Henry and the Mouse

By Corinne H. Smith

“The mice which haunted my house were not the common ones, which are said to have been introduced into the country, but a wild native kind not found in the village. I sent one to a distinguished naturalist, and it interested him much. When I was building, one of these had its nest underneath the house, and before I had laid the second floor, and swept out the shavings, would come out regularly at lunch time and pick up the crumbs at my feet. It probably had never seen a man before; and it soon became quite familiar, and would run over my shoes and up my clothes. It could readily ascend the sides of the room by short impulses, like a squirrel, which it resembled in its motions. At length, as I leaned with my elbow on the bench one day, it ran up my clothes, and along my sleeve, and round and round the paper which held my dinner, while I kept the latter close, and dodged and played at bo-peep with it; and when at least I held still a piece of cheese between my thumb and finger, it came and nibbled it, sitting in my hand, and afterward cleaned its face and paws, like a fly, and walked away.” ~ “Brute Neighbors,” WALDEN

This week I partnered on a Thoreau-related project with a young fifth-grader named Henry. We met at Thoreau Farm and set up our stuff in the first floor parlor. For one part of our project, I needed some water. So I walked into the tiny kitchenette, found a glass in a cabinet, filled it with water, and took it into the parlor.

After we finished our project, I took the glass back to the kitchen. I dumped the water down the drain, rinsed the glass a bit, and left it in the sink. I hadn’t noticed anything else in the sink when I had first filled the glass. But now I thought I saw something small and dark in there. Perhaps, with a tail. I turned on the overhead light to look again. Sure enough, it was a tiny mouse. It was cowering against the stainless steel side. Had I accidentally dumped water on it? I hoped not. I spoke quietly to it and apologized. Then I went back to find Henry.

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“I found something in the kitchen sink, Henry,” I said. “A live mouse.” His eyes got big. “Want to see it?” I asked. He nodded.

We walked into the kitchenette, and he peeked over the edge. “Oh, wow!” He hurried back to the parlor to tell his mother what he had seen. She was not a fan of mice. She shivered and stayed right where she was standing.

“I want to rescue and relocate it,” I said. “Will you help me, Henry?” He agreed. We walked back. I noticed that Henry kept his distance, though. He stayed away from the counter and let me, the grown-up, manage the task at hand. I had decided that putting the mouse outside was an unacceptable solution. Where else could I move it, away from the kitchen? The basement.

I grabbed a paper towel. “Okay, I’m going to grab it somehow, and we’re going to take it down to the basement,” I said. I looked at the mouse, who was still cowering. I didn’t know where it had come from or where its nest was. Naturally, there were spots along the edgework that didn’t quite meet the walls. Maybe the mouse lived under the cabinets. Maybe it had run across the counter in search of crumbs, slipped into the sink, and couldn’t find a toehold on the silvery walls. It had been temporarily trapped. Well, the basement should make a fine home for it, too. “I’m going to pick it up somehow,” I said again.

“Maybe you can put it in the glass to move it,” Henry suggested.

“Good idea. Except that I don’t really want to use that drinking glass. I wonder if we have any paper cups.” I opened a lower door and spied a few. I loosened one from the others. I put it into the sink and pushed the mouse into it with the paper towel. I covered the opening so it couldn’t get out.

“Its tail is sticking out of the cup.”

“That’s okay. Let’s go.” Henry fairly ran to the basement door, turned on the lights, and led the way down the steps. I followed, carrying the covered cup.

“Now. Where should I put it?” The basement is semi-finished. The limestone rocks of the foundation jut out from every side. I guessed it didn’t matter where I put the mouse. It would figure out the best place to go, on its own. So I laid the cup on its side near a central wall. I took the paper towel away and peeked inside. Now it was the mouse who had the big eyes, looking right at me. I wished it well. Henry and I backed up. We watched the cup rock back and forth slightly, as the mouse moved around inside. It would be okay. We didn’t wait for its re-appearance. We trudged back up the steps. Our work for the day was finished, all around.

