Clippings: Battle brews with invading field mice

If you notice smoke signals wafting from the chimney at my Shoreham home any time soon, pay close attention: What may seem at first like the inviting trickle of wood smoke from our stove is really an SOS. • • • — — — • • •! Translation: We’re under siege, and the invading forces are winning.

After three months in our cozy cottage, my boyfriend Colin and I have slowly come to the unhappy realization that our brave new occupation of a foreign territory — 65 acres of pasture and forestland — inspired a bit of a fight from the natives. Under the cloak of darkness, stealth fighters have infiltrated our home: We have a serious mouse problem.

It started with the rustle of movement in the attic, followed by a telltale scratching in the walls. I lay awake at night, as still as I could, and listened with mounting paranoia. In the dark, and half asleep, I conjured up images of mice running rampant in the house. Amid the bumps and squeaks and scratches they multiplied in number and size, until I was sure our kitchen was overrun by mutant rodents the size of skunks.

Then I did the only sensible thing I knew to do: I shook Colin awake in a panic and hissed, “They’re in the bedroom!”

Colin dutifully flipped on the light, stumbled blearily around the house, and declared, “All clear.” Midnight raid averted.

But when mouse droppings appeared on our kitchen counter, and my disgust propelled me no less than two feet into the air, we drew up plans for a counter attack. Enough was enough.

I should admit now that I hate that I’ve become a caricature of a hysterical housewife, screeching in horror at the sight of a mouse while retreating to stand on a chair. My only excuse is that I didn’t grow up in the country. None of my childhood homes had anything resembling our current mouse infestation — though once, living on a military installation in Hawaii, my family contended with rampant geckos and voracious termites.

Then, two years ago, I moved into a rickety old farmhouse in New Haven, and I had my first taste of the man-vs.-mouse battle I could expect in Vermont. I was spared much involvement in the battle by my housemate’s cat, Pi. Though still practically a kitten, Pi took to mousing with a disturbing amount of glee. She prowled through the house stalking her prey, and once she caught a mouse she’d sprawl across the floor, toying with dinner.

She was a natural.

I’d come home to find a cleanly dissected mouse’s head and one or two choice, picked-clean organs waiting in front of my bedroom door — a gift from Pi. Then, mid-winter, Pi discovered the joy of retreating to the bathtub with her catches. The mice stood no chance of escaping up the slick porcelain walls, so she could play to her heart’s content before devouring her latest catch. Each morning, I drew back the shower curtain with dread, wondering if today would be a mouse genocide kind of morning.

But Colin and I are allergic to cats, so hiring mercenary forces is out of the question. Last month I headed to Martin’s Hardware and surveyed our options. The sight of the rat traps for sale — big enough to catch a small child — reminded me that, at least, things could be worse. I bought an armful of snap traps and headed home.

At first, Commander in Chief Colin was hopeful about the campaign. After a few quick blows to the enemy forces — aided by our new weapons of mouse destruction (WMDs) — Colin declared a preliminary victory.

Since then, though, “Operation Shoreham Freedom” has been largely unsuccessful. Despite our towering military might and financial resources, the mice are winning. They lay low. They move frequently. They learn quickly. While our first efforts at trapping and killing some of the enemy combatants were successful, word seems to have gotten out to the troops: The mice are avoiding the same temptingly baited traps that laid waste to their fallen comrades.

As the next generation of traps stood empty, the guerilla forces picked up speed again. In the evenings, ensconced in the green zone (that is, on the couch), I’d watch in horror as mice pranced past our roadside-blockade-traps and came pouring out from beneath the closet door. We arrived home at the end of one workday to the rustle of plastic, and watched as a mouse sauntered up and out of the trashcan. He eyed us insolently and skittered lazily away out of reach.

We’ve resorted to poison, and in a moment of weakness even put down glue traps. But my resolve, I have to admit, is faltering. Colin, more tenderhearted than I, took to calling the mice in our walls “Gus Gus,” after Cinderella’s rodent friend in the animated Disney movie.

It’s hard to hate a mouse named Gus Gus.

For awhile, the infestation dwindled. I told myself it wasn’t the poison or the traps, but the warm weather: Gus Gus had gone back to where he belonged. We set about patching the holes where our new neighbors had forced entry to our home. I consoled myself that, unlike a friend in Benson driven temporarily insane by the scratching of mice in the floor, I’d resisted the urge to take a chain saw (true story!) to my walls. The worst was over.

Then, this weekend, I opened our broom closet to find a mouse perched on the edge of one of our forgotten glue traps. He sat upright, but was so perfectly still that I thought perhaps he’d simply frozen that way: sudden cardiac arrest. But when Colin swooped in dispose of the trap, the mouse sprung to life.

“Calm down, little guy,” Colin said, cradling the mouse in one gloved hand while he lifted up the trap. The mouse’s whiskers twitched furiously, his head encircled gently by Colin’s thumb and forefinger, while we hurried him outside. We’d heard that a little cooking oil on the trap would render the glue useless, freeing the mouse. We doused him in a little vegetable oil, then waited. His leg contorted at an awful angle as he tried to get away.

It was clear he wouldn’t live long.

“We could drown him,” I offered weakly, terrified at the prospect. When Colin fetched a shovel, I hoped he’d simply do the mouse in — something I didn’t have the heart for. Instead, though, he scooped up the terrified mouse, and deposited him in the shrubs a stone’s throw from our house.

So much for sweet victory. I think it may be time to declare a truce.

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