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Paddling Articles In the Same Boat

Voices from the Wild

Not a Creature Was Stirring

By Tamia Nelson
tamia@paddling.net

A Note to the Reader

The opening lines of Clement Moore's A Visit from Saint Nicholas are probably as well known as any poem in the English language:

'Twas the night before Christmas,
    when all through the house
Not a creature was stirring—not even a mouse….
But how well did Moore know mice? Not very. At least that's the opinion of one expert, who's taken advantage of the late hour to set the record straight.

December 25, 2001

Not a creature was stirring—not even a mouse….

Sheesh! Nice poem, sure, but give me a break, will ya? It's Christmas Eve, right? And I've been on the move for hours. My brothers and me, we own the night. And we don't need night-vision goggles, either. Our capabilities are hard-wired. Big, black, dark-adapted eyes. Long, sensitive whiskers. A sniffer that never stops.

What's that you're sayin'? Who am I? Sorry. I forgot. You guys don't see so good in the dark, do you? I'm a mouse. And not one of your city mice, neither. Foreigners, that's what those city mice are! Johnny-come-latelys, always talking about the old country and how things just ain't the same over here. Well, I got nothin' against foreigners, y'understand. It's just that we white-footed mice were here first. We're like, you know, native sons.

Anyway, my name's Hannibal. Same as the famous general. The one who beat the Roman legions at their own game. And very pleased ta meetcha, to be sure. But watch where you put your feet, OK? Like that old Revolutionary War flag said: "Don't tread on me!" I got enough to do without havin' to watch out for some idiot's size-10 clodhoppers. Got a lot of ground to cover tonight.

Small? Well, yeah. I'm not what you call big, exactly. But so what? Me and the brothers are big where it counts. In spirit. That's what really matters, ain't it? We take our hard knocks, sure, but we don't let anything stop us. And when push comes to shove, we got a lot of big friends. Bet you didn't know we shared a common ancestor with the elephant, did you? Yep. That's a fact. Pretty strong family resemblance, too. Leastwise that's what I think. Big ears, right? Skinny tail. Long nose, too. Kind of—what's the word?—expressive. Right. That's it. Long, expressive nose. And smarts? Sheesh! You ever see any dumb mice? They say an elephant never forgets, don't they? Well that goes for us mice, too—in spades. Like I know every hidden corner in this drafty old shack, see? Plus an acre or more of ground around it. Every tunnel and hollow, each shrub and tree. If Tamia moves a book on a shelf or cuts a branch off a pine, I notice it next time I come through.

Whazzat you say? Why "white-footed" mouse? Use your eyes, guy! See these white stockings? What else you gonna call us? Well, yeah, sure. Some folks call our close cousins "deer mice." I guess that's all right, too. But we've all got white feet. And of course our toes are pink. But you have to get mighty close to see that, and—don't take this personal, OK?—I don't know you that well. You can see my white belly, though. Pretty handsome, huh? One of Tamia's field guides says we're "among the most attractive mice." A little patronizing, maybe, but I wouldn't argue.

"Cute"? Yeah, I guess you could say that. Glad you think so. We mice get a pretty bad rap, but every species has a few bad apples, you know what I'm sayin'? That ain't any reason to take it out on all of us, though. I mean, what would a camping trip be without all those funny sounds in the woods, anyway? You know what I'm talking about. That LOUD noise that woke you up the last time you slept out. The one you thought was a bear? And then when you shined your flashlight out of your tent door, what did you see? A mouse. Right on! One of the brothers.

What'd I tell you? Like I said, we own the night. And by the way, we noticed that the hand holding the flashlight—yeah, I'm talkin' about your hand!—was shaking. How'd I know? Word gets around. We mice have a saying: "Are you a mouse or a man?" Nothing personal, but me an' the boys like a good laugh.

Of course you'd hear even more if your hearing was as good as mine. You'll find us white-footed mice almost everywhere in canoe country, and we've all got a lot to say to each other. But with your ears…. Sorry, buddy. It's not your fault, I know. Still, the next time you're camping out and night closes in, listen up. You hear this noise I'm making? Yeah, right—the thing that sounds a little like an angry bumblebee, only up close and personal. That's me drumming my front feet and vibrating my tail. Sort of a warning, if you know what I mean. Just like you'd say, "Watch it, buddy. You're crowding me!" Nice and friendly, like, mouse to mouse. And it almost always does the trick. We mice have enough enemies without fighting each other. You humans could learn a thing or two from us, if you don't mind my sayin' so.

That ain't all, either. The buzzing's just the beginning. If your hearing's real good, you'll catch even more of what we've got to say. High-pitched chirps and trills. Squeaks. Single notes and choruses. 'Course you won't know what we're talkin' about. And that's a good thing. We like our privacy.

Still, even if you can't understand what we're sayin', you're sure to hear us moving around in the night. Whoever said "quiet as a mouse" just wasn't paying attention. And we do a lot of moving around. Take me, for instance. I live in a comfy little bachelor pad under the brush pile near the river, lined with shredded maple leaves and molted feathers. But I'm no stay-at-home. No, sir. I patrol all of my property every night. I even check out Tamia and Farwell's house to see what's going on.

Why? That's a no-brainer, buddy. Mostly, I'm on the lookout for a good meal. Insects and earthworms in summer. Mushrooms in spring and fall. Seeds all year round. Sure, I store a lot. I've got food-caches all over my property. But a guy can't have too much put aside for a rainy day, can he? And around this time of year, you never know what you'll find. Take Tamia and Farwell's place. As humans go, they're pretty tidy. But whaddaya want to bet I don't find a piece of popcorn or two, or maybe a cracked walnut, every time I go looking? Sometimes I even find a slice of cake. Like tonight. Now that hits the spot!

There's more to life than eating, though, ain't there? Tamia was reading Beatrix Potter's The Tailor of Gloucester just before she went to bed—it's one of her favorite Christmas stories. She left the book open on the table, and I couldn't resist taking a look. I'm glad I did. It was mighty hard work turning the pages, but I read it right through from start to finish. What a great book! And the pictures? Outstanding! Sure, the mice that Beatrix Potter drew aren't like me and the brothers. They're…well, you know…foreign. But that doesn't matter. After all, Beatrix Potter was foreign, too. So it's only natural. And anyhow, the mice are the heroes of her story. She knew a thing or two about us, let me tell you. The mice in the story run in and out of the tailor's shop "without any keys." Just like I run in and out of Tamia and Farwell's place.

Of course I've got my trail network all laid out and posted. Whazzat? You say you've never seen any of these trails? No surprise, buddy. They're scent trails. It's just like we mice say: "The nose knows." Saves us a lot of time. And it can be a life-saver, too. We may own the night, but there's some things out there we'd rather not run into. Owls, for example. And weasels. Not much Christmas spirit in that bunch. So every time we move around after dark, we really beat feet.

Jeez! Is it that late already? I better be shovin' off. Got a whole half acre more to patrol. It's been great talkin' to you, though. And tell Tamia "Thanks" for the cake, will ya? Now I really gotta go. Like that guy Moore said:

Happy Christmas to all, and to all a goodnight!

Happy Christmas to all!

Copyright 2001 by Verloren Hoop Productions. All rights reserved.







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