Well, Mr. Thoreau, we didn’t go the extra mile that you did. We didn’t deliberately feed this mouse and let it run all over our clothes. I guess I did kind of play peek-a-boo with it, though. And we saved it for you and put it in the basement. Now we can confirm that one of your houses is once again enlivened by mice.

8 Comments

Filed under Environment, General, Henry David Thoreau, Literature, Living Deliberately, Nature, The Roost, Thoreau Quote, Walden

8 Responses to Henry and the Mouse

  1. Donna Marie

    After reading Corrines’s story, I was reminded of two little creatures that affected my life immensely. The first was a mouse my family encountered in a cabin near Shenandoah National Park in Virginia. Whenever we went on the back porch of the cabin to prepare our breakfast or dinner, a russet colored mouse emerged from the hole in the cabin and immediately stood by our feet up on his hind legs with paws extended. Obviously, he was very comfortable begging for food in this manner and was used to getting it.

    We gave him various crumbs of the food we were preparing, and he relished every morsel. After eating, he stayed to keep us company by crawling on the picnic bench and eventually on the table. He was calm and content just to watch us as we ate, talked, and played games. Sometimes, he would carry the crumbs we had left back to his hole, where we imagined he threw a party for all his friends.

    Because we had never seen a mouse with reddish fur, we affectionately called him our “Irish” mouse and named him Paddy McFarland. The week we shared our cabin with him was a precious time in the lives of my family. Our two children, who are now adults, still speak of our Paddy, especially when they see mice scurrying over our floor.

    Paddy McFarland will never know what enjoyment he brought to a family simply by being a mouse.

    I cannot neglect, however, to tell of another tiny creature who filled my life with so much pleasure. It was my gerbil Mr. Scruff. This gerbil lived simply to light up my days and bring me happiness. From the time I got up in the morning, Mr. Scruff would stand on his hind legs in the cage waiting for me to pick him up.

    When I would come home after teaching, I would throw on an old shirt and place him on my shoulder, where he would sit the entire evening, sometimes walking onto my head. The shirt was a source of his amusement as he chewed the material. He was with our family for three years before he died. It has been more than ten years since Mr. Scruff left us, but my heart still skips a beat thinking of him.

    I am reminded of him every time my students study Romeo and Juliet. There is a part where Romeo states that he wishes he could be a little bird in the hand of Juliet. Juliet responds negatively to that suggestion because she says she would kill him from too much cherishing. Similarly, Lenny from Of Mice and Men doesn’t know his own strength, as George reminds him, when he crushes the mouse from petting him too forcefully.

    Fortunately, I did not kill Mr. Scruff from petting him, but I did cherish him by holding him, talking to him, and stroking his fur. Little did he know that he brought so much joy into our house. What a wonderful gift is creation–especially the small four-legged ones. Do we really appreciate their worth or do we merely see rodents? Thankfully, Henry David Thoreau saw the beauty in the smallest of God’s creatures.

    • Thanks for sharing your own mouse stories, Donna Marie!

      When I was in Girl Scouts in high school, we backpacked for several days along the C&O Canal trail, hiking along the Potomac River from Harpers Ferry WV to near Washington DC. My tent mate Mary Elizabeth had packed a few bags of cereal for her breakfast, instead of the instant oatmeal most of the rest of us ate. One night we both heard some rustling coming from her pack. I held the flashlight while she tentatively opened the pack flap and tried to see what was going on inside. The most adorable light brown mice popped out! Mary Elizabeth screeched and threw the bag of cereal out of the tent. The mice must have had a good midnight snack out there. They’re indeed quite cute. But a tad disturbing, if you’re not expecting to find them.

  2. Christina S.

    I enjoyed the story and the passage from Walden. I also shared it with my children. I am sure Thoreau is pleased with your reaction and subsequent endeavor. Nicely done!

  3. Alan Rohwer

    Nice story. I can visualize the whole thing.

  4. Karen J. McLean

    What a great passage, a great story, and a fantastic “teachable moment!” Thoroughly enjoyed reading this. :)