Saturday, March 17, 2012

Shabin Life, Part 1: The Mama Mouse

My husband Freddie, Tagger the dog-child and I live in a 12-foot by 12-foot cabin we built in the White Mountains of New Hampshire. We have electricity but no running water. We have an outhouse with no door on it. We have lived here full time since 2007. We have a great life.
I’ve diagnosed myself with pre-nostalgia as we prepare to break ground on a ‘real house’ this spring. This is the first ‘Shabin Life’ entry that I'm writing as self-treatment.
At home in the Shabin
Part 1: The Mama Mouse
The Shabin was actually supposed to be a shed when we built it. The south wall has a 4’x6’ hole meant for a sliding door, to allow access for a small tractor. In those first years, I loved sitting in the open doorway with a cup of coffee, squinting into the morning light, or watching the bats flit around hunting mosquitoes at twilight.
But the unsealed slider setup had one major problem. The mice. I hate mice in my living space like Browns fans hate the Steelers. I hate their uncanny ability to sniff out the smallest crumb of food, leaving behind a pointy little turd in mocking gratitude, and I hate their graveyard shift working habits, taking over as we sleep, noisy and unafraid.
One night, I remember waking several times to faint scratching and chewing noises in the kitchen corner below the sleeping loft. I woke in the morning to find one of the ends of the paper towel roll had been thoroughly razed. I didn’t think much of it (if anything, I thought, we were finally winning our battle and the mice were having to eat paper towels to survive!), made my coffee, and went on with my day.
That afternoon, I was digging through one of the milk crates stacked in the mudroom corner, looking for an external hard drive. Suddenly, a gray flash of fur popped straight up in the air, out of the crate, between my legs and darted behind the greywater bucket, deep into the kitchen corner.
I jumped too, and then simultaneously chuckled at myself for being so startled, and felt embarrassed for living among mice.
As my heart rate normalized, I leaned over to continue digging. I heard a faint peeping noise and stopped again to listen closer. I looked toward the kitchen corner, thinking the mouse had returned, but saw nothing. I looked down again, picked up the drive, and right beneath it was an empty checkbook box filled with white fluff that looked like shredded paper towels…and…8 hairless, pink, hours-old mice. Their eyes were sealed shut and their bodies writhed in rhythm as if they were one being. Exposed to the cooler air and brighter light, their peeping got louder.
I stood straight up. Then leaned over to look again. They were beautiful.
After a few moments, feeling suddenly resolute, I picked up the entire crate, opened the door, set it down on the porch, went back inside, opened the fridge, grabbed two beers, stepped back outside, and yelled for Freddie who was out working on the land.
I handed him a beer and pointed into the crate. We laughed, looked, laughed again, looked again.
What were we going to do? We obviously couldn’t let her raise these newborns in the Shabin with us. But I couldn’t bring myself to kill them just because she chose to make her home in our already cramped quarters.
I stood with my back to the open door. Freddie was standing opposite me, and his expression suddenly changed as his eye caught something moving across the Shabin floor inside. As I turned to follow his gaze, mama mouse hopped over the threshold, inches from my toes, and crawled up into the crate between us.
Her fur was silky and her body smooth and soft and so delicate. I was reminded of the caged gerbils of my youth, who taught me to be responsible and gentle. How could I have loved those critters so dearly, yet despise with such intensity their wild cousins?
Then we watched in stunned silence as she ever so gently gathered one of the pinkies into her mouth and crawled, a bit more prudently, out of the crate, and shuffled back over the threshold into the Shabin, directly into one of the other stacked crates.
She was going to relocate her entire family before our eyes!
Suddenly, Freddie jumped into action. He grabbed the crate with the checkbook box and the other 7 Pinkies and walked around the corner to the woodshed.
“Grab the other one!” he called over his shoulder.
I obliged and Mama stayed in, along for the ride with Pinkie #8. I placed Mama’s crate on top of the nest crate. We decided it was the best we could offer her, to leave the two crates there for the night in hopes she would relocate the whole family -- out of the crates, yet also out of the Shabin -- to somewhere safe and more permanent. 
The next day all that was left was the nest of shredded paper towel and the checkbox. She had moved them, and, we imagined, all was fine.
That winter we put a panel of insulated wall with a window into the sliding door hole, and accessed the Shabin via a ‘normal’ door on the west wall. The winter system seals us from the varmints, or vice-versa, and we have never reinstalled the summer sliding system again.
Freddie takes the first watering can shower of the year. 3/14/2012

What's your best mouse story?


EBR said...

I loved your Shabbin mouse story this morning! Reminded me of the mouse house I found in my old ski boots (one for housing and one for storing nuts).
You and Freddie teaming up to save the family and the brave little mouse mama inches from your toes, carrying her little pink mousies was too cute!
Hope to see your new home one day! Keep up the nostalgia, I am such a sucker for it!
Elizabeth Riss

Janet said...

Thanks Elizabeth. Sounds like a brilliant mouse to have thought of a storage boot and a housing boot. I love it! Yes, looking forward to your next NH visit for sure - we will have you up the road from Lead Mine to Mooney Hill!

Robert Lerner said...

Great story and nice writeup!

Bobbi Anderson said...

Great story.... oh the shabin! it will make nice guest quarters some day! ; )

Janet said...

Thanks Bobbi and Robert! And Bobbi, yes, perhaps the next great stories will come from you and your family if you all try to stay there on your vacations from OH to NH?!

Megan B.Burn said...

Funny, I had just noticed the sliding door rail today and wondered what it was for - a past project, or future project? Now I know :)
It's amazing how rambling around online can take you all over the world and through time and in the end, I'm right back where I started - on your couch!