Do you remember Button and Squeaky, the two infant house mouse babies I found some weeks ago, squeaking in my garage? Well, it’s about time I continued their story:
After some days of futzing with an infant feeding syringe that I had to look through a magnifying glass to use correctly (that is, without drowning the mouse babies), Button, Squeaky, and I settled into a fairly harmonious routine. I would wake once in the middle of the night to feed them. During the day, they fed every three hours.
My hands have gotten far less dexterous over the years, and I was concerned that I couldn’t keep them steady enough to consistently aim into those tiny, pinhole mouths, but all my outside work this summer had strengthened and steadied my fingers. My aim was good, their hunger was intense enough to keep them focused on the syringe, and as the days passed, Button grew. After a feeding, his tiny white belly would be plump and soft.
Squeaky, sadly, did not thrive. He was much smaller than Button, his fur wavy and oily-looking while Button’s shone like grey satin. When I would hold them in my lap after a feeding and watch them move, Button was beginning to attempt that classic mouse “rush” to and fro, albeit on shaky legs. Squeaky walked, trembling, with his back legs and tail hoisted up high.
On the morning that I began to hear a slight clicking in Squeaky’s breathing, I did not choose to begin antibiotics to stem the onset of pneumonia. For him, I sincerely believed it was a blessing. I carried them both with me in my bra all day. By nightfall, Squeaky was gone. I placed his tiny body under a beautiful maidenhair fern out by the pond. I covered him with a maple leaf. May he rest in peace. May his small body feed the Earth.
Button was becoming more exquisite by the day. His little pinned-back ears began fanning out like flower petals. His eyes got large, his whiskers grew soft like new grass, and he learned to grab for the syringe nipple and hang on with his small, sturdy hands.
I put Kleenex and shredded paper towel bits in his small plastic container, and after many days, he finally matured enough to begin creating a little nest with them. He took no interest in all the solid food goodies I offered him: nut pieces, cheese, Cheerios, baby cereal, wild strawberries. His love for his nipple was very strong. When he would hear me fiddling with the lid of his enclosure, he would poke his nose out of his den and sit very still until I picked him up. Then, he would latch on to the nipple, and drink till he looked round as a marble.
I was beginning to wonder when he might begin feeding himself, and when I might think about turning him back to the wild, when I awoke one morning to find that he took both matters into his own paws,—sort of. In the top of his plastic container was a perfectly chewed, round hole. Thus began Button’s Great Adventure.
I kept his enclosure in my bedroom on the floor. The doors were e always kept closed (Darter our cat, as you know, is quite the huntress), but the spaces beneath the doors were easily large enough for Button to slide under.
I sat down with his container in my lap, stunned that he was strong enough to have chewed a hole in it and made such a clean—and dangerous—getaway. Ghastly thoughts had their way with my brain: Me stepping on Button and smooshing him. Darter bringing me his entrails. MazelTov gobbling him down in one gulp before I could stop him. Also in my mind was an image of me beating my head against the wall—something that seemed more than appropriate under the circumstances.
The first thing that made sense to me was to try and figure out if Button could possibly still be in the bedroom, so that evening, I put out formula and sunflower seeds next to his cage with the hole in it. Come morning, I breathed a huge sigh of relief when the formula dish was empty, and some sunflower seeds had been cracked and eaten.
Two blessings, I told myself: He was still in the bedroom, and he was eating on his own. His sudden freedom seemed to be hastening the coming of his wild nature. I was lucky, so far. He was lucky, so far. That morning I went out and bought a mouse-sized Have-a-Hart trap, and set it up by his container. I trapped nothing that day, but by the following morning, there sat Button, huddled in the corner of the trap, under house arrest.
I carried the trap into the bathroom, climbed into the tub, and slid my hand into the trap. I wasn’t sure if he would allow me to handle him anymore. His demeanor was that of a wild, wary, mature mouse. What a difference two days can make, I told myself.
When my hand touched his fur, he climbed quickly into the palm of my hand, and sat very still. Bringing him up to my face, I said, “It’s time for you to have your next adventure, and it’s a big one, little man.” His whiskers flexed. He looked at my nose (a pink mountain). And he started to wash, first his face, and then every inch of his small self. “Getting ready for your big journey?” I asked.
I placed him back in solitary confinement (at least I knew he was safe and secure there), and hurried through my breakfast. Then, I packed a plastic baggie full of sunflower seeds, cereal, oats, a blob of peanut butter, and a handful of Kleenex, incase he needed some familiar construction materials.
I put the trap and Button in my backpack, Carter called the dogs, and we headed into the forest to the old, abandoned log cabin about a quarter mile down the hollow from our house. It was a fine day for freedom. The dogs rejoiced at the touch of fall in the air, and I rejoiced that I had been granted a second chance to steward Button to his wild life—one outside the walls of my bedroom.
In the old cabin sits a wooden ledge, next to an old chimney. Bricks are loose and falling, and there are wonderful places for a mouse to hide and thrive. I emptied the baggie contents onto the shelf, and then took out the trap and slipped my hand inside. Into my palm slipped Button, sitting still and calm. He was a creature big enough to place his trust in giants.
He did not leave my outstretched hand for some time and I didn’t hurry him. Finally, he tiptoed off my fingers, then scurried into the labyrinth behind the old bricks. I watched him hurry away to his new life with a heart full of relief and gratitude. I had kept him alive against all odds. And my reward was seeing a tiny piece of wildness slip off my palm and vanish like smoke into the great mystery. It was a good day to be alive. May little Button thrive, and may his offspring call that cabin home for many years to come.