Joco Diversions

Of mice and men: Humans can’t seem to resist the urge to tamper with nature

A little mouse much like this recently disrupted the peace for Richard Espinoza.
A little mouse much like this recently disrupted the peace for Richard Espinoza. Associated Press

Lying with my eyes wide open in the pitch black night not too long ago, I ruminated on big questions.

Do I, among all creatures great and small, really have claim to this sliver of earth where I rest my head? And if I do, why on earth did one of those creatures small just scamper over my resting head?

The feeling of a mouse’s tiny feet speeding across your cheek does a great job of jolting you instantly alert enough for this sort of deep thinking.

I only wish someone else had thought about it a little more deeply before they took the action that I believe led to that mouse’s trek.

See, I was out camping with friends the night that we were overrun by mice. We’d spotted them earlier — not hard to do when they were bold enough to zip right over one of my friends’ feet while he was sitting on his cot.

Even though we’d camped in that spot before, it was the first time I’d noticed any mice at all.

There’s always plenty of other wildlife there. Some of the animals we’d stop and stare at, like a fawn one of us saw deep in the trees and a bald eagle that circled overhead as we got ready to set up camp.

We gave other critters wide berth — none wider than the copperheads. Come across one on a trail and you don’t have to be much of an outdoorsman to consider its venom-filled fangs and your own soft calves and work out which of you has the right of way.

As I tried to rub the memory of tiny mouse feet off my skin, I realized that none of us had mentioned seeing any snakes that first day in camp.

I began to suspect that the abundance of mice and scarcity of snakes may not have been entirely unrelated.

I’d wager that those snakes hadn’t grown scarce of their own accord, either, but had been killed off or driven out by previous campers.

Put a man in the woods and there’s one of two things he can do: Find his natural space among the other fauna and their flora, or start tinkering with every inconvenience to make the place more like the home he’s left behind.

I’ll lay my money on the tinkering every time if I ever find anyone to take the bet.

I know how judgmental that sounds, but I say it with the admission that I’m not immune to this urge to shape the woods into something at least a little more comfortable.

Neither are my friends.

It didn’t take long for some of us to declare war on those mice, and not long after that for the number of dead mice to grow.

The dead mice, in turn, may not have been entirely unrelated to the plague of flies that began keeping me awake.

When I told one of my sons that I was having trouble sleeping in the middle of this up-close and personal demonstration of the great circle of life, he suggested a solution that told me he’s as keen to tinker with God’s own creation as any of us.

“You guys should bring in a bunch of frogs to eat the flies.”

“We’d be overrun with frogs!” I shouted. “Then what?”

He didn’t skip a beat: “Then you can bring back the snakes to kill the frogs.”

I’m still not sure what honest claims we humans have to the plains we paved under our cities or the woods so many of us keep trying to improve for our camping trips.

All I know is we’re sure to keep on staking those claims and then working hard on any changes to the natural order we’re convinced will fix whatever the last folks broke with their changes.

I don’t believe we’ll ever find our way back to where we started. Still, it’s hard to shake the feeling that a load of frogs and copperheads is just what I need for my next trip to those woods.

Richard Espinoza is a former editor of the Johnson County Neighborhood News. You can reach him at and follow him on Twitter at @respinozakc.