It’s widely known that my wife and I keep a house where drop-ins are not only welcome, but an occasion to open a bottle and set out something tasty. Maybe that’s why the mouse showed up last week.
There’s a limit to our hospitality, though. This critter was on the far side of it.
I blame the red fox that used to trot beside my fence on his evening rounds. He seems to have moved on and, coincidentally, I’m seeing more of what the science writer Hannah Holmes calls “grocery species” — those little, fast-breeding animals that bigger predators find so delicious.
None of them are as majestic as that fox, but I still enjoy watching the rabbits, squirrels and chipmunks scamper around the yard. And even the mice I wouldn’t mind, if they’d have the decency to stay on their side of my back door.
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But most years lately, right around this point in the calendar, one or two of them evidently notice how much warmer the house is and get it into their tiny heads that they should move in. They’ll scurry indoors to live the high life for a day or two until the snap of trap ends it all.
I thought it might be different this year with a dog in the house — and one with a good dose of terrier in him, at that. But either mice don’t hold the same thrill for Jack as the squirrels he chases do, or they’re just as good at staying several steps ahead of him.
As usual, it was going to be up to me to catch the intruder. I wanted to spare Jack from stepping on a mousetrap, though, so I took a coworker’s advice and set a safe live trap next to the dog dish. If all went well, the aroma of peanut butter would lure a mouse through a one-way gate sometime during the night.
All went well.
In the morning, a bulging pair of black eyes shot me a terrified glance through the trap’s clear top and then a furry flash disappeared into a corner of the box.
Jack and I jogged with the trap to a lake a mile away as the sun came up, and I plopped the mouse onto the ground under an evergreen beside the water. It wasn’t much of a substitute for a heated home, but there looked to be enough leaf litter and soft soil to keep the cold at bay, and a trash can nearby looked like a fine mouse pantry.
But I’ll be honest: I’m not real hopeful for the little guy.
Lovely as the lake is during the day, when ducks glide past geese, and squirrels dart up and down the surrounding trees, it’s dangerous for grocery species come nightfall. A pair of great horned owls patrol until dawn, and I sometimes see a kestrel take over from them as soon as the rising sun overwhelms the stars.
Jack and I passed under the owls just before sunrise one morning this week. One of them repeated a five-hoot salute as we crossed a field and its mate eyed us silently from the top of a bare tree. In moments, they both flew off toward the lake.
The thought dawned that I’m the critter that scampers uninvited through their home, and they seemed to be letting me know that I didn’t pass unnoticed. But at least I didn’t always come as empty-handed as the mouse in my house did.
I hope they found the morsel I left them under the evergreen.
Richard Espinoza is a former editor of the Johnson County Neighborhood News. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.