WINTER GUESTS

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Me, mouse, and Mazel
Me, mouse, and Mazel

Rain is the constant feature of my NorthWest winter. So constant, in fact, that on the very rare days the sun peaks out, I am stunned by its forgotten brilliance, and rush outside to stand facing it, eyes closed. That precious red glow behind my eyelids makes me suddenly warm all over. It seems to me that the birds rejoice in that rare light, as well, and I can hear a rousing chorus of them singing to the sunlight across the big pasture.

Then the cloud quilt pulls back up across the sky and I marvel again at how instantly the mood of a landscape is transformed by the spirits of light and dark.

Like me, the animals of winter seem to hunker down and go invisible during the cold rains. While I sit inside with tea and warm toast, I imagine skunks curled in dens with their lovely tails draped over their cold noses. Squirrels dream in tree hollows and leaf nests, and opossums crawl into any dry space they can squeeze. I have a great photo of an opossum—all fifty teeth bared in a crocodile “smile”—lurching up from the depths of a massive straw nest built in the engine compartment of a truck. I like to think of that guy trying to start his truck with no luck at all, saying to himself, “Hmmm, I wonder why it won’t turn over…Let me check…Agggghhhhh!”

The rains also wash away any signs I might normally see of animals traveling through the yard. I’m no Tom Brown Junior when it comes to tracking, so it sometimes feels to me like all the animals have left town. I am grateful to the flock of juncos that come to the seeds I scatter in the driveway, and for the three squirrels that show up for sunflower seeds and stale bread just before dark each afternoon. They help me feel less lonely in winter.

I miss seeing the deer tracks and the footprints of the raccoons and the crows down near the creek where we walk. That creek is currently a torrent, and it gave up any and all of its mudbanks weeks ago. The shore rises now all the way up to the grass line on the hill. No one seems to be nibbling the berry bushes or the Oregon grape along the edge of the property where I sometimes saw the doe of last summer. Even the coyotes have stopped singing.

I miss them all. Sometimes—like right now—I remember just how many invisible visitors leave their seasonal calling cards of poop, tracks, songs, and nibbles where I live, and I feel their absence deeply in my days. So you can imagine how excited I was to find an owl pellet last week beneath the huge douglas firs by the house, and then another just a couple days ago. When I broke the sodden mass open with my fingers—yes, I know it is horribly unsanitary—I found the teeth and leg bones of mice and shrews. It warms my winter heart now when I go to bed at night and imagine that large great horned owl perched up in the same tree that shades our house all summer long. His unseen company makes my days just a little richer.

We have another invisible guest living in our car these days. Tiny droppings like thistle seeds have begun to appear in the console cup holder of our car. A few days ago, when Carter turned on the defroster, there was a flurry of white tissue flecks like snow spouting out from the window edge of the dashboard. And I could smell that unmistakable odor of mouse pee. We keep a plastic bag of doggie treats in the glove compartment for Mazel Tov, and those are all gone, replaced by shreds nibbled from the carpet liner in the back seat.

So yesterday afternoon, I stopped¬† by our local hardware store to look at their mousetraps. They had a slew of them, from the snapping kind to the feet-stick-em kind, and lots of boxes of poison. I chose a pack of two plastic live traps from China that looked like squared-off toilet paper rolls and figured I’d give them a try. Last night, I baited the two traps with peanut butter and chocolate chips, and crossed my fingers.

This morning, both traps were sprung, and I could “feel” a mouse fearfully shivering in one of them. Now, there is nothing pleasant about having a mouse pee in your air vents and eat your carpeting, but I have to admit to you that I was just tickled as a kid at Christmas holding that little trap in my hands. I talked baby talk to the mouse inside, telling “her” that we’d be taking her down by the creek when we walked Mazel Tov later that morning. And we did. I carried her small trap in my jacket pocket, and could not resist opening the trap and tapping its contents into my cupped hand. All my life, I have been captivated by the feel of the wild, cupping small birds, injured chipmunks, newly-hatched snakes, anything and everything I could put my hands on if only for the briefest of moments. In such instances, I feel the vibrant electricity of mystery race powerfully up my wrists and arms and into my racing, thankful heart.

This morning, The Wild was a young and shaking mouse with shining eyes and a white chin. She sat looking up at me, not daring to move, and I was caught up again—as I always am—by a wave of absolute wonder that the gods could make such a perfect little being and that I could be blessed to share space on this earth with such furred perfection. Carter caught the moment on camera, and I share it with you so that you might be reminded of all those moments in your own life when you have come face-to-face with a moment of winter magic.

For those moments, I had all the company I craved: Husband, dog, and wildling. Who could want for more?

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