Monday, November 29, 2004

Living behind the Kitchen Stove

A tiny life stilled. The second mouse we caught, in our home-made box trap. We don't know why it died. Was it just the trauma of being caught?

A small body, no longer and not much thicker than my finger. That little awareness, that vividness, bright eyes and quick reckless risk-taking scuttle. The meekness of mice is proverbial, but I've known a lot of mice, and I've never been impressed by their meekness. More impressed by their dash and fire, their willingness to commit to risky enterprises, their resourcefulness and determination. The third mouse we caught, last night, is still at large, having chewed a tiny hole in the solid wood box and squirmed through it. It must have taken him hours. The first one got away too, making a bold leap for it as we shifted mouse #2 into the larger holding box. So we've caught three mice. One is dead, and two got away. This is probably pretty normal mouse-life. Death-defying feats. Some of the feats come off, some don't.

These are mice that have survived six months in a household with two cats and a dog. The dog is elderly, it's true, and the cats have reached the age of dignity -- not willing to make fools of themselves any more by practicing extreme hunting. But they're still cats. Still perfectly willing to catch and kill an imprudent mouse. They've gotten one or two.

The rest of the mice have survived, multiplying to the point where even we laissez-faire and less-than-energetic Buddhists have decided it's time for them to go. I meant to catch them in the summer, when, I supposed, making a new life out in the wild somewhere would be easier. (In fact I have no idea whether this sort of mouse can live through an unsheltered Oregon rainy-season or not. Possibly not, but it still seems important somehow to give them a shot at it.) But the time just went by, and now we're seriously over-moused.

But I'm given pause by this small death. Not guilt -- just identification. My own life, snatched in borrowed moments, seems much like his. A run to beat the odds. Moments of inspired shrewdness, taking bold advantage of being too small to bother with, and occasional quixotic rashness or dull inattention. Sooner or later my luck will run out. The reality of my little world will shift, for reasons that will probably be invisible to me, and the risks that seemed acceptable all along will unexpectedly turn fatal. I think I know all about living behind the kitchen stove. But I don't know a thing.

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