Far be it from me to impugn the hygiene of a mouse, but the other day I met one that treated the silverware drawer like a bus station bathroom. The mouse was living in a house on an island, a modest dollop of evergreen and rock in a lake with four small cottages upon it. My family and I were visiting friends there one weekend this summer, and the mouse was a guest, too.
Unlike us, however, the mouse wasn’t invited. Also unlike us, the mouse had no interest in cards or swimming or taking the family’s boat for a spin around the island. The mouse was interested largely in eating our bread and cereal and cardboard and then pooping on spoons. This is not the worst thing a guest can do, but it’s certainly not as helpful as offering to do the dishes or bringing your hosts a bottle of wine.
Consequently, one night we left a humane mousetrap out on a kitchen counter — the sort of trap in which a mouse can walk in but then can’t escape. The next morning, we found the mouse trapped inside it with only a lump of banana bread for company, and he was not a happy camper. He was clawing at the plastic walls and trying to push his snout through the top.
It seemed to all of us that he had, by mouse standards, a lot of facial hair, and so my wife named him Whiskers. He was pretty big: Not rat big or cat big, but sufficiently robust that keeping him in the humane trap any longer than necessary would verge on the inhumane.
The problem, of course, was that we were on an island: A small island. We couldn’t release him near the house because Whiskers would come right back and use the teaspoons as toilets. But if we went a hundred yards in any direction, we would be unleashing the serial pooper on neighbors. And it seemed like a lot of work (and gasoline) to fire up the powerboat and ferry him to the mainland. We all agreed that the mouse was perfectly pleasant — other than his bathroom habits and the fact he gnawed holes in containers of food — but we also agreed that he had to go.
Now, my wife has a heart big enough for any stray cat, spider, or freakishly big mouse. She actually liked his sideburns. She is also an excellent swimmer.
And so while the rest of us debated what we should do, she slipped into her bathing suit and found an inflatable seat cushion. In the distance was another island: An almost perfectly round discus with evergreens packed tight as moss. She took Whiskers in his trap, placed him in the center of the seat, and proceeded to tow him across the channel to that other patch of land. The waves were pretty choppy and so returning him to the wild and swimming back to our island took about 20 minutes.
“When I had about 30 yards to go, he really started struggling,” she said later. “He had his nose almost all the way out and I thought he was going to escape. I liked him, but I really didn’t want a mouse clawing his way up my hair so he wouldn’t drown. That would have been kind of gross.”
Fortunately, he didn’t get out, and so my wife was able to set him free amidst the moss and the roots at the edge of that island with all of the fanfare and dignity that accompanied the release of Elsa the lion in “Born Free.”
OK, that’s an exaggeration. There was no crescendo of strings in the background — just the waves lapping against the shore. But my wife reported that it was nonetheless very satisfying to watch the mouse hightail it into the underbrush. And while all of us missed Whiskers for the rest of our visit, none of us missed having to sanitize the spoons.
(This column originally appeared in the Burlington Free Press on August 24, 2008.)