BELLA THE WINTER MOUSE

Bella, The Winter MouseSome time ago, I befriended an adorable winter mouse, I named Bella, who wandered into my yard one day and became my friend for one long lonely winter.  Little Bella first caught my attention by peeking out from behind a wooden rocking chair on my back porch one cold December morning as I worked busily cleaning away cobwebs and dust from window panes and dusty corners.

I pretended to ignore this curious little field mouse. I was hoping that she would scurry away as almost all little critters do to avoid the murderous intent of larger critters.  As I continued dusting and sweeping, I kept stealing glances to see if the little  mouse with the large pink-ears was still watching me from its hiding place behind my old rocking chair.  As I furtively turned my head to get a better view, I was taken-aback to see the funny little brown mouse standing up on its hind legs with its little hands clasped in a pleading gesture as she stared at me.

My heart went out to the furry little winter mouse and I reached into my jacket pocket for the small package of peanut butter crackers I had accidentally left in my pocket the day before.  I opened the package , stepped off the porch (making sure the little mouse saw what I was doing) and placed a peanut butter cracker on the frozen winter grass.  I felt sure this would appease the determined little mouse to take the cracker and scurry back its winter nest, preferably far away from my back porch.  I then stepped back into my house and shut the door behind me allowing the little mouse to know it was now safe to scurry away with the peanut butter cracker.

The next day, as I gazed out of my backdoor window I saw my neighbor’s old Tom Cat on my back porch. He had apparently cornered something behind my old rocking chair. All at once, I knew Old Tom had cornered the little winter mouse who, no doubt, had returned for another peanut butter cracker.  I quickly stepped outside with broom in hand and shooed Old Tom away giving the frightened brown mouse with the large pink ears time to escape. It was the least I could do seeing how it was my fault the furry winter mouse had returned for more peanut butter crackers.

This time the little winter mouse scurried underneath the wooden porch and dashed away, but where to, I wondered. Surely, Old Tom would catch it now and it would be my fault.  Sadly, there was nothing I could do—this was nature, the natural cycle of life and death. I sighed deeply and bowed my head as I turned away from the window.

Little did I know Bella was quite familiar with all the hiding places around my house as I found out one chilly morning in the wee hours before dawn a few weeks later.   While snuggled up in my bed, underneath a quilted coverlet, I reached over to turn on the lamp on my nightstand.  As I did, (to my dismay) my winter mouse stood before me on my nightstand.  Her tiny hands were clasped tightly in front of her, grasping a peanut butter cracker I had left on the nightstand.  Her pink belly and soft brown fur trembled in the bright light.  We stared into each other’s eyes, nose to nose, for what seemed like a long time before she suddenly dashed, cracker in mouth, to wherever she had made a home – in my house.

Well, I thought, a friend it one thing, a Boarder is quite another.  So, early that morning, I crept, as quite as a mouse, with my flash light in hand to find the freeloader’s hideaway.  And find it I did. Apparently, my little curious winter mouse liked music, because I found her and her nest behind my credenza.  Her little brood of six pink baby mice seemed quite comfy— snuggled up in one of my missing fluffy slippers.

Well, enough is enough, I thought.  One winter mouse is tolerable for a winter, but not Bella’s brood of six baby mice.  I found myself in dilemma of what to do with Bella and her babies.  There was the mudroom, I thought, and that presented another dilemma. The mudroom already had several guests.

The injured red flying squirrel was healing well in a shoebox on the third shelf, Tabby, my 12-year-old tabby cat, somewhat incontinent and nearly blind, slept there each night on top of the filing cabinet, Fluffy, my snow white Tibetan Lhasa Apso also preferred to sleep there where his food was kept, like wrapped around the 25lb bag.  (You should know that Lhasa’s are very protective of their people and their food.)

