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McCallum: Critter Tales

Lately, the critters in and around my house remind me of an old movie title about the good, the bad and the ugly. Gardening and hiking are now fraught with danger. Ticks have taken all the fun out of lying in the grass staring up at the clouds. And I’ve already picked my share of them off the dog in what experts predict will be Vermont’s worst season on record.

On the good side are peepers, robins and fiddleheads. But among the bad and the ugly – in addition to ticks - are black flies and rodent home invaders.

I uncovered three nests of them this year in just one week, including one under the hood of my car where the mouse family had eaten through the windshield washer hose. Another family shredded summer clothes in a dresser drawer. They were clothes I’d been debating about donating to the thrift store – but still.

My terrier sniffed out a third group of squatters in a kitchen drawer where a Mama Mouse and her tiny, blind, grey babies were snoozing away in a nest of chewed up cloth napkins. I yanked out the drawer and ran with it across the living room, prompting Mama Mouse to leap out in midair and scurry off, while I tossed the babies outside like a heartless homewrecker.

Shortly after Donald Trump moved into the White House, rodent sightings were rampant and they reached a peak when the furry pests invaded the Situation Room, prompting Mike Pence to request more mouse traps. And I have to say this is one time when I totally get Pence’s strategy of strike quickly, eradicate the problem and negotiate later – if at all.

I’ll admit these creatures possess physical skills that defy traps and roadblocks that humans put in their way. Tiny immigrants, they’re natural swimmers that can tread water and hold their breath longer than humans can. They can scale vertical walls and run like lightning. Their 8 mph speed is the human equivalent of 160 mph.

They’re also cute - which is why President Andrew Johnson befriended another family of White House mice back in 1868, treating them as pets, feeding them in secret while his daughter, Martha, brought in cats, traps and poison. He saw them as entertaining while she viewed them as the enemy.

As for me, I’m now on the dark side with Martha.

Mary McCallum is a freelance writer and former prison librarian who now works with Vermont elders.
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