Monday, December 15, 2014

The Little Mouse That Lived

This pile of Elk Lines and Tinderbundles is the swiftest way to convey to you the reason I've been silent on the Vat the past few weeks. 

Meanwhile, the rain has been falling, turning the gutters to creeks and the creeks to rivers, and this yellow-rumped warbler, with his flashing yellow crown has, all the while, been feasting on the last persimmons out the window. Alas, he is blurry in this photograph, taken through glass. But he and I, we've been watching each other while each of us works. I wonder what he thinks of me, spotted through the window, murmuring hello to him when he comes and chirps and gorges himself and indignantly pesters the occasion jay. That strange being sitting at a big table with many things flashing about in her fingers. 

But what I really would like to share with you today is the story of a Mouse. 

You may remember him from October (A Heart of Acorn and Mouse) when I found him under an oak tree, trembling in a little ball, where I was about to dump out the dregs of my tea leaves, in the midst of learning to make buttons and beads with primitive hand-tools with a gathering of wild women in the hills of Occidental. 

With the help of another woman whose heart couldn't quite bear to leave him for the foxes or the bobcats or the owls, despite the natural way of things (for there he was, right in our path, as if begging to be saved, motherless and tiny and cold) he was scooped into an old coconut milk tin which we lined with wool (and how he curled, nose to paws, delighted, was the final straw for me; I almost cried at the sight, and became determined to save him, for all beings crave the pleasure of life, and deserve a chance at it). I tried to get him to Wild Care that evening but they were closed. I called their Emergency line about fifty times (and felt quite foolish) until I finally spoke to a woman who told me to keep him warm through the night and bring him in straightaway in the morning. I wrote of how I woke up every few hours to change the water in the bottle so he stayed warm, how I rushed him back over the bridge the next morning and nearly wept at the front desk when I gave him to the excellent people of Wild Care, certain he hadn't lasted the night, afraid to disturb him in his little nest and scare his remaining energy away.

I heard from them a week or two later saying that he was doing well, though his appetite wasn't quite what it should be, and that he was living with another deermouse. It's best for animals that have any hope of rehabilitation to be housed with another of their kind, especially young ones who have no parents to demonstrate to them the Ways of Wild Mice. It seems that together, they teach each other what it means to be a deermouse; they speak together in the language of deermice, whatever mysterious tongue that might be. 

I didn't hear from them again for a while. I was afraid he hadn't made it, and couldn't bear to call and ask. At least he got to be warm and full for a while, and speak with another mouse, I thought to myself. Then, about two weeks ago, I got a message on my phone saying that he was ready to be re-released into the wild, and since I had expressed interest, would I like to do it? And would I mind releasing both little mice together, as they needed to have each other nearby for a while to relearn the Big Wild?

Oh my. I couldn't imagine anything more magical. 

The woman informed me that the little mouse I had found was actually a rather rare subspecies of deermouse, possibly a pinyon mouse, who needed to be released right back where he was found. So, off I went on a rain-free Saturday with a cardboard box full of two terrified mice and a big bag of acorns and seeds. 

I took the back roads to Occidental. Everywhere, the world was turning green. Winter, our fecund season. The clouds were their own great landscapes on the horizon, come from over the ocean, wrung out of rain for the time being.

Smaller deermouse

When I found a safe place, full of thickets and near running water, close to the hilltop where I originally found the little deermouse, I opened the box. At first, the mouse I found wouldn't come out from under his shredded bedding at all, unlike his friend, who was very bold, and ran around the box a few times before literally leaping up over the side and into a very dense thicket where I had left a pile of seeds.

Smaller deermouse
As for "my" mouse, when he finally emerged, shy fellow, he was about twice as big as the other, with enormous ears and a little chestnut streak down each side. He climbed up to the edge of the box and was about to jump, when he looked back at me and fixed me with the most peculiar stare. We looked at each other for a good long moment. I could see his whiskers quivering, and the dark moisture of his great black eyes. I don't know if he regarded me with panic only, or some measure of recognition. I like to think it was recognition. Certainly the other mouse didn't pause to look at me at all. For some reason, the pinyon mouse fixed me with his liquid stare, and in it I saw the brief intense beauty of what it is to be a Mouse, the intense sensitivity, the quick fear. Maybe he was smelling at the air, and reading in it the resonance of Home, the place of his people.

"My" pinyon mouse
Whatever the case, he leapt from the edge too, and ran deep into the thicket I had chosen to hide them in, overhung with a very ripe toyon bush (a good feast for mice), and was gone. I stayed for a while and sang a small mouse song, hoping that their lives would be sweet and good, no matter how short or long. That they would be free, and content.

I kept thinking of the great gaze of that small mouse all the long drive home. The ancient intelligence in his eyes. How dark they were, how knowing, how perceptive. And how my heart, so easily moved already, was rather bowled over by the circle of this little mouse story--how he had huddled there, cold and alone and motherless, refusing to let me leave him; how, a month and a half later, he gazed long at me before he, a full grown healthy young mouse-man, leapt off into the thick greenery and began his wild life anew.

How, for all the lives I have unintentionally poisoned and ruined by living as a modern human woman in California in the 21st century, this one life, this tiny life, got to keep on living a little longer because I happened to be in his path, and my heart would not let me pass him by. It is a small thing in the great scheme, in the big story of loss and ecological destruction that we all carry and balk in the face of and do not know how to handle our sorrow over. But I think this experience reminded me that it hurts to become involved--to suddenly love a small mouse who is food for more creatures than I can count, to love him in my heart in a way that was literally painful, as I doted on him through that long night, and that is painful now, when I think of him out there in the scrub, and pray that he is alive, though it would be just as well to an owl if he were a meal—and yet, without loving and therefore mourning the beings of the more-than-human world, they are already lost to us.

He may not have made it past the following morning, or even that night, though I do so hope that he did; but whatever the case, for even an hour, his little mouse paws and his bright mouse eyes and his sharp mouse nose were again in the place of his fathers and mothers, and he was again wild and free.

For this, I am moved beyond human words.

And you never know, as in the old fairy tales, what may come of it all. When the foolish third brother spares the lives of the small ones-- ants, ducks, rabbits-- they always come back to save him in the end. This may be a matter of saving our hearts, of healing a small portion of a great divide, and not rescuing a princess from a sorcerer, but perhaps in this world of ours they are more similar than we might at first believe...