In my previous "Faith in Vermont" column, I wrote about the sickness season that's hard upon us. This time of year is also mouse season; as the weather turns colder, the mice peek out of their frozen burrows at our warm, well-lit house and think, Heyyyyy! That's not a bad idea! The Gong residence gets mice year-round, but this past month we've been catching almost a mouse a day in our mudroom, which is apparently some sort of mouse superhighway.
I have issues with mice. Not to be overly dramatic, but: The WORST thing about living in Vermont is that there are mice here. Lots and lots of mice.
"But Faith," you say, "you live in the WOODS. Surely you expected mice." Actually, I didn't. Up until coming to Vermont I had shockingly little experience with mice. I grew up deep in suburbia, in a house so sanitary that it could have been the Lysol showcase home. The first time I saw an actual mouse I was about 8 years old. That experience is burned deep into my memory, and it influenced all of my subsequent dealings with mice.
I was visiting my cousins in New Hampshire, riding bikes on their street, when I looked down and saw it: a dead mouse, laying on the asphalt. Since this was the first actual mouse I'd ever seen, I mentioned it to my two older cousins. Sensing I was shaken, they decided to have a little fun with me, and ended up scarring me for life.
"Hey, guys, did you see that dead mouse back there?" I asked, feigning coolness.
"Yeah," answered Michael, "I saw you run over it."
"WHAT?!? No I didn't!"
"I don't know," teased Martha, "I saw a tire track running right across its stomach."
When you're 8 years old, that's all it takes. I lay awakeall night, picturing the flattened mouse. By morning, I was not only terrified of mice, but I was convinced that the only thing worse than a live mouse is a DEAD mouse.
Flash forward a couple decades: We moved into our Vermont "dream house" to find that the previous occupants either didn't notice or didn't care about their massive mouse situation. There were droppings everywhere; I spent the first couple of months in a permanent stoop, scanning the floorboards for fresh mouse poo. Worse than that was the nightly tap dance overhead. Our house is constructed in a "post-and-beam" style; there's no attic over the main part of the house, and in our master bedroom we have a steeply-pitched wood beam ceiling that acts as an amplifier for whatever runs around on the roof. On our first night in this house, it sounded like mice the size of elephants were about to claw through the ceiling.
As in any marriage, ours functions based on a division of duties: I will raise the children, cook the meals, clean the house, tend the yard, and fix leaky faucets, but I will NOT do mice. Thankfully, my husband has embraced his role as household exterminator. We have about 50 T-Rex traps strategically placed around our house. Erick does both the setting and the disposing, sincethe only thing worse than a live mouse is a dead mouse. The first time he had to empty some traps, he wore: rubber gloves, a face mask, goggles, and -- I'm not kidding -- a hard hat. I'm not quite sure what he was expecting from the dead mice, but since I would've required a full hazmat suit, I really couldn't judge him.
After a few months, Erick was so hardened to the carnage that he was emptying traps bare-handed. He was also starting to train our daughters in mouse disposal, planning for a time when he might not be around. (It's the best con we've come up with yet: "Hey, girls, want to help empty the mousetrap?!" And they come running.) But later that first winter, I looked out the window to see a dead mouse, right on our front lawn, just a couple of feet from the house. I mentioned it to Erick, but he promptly forgot all about it, and I didn't have the heart to nag him.
I decided the time had come to face my fear and take responsibility for the dead mouse myself.
Then it rained, and then it snowed. The mouse was covered up for a couple of days, but when the snow melted it was still there, a little worse for wear. Scooping it up with a shovel no longer seemed like a good idea. At this point, I figured it was best to take the organic route, and let the mouse become one with our lawn: the circle of life, natural fertilizer... that sort of thing.
The problem was that the mouse refused to become topsoil as quickly as I'd hoped. Perhaps some freeze-drying had occurred during the snowfall; every morning I'd look out the window and it was still there. (This was before we got our dog, who would've quickly used the mouse as a chew toy). I wondered what was wrong with the dozens of owls that live in our woods: Wasn't this their job? What's wrong with a slightly aged mouse corpse, owls?
So I got out the shovel, took a large scoop of mulch from our mulch pile, and, standing a mere 3 feet from that mouse, threw the mulch on top of it. For good measure, I tossed on a few dry leaves. A burial mound, of sorts. I felt very brave and innovative.
Then one weekend the girls were racing around our yard with a couple of friends. They knocked on the front door to request snacks, and when I opened the door THERE WAS THAT DANG MOUSE. AGAIN. Somebody must've kicked over my burial mound, and the scraggly mouse corpse was lying exposed in the sunlight, like my fear staring me in the face.
I did what I should've done weeks before: I called for Erick. He went outside with a plastic bag, and within minutes the whole ordeal was behind me.
Since that first year, I've had to face many more dead mice in the yard. It's never fun, but I'm making progress: Now I can scoop them up with a (long-handled) shovel and toss them into the woods with panache. The traps are still the province of my husband and daughters. I guess no matter how old you are, there will always be some things that you never grow over.
A version of this column originally appeared as “Trapped!” in The Pickle Patch blog on April 26, 2012.
Faith Gong has worked as an elementary school teacher, a freelance photographer, and a nonprofit manager. Since moving to Addison County in 2011, her work has involved caring for a house in the woods, four young daughters, one anxiety-prone puppy — and writing for her blog, The Pickle Patch.