season long johns they nest, or into whose recliner they stash a winter's supply of dog pellets.
Mice live just as happily in a shanty as in an elegant mansion, and they don't care if you're rich or poor, eat beans or caviar, or live in town or the countryside. And if your offerings are meager, mice still make the best of what's set before them.
Judging from the signs, I reckon mice will long be residents of Sublette County, raising families, sharing in the bounty of the day, and hanging on until the end of the ride.
|The Pearson Angus Ranch is located approximately 2 miles
northwest of Daniel, and 11 miles west of Pinedale, Wyoming. Cris can be
reached by e-mail at: email@example.com.
Copyrights: Photos and page text content copyrighted,
Cris Paravicini, 1999. No part may be reproduced without permission of
the author/photographer. Page graphics copyrighted, Pinedale Online, 1999.