I had no choice. Bella and her babies were going into the mudroom, in a covered shoebox, secured with tape and with small holes for air.  I placed the shoebox on the floor very near the mudroom backdoor that had a small bit of daylight between the door and the floor.  Every day I would leave one peanut butter cracker for Bella on the back porch. It didn’t take long before she waited for me every day at the backdoor, standing up, her little hands folded across her tummy and I would hand the peanutbutter cracker to her. She would reach out with her tiny hands, and grasp it and hold it to her chest before dashing away. She was the sweetest mouse. Her cute little personality and her big brown eyes were so expressive.

In early spring, I went to the backdoor and there was no Bella. I hurried to the mudroom and found the shoebox empty. They were gone. Bella, my winter mouse had gone back to the corn and alfalfa fields with her young.  I hope they all survived, but I would never know. I never saw her again. I still think of her sometimes, on a chilly winter morning when I turn the light on.

 

 

 

 

 

DANGER WALKS HERE!

It happened in a small farming community in the northwestern part of Connecticut that also included a large forest preserve, a once glacial river, now a bubbling brook, a lake, and a spring-fed pond. The community’s roots began in 1680, as The Salmon Brook Settlement that was also home to Native Americans like the Tunix, the Massaco, and the Mohegan.

It was a perfect summer day. The morning was cool and the sky was a brilliant Periwinkle blue. The deep, dense forest was a monolith of wonder for elementary school age kids.  The ancient woods that the Salmon Brook flowed through provided the Native Americans with all kinds of fish, fowl, and river animals, like beavers.

Evidence of their inhabitation lingers still in the form of arrowheads, pathways, in meadows that were once crop producing fields, where they once grew tobacco, beans, squash, and corn, as well as middens of shells like clams, mussels and turtles were eagerly searched for in the forest.  There were plenty of bones to find too, mostly animal, but sometimes, human bones that would be exposed as they washed up on the rocky river banks.

On this beautiful summer morning, a small band of kids, having traversed deeply into the forest, smelled smoke and considered it to be a fisherman on the river or the nearby lake.  At first, nothing much was thought about it. The smoke seemed to be coming from some distance away.

Taken aback by what she was seeing, one of the older members of the group of five children, yelled out, “FIRE!”  All heads turned to the leader of the group, who stood mesmerized by the yellow-orange fingers of flame surrounding a giant oak tree, that appeared to touch the sky it was so tall. The forest fire was closing in around them, silently sneaking up on them, until it roared like a lion.  The fire then leapt among the tree tops, high into the sky, turning the blue sky into a purple twilight, billowing with fire.

Like deer, caught in the headlights of an on-coming car, they froze in fear.  Suddenly, they ran, following their leader to an old wagon wheel road where giant, thick oaks lined the road, that was little more, now, than a pathway.  They ran and out of the corner of their eyes the watched the fire explode into the giant oaks behind them. As they ran, animals of all kinds joined in their fierce desire to escape the flames that were now, 40, 50, 60, 100 feet high in the air, and animals ran alongside the five children. The leader was shocked to find a black bear keeping pace at her side and deer leaping everywhere. Wild Turkeys, Foxes, Porcupines, Skunks, Woodchucks, all, ran with the humans, side by side on the narrow path, until the path widened as they reached an open field. Ahead of them was Canton road and fire trucks with long hoses and a helicopter overhead. The parents of the children were kept back by officers and firemen.

The children emerged, blackened with smoke, wild-eyed with fear, and the animals took off in different directions, some crossing the road to the other side where safety could be found, unmindful of the crowd gathered on Canton Road. The children, now at the point of exhaustion, collapsed into their parent’s arms as the firefighters dosed them with cool, clear water.

This was a day the five children would never forget. I will always remember the black bear running by my side. I remember how we looked at each other, the black bear and I—with a look that was “will we get out of this alive?”  It was as if we saved each other and we were a team. It was amazing. I will always remember the look he gave me as he turned to run into the safety of the tall bushes and another part of the forest, he turned and stopped for a moment, like he was saying, thank you and nodded his head.

By K. D. Dowdall

***I wrote this sometime ago and I had not proofread it before publishing. I have now made grammatical changes. A mistake, hopefully, I will not make again.