The small, grayish blur huddled against the side of the crumpled seed bag could've been anything from a dust bunny to a very large centipede. I can't see much of anything without my contacts, which might have been dangerous if the critter in question had indeed been a centipede.
But I was pretty sure it was a mouse. Whoever coined the phrase "quiet as a mouse" obviously never lived with one. One small house mouse can make more noise working its way through a bag of peanuts and birdseed than any three herds of elephants. This one, I realized as I carefully angled the open bag over one of my husband's sneakers, had been serenading us with the classical sounds of crackle-crackle, nosh-nosh, scrabble-scrabble for several weeks.
The bag rustled and shook from side to side. The blur popped from the mouth of the bag, bounded over the toe of one size 11 sneaker and snaked into the opening of the other. Oh well, I think my husband checks his shoes before he ties them on, but I couldn't afford to dwell on the question. The squirrels who arrange their days around our periodic distributions of birdseed were lining up on the back stoop and eyeing the handle to the screen door in a most alarming manner.
Lesson to remember when dealing with rodents: squirrels are smarter than you, and their teeth can gnaw through anything except 16-guage steel. They know it too. Therefore, you placate them with just enough food to eliminate any incentive they might have to work together to invade your house. Consider it the original protection racket. Squirrels, after all, were the mammals that inherited the earth after the dinosaurs went belly up, and they'll probably outlive us too.
Mice, on the other hand, survive on cute and the natural reluctance of big, strong humans to commit mayhem on itty bitty mammals no bigger than a breakfast sausage. Trust me, you will never know the true meaning of "Nimrod" until you face down a mouse with a naked sword in your hand.
Nevertheless, mice frighten some people -- and not just because, like Victorian heroines, they think they ought to be scared. Some Native American tribes associate mice with bad luck and illness, and the droppings of deer mice do carry a flu-like virus as deadly as black plague.
House mice carry fleas, but for the most part house mice only present a health hazard if you allow them to contaminate your food. Keep your staples in cans, sealed canisters or mylar sacks, and they'll stick to the brown paper birdseed bag.
But if you define bad luck in the very broadest terms, I'll buy it. The potential Y2K meltdown didn't faze me until I realized this year's Chris-mouse arrived sometime in October. Normally, we don't acquire one until sometime in December, just in time for the annual holiday delivery of mini-mice.
The last time the mouse arrived early was in October 1995. In January 1996, all the weather records in the mid-Atlantic states crashed under ice storms, killer snows, a week of unscheduled federal holidays, power outages and interrupted waterflow. So I guess I'll be stockpiling water and canned goods, batteries and birdseed with the best of them as we count down the days to 2000. After all, I'll have a new family to feed.
Wishing you and yours all the joys of the holiday season, however you celebrate it. May your next thousand years be happy, healthy and prosperous.
Jean Marie Ward