Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Mice in the Country

In order to bring Vicki's horses to our ranch we needed to build two shelters, one in each paddock. These shelters had to be large enough, 12' X 36', and strong enough to withstand the bumps and nudges of horses that weighed over a thousand pounds each.  The roof needed to withstand wind gusts of up to seventy miles an hour.

Vicki and I started the first one in early September 2009.  The roof on the shelter where Vicki boarded her horses had a two-twelve pitch, so that was the pitch for the roof on our shelters.  The design was easy, I've done that before to build sets for the stage.  And carpenter work is my meditation: I love the smell of green lumber, the tink, tink of a twenty-two ounce hammer against the head of a sixteen penny nail, and the smooth cut from a worm-drive circular saw.  Each morning on my walk to the shelter location in the chill of autumn my blood pressure dropped and nothing mattered but the stacks of lumber and metal roofing on the ground.    

Vicki took to the construction work like she was grooming one of her horses and in early October when we lifted the final sheet of galvanized roofing off the ground, we discovered a community of mice.  There were intricate tunnels of dried grass that curled into a maze of tiny mice home tufts.  The tunnels pulsed with mice movement as the inch-long rodents scurried throughout their disoriented neighborhood.  However, since we only saw the mice at tunnel intersections we soon tired of them and returned to finish the shelter.   Vicki's three mares arrived at our ranch on October 15th.

Just last week, in the warmth of spring, when Vicki lifted the trough in that same paddock to pour out the old water, she noticed a small individual tuft of dried grass on the ground.  The tuft looked empty but because the trough is moved and cleaned and filled with fresh water every other day she didn't want mice to build their home in a danger zone.  With delicate hands she took the tiny tuft to the garbage can and, just before depositing it, turned it over to examine its structure. Five mice the size of a dime dropped to the driveway and wiggled their pink bodies in a confused fervor.  Vicki screamed.  She bent down and picked up each mouse and slid it back into the dried grass then rushed with outstretched arms to the paddock where she placed it back under the trough.

Vicki came into my office and sputtered out the story between sniffles and sobs and shivers before she collapsed into a chair convinced the five baby mice would die.  My explanation on the survival instincts of rodents did not help.  However, the next time she lifted that water trough to empty it, mother mouse darted out of the grass tuft and three mice, now the size of a quarter, ran around in circles.  Vicki jumped for joy.    


  1. I loved reading about our joint construction of the shelters (with the help of family & friends). And, I am still so thankful that you were right concerning the "survival instincts of rodents." May the mice continue to live on! :-)

  2. I love this story! Somewhat relatedly, we have a clan of three lizards that reside in our outdoor firepit . . . I watch them bask in the sun every day when I come home for lunch.

    I, of course, now refuse to use the fire pit. Steve tells me that the lizards' "survival instincts" will enable them to run to safety, which is actually how we discovered the lizards in the first instance. But, I don't know how many lives lizards have . . . Nine, like cats?