A few years ago, I was working in an ancient and massive mill building. The rent was cheap, the land lords were good guys and it was an ideal place to set up a small scale manufacturing business. It was however, pretty rustic. No… rusty. It was pretty rusty. The roof leaked when it rained, the heat was come and go and though I never saw a rat, guessing by our proximity to a river and the shear number of ferrel cats who stalked the tall grass outside the castle walls, you had to assume that they were there. Actually, I quite liked the place. It was built of red brick and granite some time in the early eighteen hundreds and operated as a textile mill. The building is massive and imagining it packed full of clanking looms, twisting machines and chattering French Canadian girls is not hard to do. Though the galleries that saw all this life are now empty, the massive building remains and if you squint just right, you can see the ghosts of that time.
One think I learned early on was that if you were going to be a tenant there, you needed to put all foodstuffs in closable, air tight containers. Though I never saw a rat, there were mice. Plenty of mice. If you left anything tempting out over night, you could bet that by morning, some little fuzzball had helped them selves to your carelessly abandoned snack. I lost a lot of snacks that way. Setting traps would have been farcical. You might as well have decided to kill all the mosquitos in a swamp by standing there swatting them as they landed on you. You’d never EVER get them all, or even enough to make a dent, really. Besides, I’m a live and let live kind of guy and so long as they aren’t in my house, what did I care? I was a manufacturer! Mouse poop on one of my grease smeared, eight ton, hydraulic presses? Heavens! What ever will the neighbors say?
So, there were mice, but that was fine. Heck, they were here first after all. One day as I was working in a back room I thought I heard something. Usually the machinery was loud enough to drown out most other sounds but it was off at the moment and for some reason, so was the radio. I stopped and pricked up my ears. There it was again! I slowly walked around the room listening for the sound and tried to zero in. There! It was over there!
In a box that was half filled with foam packing peanuts was a small greyish-brown cotton ball with a tail. It wasn’t merely a mouse, but a baby mouse. To say that he was small was an understatement. About the size of a prize shooter marble, and with only one eye partially open, he was in a box and couldn’t get out. How he got there, I have no idea. Obviously he was too young to be out and about on his own, having only a little bit of one eye yet open. All I can guess is that his mother had moved him when her nest was threatened. Mice will do that if they think their brood is in peril. No other little brothers and sisters were to be seen, so I assumed that he had been abandoned.
He was too young to make it on his own and though I have set up and cleaned out mouse traps at home many times in the past, I also have a strong sense of empathy that gets the best of me rather often. He hadn’t been doing anything to bother me and now was in dire straights. He’d die if I let him go. What to do?
One empty bucket, some wood shavings and a bottle cap with some milk in it later, I had a pet mouse. Since he was so young, I was sure that he’d die over the next few days and tried not to enjoy him too much. A week went by, both of his eyes opened, he became accustomed to me and I started really having fun watching him in his little bucket-world. A few weeks later, I had picked up an inexpensive glass aquarium, a screen top for it, more shavings and a squeaky wheel for him to run in. That was quickly replaced with one called the “silent spinner”. It had a ball bering to keep if from squeaking like mad and setting my teeth on edge when he used it. I decided that I would call the mouse “Peanut”, not just because if his size but because of where I had found him. Peanut, he became.
Here’s one thing that blew my mind. Here’s this little, wild, white footed mouse that I had found. He had never seen a mouse wheel, but the second I had placed it in his cage, he was off and running. Immediately! How the heck do they know? That’s some seriously strange pre-programing that mice come with. I’m tempted to put a wheel out in a field some place with a camera watching it and see if they turn in into a little mousy-fitness center.
Mice aren’t very long lived. About a year is the norm and being wild, I didn’t expect Peanut to be long for this world. I kept him fed and watered, which wasn’t exactly a difficult chore. He escaped only once. I had carelessly left his cage top open over night and the next day came in to an empty cage. After twenty four hours, he had returned on his own volition to his cozy glass home. I guess he decided that a life of dried dates, rolled oats and clean shavings was better than a life running through the grimy halls of a dilapidated mill searching for dead bugs. I enjoyed his antics and liked watching him zip around his tiny home. A year and a half later, I moved him from my shop to my house. Short Stack was just old enough to notice Peanut and he also liked to watch the runner in his wheel and would ask to be lifted up so he could peer in and visit.
Last month I noticed that Peanut looked like he was slowing down a bit. I didn’t see his little brown and white shape zipping around his cage much any more and he wasn’t eating as much. He did still hang out in his wheel but mostly he just curled up there and watched the world walk by. Last night, I found that he had passed away, curled up in a bed of fluff and shavings. He was three years and three months old. I believe that’s about 286, in human years. Not bad at all for a mouse lost in a box in the back room of an old mill.
We’ll miss you, Peanut. You’re a good little mouse. Spin on, fuzzy runner.