This morning while removing my wife’s bike carrier from the back of her Outlander, we pulled the metal insert out of the bumper mount and found, to our surprise, a stock of bird seed pouring out of the three-inch metal pipe.
Mice had somehow carted all that seed up there for winter storage. We can only imagine the journey they’d taken and the fastidiousness with which they conducted their forays. Mice can store quite a bit of seed in their face pouches, so they must have ventured from the stored bird feed inside our garage (about four feet away) climbed up the tires and clambered along the axle to get there. It was all stored in there before I moved the bird seed sacks to an outside storage bin two weeks ago. My wife’s been traveling and not driving her vehicle all that much. The mice perhaps rightly assumed that the giant structure was going to sit there all winter. A perfect place to make a home.
Well, if you’re planning winter stocks and don’t want to run out sometime in mid-January, then the work of storing up seed for food and stashing it inside a dark hiding place is wise and winsome work. It’s fair to say that mice are “smart” that way. They’re not ‘smart’ in the the way that human beings think in terms of intellect, yet their instincts and highly evolved little bodies give them powerful tools for survival.
As humans, we’re not always so smart either.
I well recall a day back in 1981 when I traveled to Hawaii with the father of a woman I was dating at the time. He was a travel agent who loved golfing and wanted a playing partner for the week on the island of Oahu. The entire journey would cost me about $300, so it was insane to turn it down. It remains the only time I ever visited that state. There were some real adventures about which I’ve never written here on WeRunandRide.com, but we’ll cover that another day.
What I want to relate in this context is something that happened the minute we pulled our golf bags out of the trunk in the parking lot of a rather posh golf club. My bag tipped over and out spilled the biggest mouse nest you’ve ever seen. It was made of large strands of yard, torn up baseball leather and just fuzz that came from who knows where. It also happened to hold the carcasses of the entire family of mousies, quite dead and emaciated.
Apparently I’d left the bag lying down for several months. That’s when the mice moved in. Then I must have tipped the bag up in the garage. Well, the entire interior of the bag was made of slick black plastic. The golf clubs themselves were not much help for the mice to climb out of there either. The golf club shafts were shiny slick aluminum. In what must have been a sad, somewhat sordid tale, the mice must climbed as high as the rubber grips would allow, then slid back down. The myth of Sisyphus is alive and well.
I quickly kicked the mouse nest that had fallen out of my bag under the car, but not before my host had seen it. A quick flash of disgust crossed his face and he muttered, somewhat impatiently, “Come on, we’re late.”
That was an embarrassing moment in part because the environment of a golf course is supposed reflect the refined nature of the human race, free from any traces of a hayseed our country existence. Many courses have strict rules for decorum and attire. These include proper footwear, no wearing of blue jean shorts or sporting sleeveless tee shirts. It’s all about maintaining the propriety of a generally wealthy appearance even if you’re poor as a skunk. Pretend, as it were, that you are sophisticated enough to go along with the culture of the game, and don’t act like a goddamned hillbilly. Thus my mouse nest moment was a breach of every golf rule in the books.
But let’s recall why the mice incident with my bag happened. The mice had found a long dark cylinder in which to crawl inside and live. They built a cozy nest at the far end of the plastic log where it seemed safe to hang out. Those age-old native instincts seemed trustworthy enough.
Then their plastic log got tipped up and their lives took a genuine and fatal turn for the worse. Game over.
All revved up for survival
You likely know a few stories about mice building nests in the engines of cars as well. Squirrels and chipmunks will do the same if the vehicle sits there long enough. Small rodents also like making homes in the heating systems of cars. I had that happen once in a Subaru that I owned. I’d let it sit in the garage a few days when I turned on the ignition only to have mice detritus fly out of the vents when the heat was turned on.
You can’t blame wild critters for trying to make a go of it any way they can. Even cats are known to climb up into the warm engine of a car. Our pet feline Benny was burned and injured when he was a wild little kitty that crawled up into a car engine. He was brought to the office of a veterinarian friend who fixed his injuries and put him out there for adoption. We took him in and he’s the sweetest cat ever.
But Benny’s also a pretty good mouse-catcher. We don’t have many mice that get into the basement but Benny finds them if they do. He snags them with his claws and brings them to the front hallway where he bats them around and generally shows off his prize. I take them off his “hands” at that point.
Cat and mouse game of survival
We don’t necessarily like to think about our own ‘human survival’ in terms of a cat and mouse game . There are so many layers of sustenance and politics and economics between what happens in our daily lives and human survival that we’re largely insulated from the dynamics of raw survival.
Hunters who kill animals and eat the meat know the reality of that connection much better than most of us, and I greatly respect their efforts. Humans have been killing and eating game for hundreds of thousands of years. We’re simply more efficient at it than ever before. These days most of us leave the killing of animals to others and prefer to buy our meat at the supermarket without getting blood all over our hands. No cat and mouse game is necessary there, unless you’re chasing down the last turkey for sale in the freezer. I’ve done that. But that’s also a story for another day.
We also run and ride and swim in artificial glory, often on manufactured landscapes such as roads or other manmade structures. We do so wearing fancy shoes, riding $5,000 bikes or swimming in pools filled with more chemicals, it seems, than water itself.
Thus it might help to stop for a moment before you head into the Thanksgiving holiday season (here in America anyway) and give thanks for the fact that your life probably isn’t such a cat and mouse game of raw survival.
Or tell me what you’re grateful for by sending an email at firstname.lastname@example.org. And if life isn’t so great for you, please write me as well. I care about you. So do many others.
The entire Thanksgiving tradition is based on the idea that early European settlers were graced by the food and hospitality of Native Americans who helped them survive. Starvation and death were much nearer to those trying to survive in strange lands. How ironic it was that once survival was assured, the payback for that original Native American hospitality was a nationalistic cat and mouse chase across the country until most of the mouse population was wiped from existence. That is the bitter flipside of Thanksgiving, if you think about it.
Our precious stash
It all gives one a new perspective on that stash of bird seed spilled on the driveway. It’s hard to sustain a live-and-let-live worldview when some things are automatically characterized as “pests” or unwanted residents. The many generations, nationalities and races of immigrants that have come to America for centuries know what it’s like to be objects of persecution. But in essence every person on earth is an immigrant on this planet.
It’s also easy to forget that our lives are dependent on the sacrifices of so many others to make this world work for all of us. It’s so easy to cease being thankful for what we do have or to become embittered, defensive or covetous about what we don’t have. America is being torn asunder by that last sentence, all at the hands of someone that has much, is satisfied by nothing, and who loves to ridicule even those that have sacrificed all for the sake of others. It’s the ugliest form of cat and mouse ever invented by the human race. Politics.
Rather than dwell on the ugliness, I recommend going for a walk or a very slow run through the wildest place you can find this week. Look around at the traces of wildlife you see and study the places where they live. Take stock of your own feet as they touch the ground. Realize that all of us are only on earth for a very short while to leave footprints and dole out hugs to our friends and family. Let Thanksgiving enter your hearts and minds in all the right ways.
And be grateful.