Of mice and wo(men)

September. 1972. On this tiny island where I spend my summers now, my parents and I moved into an old farmhouse. We drove across the country in the old black Mercedes, my father at the wheel, my mother as co-pilot and me in the backseat with our dog Jack.

Snapshots from the road trip are still firmly embedded in my mind. The Sinclair gas station dinosaur. Travelodge’s Sleepy bear. Pecan logs from Stuckey’s.

That first winter, when it snowed in October and all we had was woodstoves to keep us warm, the walls told me bedtime stories. Turns out what I heard was the scurried click of squirrels’ claws running laps along the two-by-fours.

Eight-year-old me, untroubled by squirrels in the walls. From the time I was born, I was an animal lover. I had tea parties with stuffed animals. No dollhouses for me; instead, I built a mouse house from shoeboxes, fashioned furniture from match boxes.

In simplistic harmony with our island surroundings, we coexisted with the natural world. Deer nibbling crabapples out back; wild turkeys in the front yard. Foxes and fishers at the edge of the woods. After that first winter fifty years ago, the squirrels took up residence elsewhere.

All these years and I’ve never seen a mouse in the house. Until last weekend. Three, to be precise. Like the nursery rhyme.

After a few panic-filled hours, I sealed off the room where I’d spotted them. Set traps. Said a prayer for any rodent souls who might take the peanut butter bait.

Days later, the traps sit untouched. No further sightings, no scampering of tiny feet across the 175-year-old pine floors. The exterminator comes tomorrow and I’m torn between eradication and coexistence.

I can jam their radar, confuse their sense of smell with dryer sheets and bowls of Pine-Sol, so the mice know the difference between their space and human space. I can allow the Orkin man to target the source of the infestation. I can do both.

Earlier this morning, a squirrel peered in window of my writing studio. He knows his space. And I’m learning mine.