WINTER GUESTS

Me, mouse, and Mazel

Me, mouse, and Mazel

Rain is the constant feature of my NorthWest winter. So constant, in fact, that on the very rare days the sun peaks out, I am stunned by its forgotten brilliance, and rush outside to stand facing it, eyes closed. That precious red glow behind my eyelids makes me suddenly warm all over. It seems to me that the birds rejoice in that rare light, as well, and I can hear a rousing chorus of them singing to the sunlight across the big pasture.

Then the cloud quilt pulls back up across the sky and I marvel again at how instantly the mood of a landscape is transformed by the spirits of light and dark.

Like me, the animals of winter seem to hunker down and go invisible during the cold rains. While I sit inside with tea and warm toast, I imagine skunks curled in dens with their lovely tails draped over their cold noses. Squirrels dream in tree hollows and leaf nests, and opossums crawl into any dry space they can squeeze. I have a great photo of an opossum—all fifty teeth bared in a crocodile “smile”—lurching up from the depths of a massive straw nest built in the engine compartment of a truck. I like to think of that guy trying to start his truck with no luck at all, saying to himself, “Hmmm, I wonder why it won’t turn over…Let me check…Agggghhhhh!”

The rains also wash away any signs I might normally see of animals traveling through the yard. I’m no Tom Brown Junior when it comes to tracking, so it sometimes feels to me like all the animals have left town. I am grateful to the flock of juncos that come to the seeds I scatter in the driveway, and for the three squirrels that show up for sunflower seeds and stale bread just before dark each afternoon. They help me feel less lonely in winter.

I miss seeing the deer tracks and the footprints of the raccoons and the crows down near the creek where we walk. That creek is currently a torrent, and it gave up any and all of its mudbanks weeks ago. The shore rises now all the way up to the grass line on the hill. No one seems to be nibbling the berry bushes or the Oregon grape along the edge of the property where I sometimes saw the doe of last summer. Even the coyotes have stopped singing.

I miss them all. Sometimes—like right now—I remember just how many invisible visitors leave their seasonal calling cards of poop, tracks, songs, and nibbles where I live, and I feel their absence deeply in my days. So you can imagine how excited I was to find an owl pellet last week beneath the huge douglas firs by the house, and then another just a couple days ago. When I broke the sodden mass open with my fingers—yes, I know it is horribly unsanitary—I found the teeth and leg bones of mice and shrews. It warms my winter heart now when I go to bed at night and imagine that large great horned owl perched up in the same tree that shades our house all summer long. His unseen company makes my days just a little richer.

We have another invisible guest living in our car these days. Tiny droppings like thistle seeds have begun to appear in the console cup holder of our car. A few days ago, when Carter turned on the defroster, there was a flurry of white tissue flecks like snow spouting out from the window edge of the dashboard. And I could smell that unmistakable odor of mouse pee. We keep a plastic bag of doggie treats in the glove compartment for Mazel Tov, and those are all gone, replaced by shreds nibbled from the carpet liner in the back seat.

So yesterday afternoon, I stopped  by our local hardware store to look at their mousetraps. They had a slew of them, from the snapping kind to the feet-stick-em kind, and lots of boxes of poison. I chose a pack of two plastic live traps from China that looked like squared-off toilet paper rolls and figured I’d give them a try. Last night, I baited the two traps with peanut butter and chocolate chips, and crossed my fingers.

This morning, both traps were sprung, and I could “feel” a mouse fearfully shivering in one of them. Now, there is nothing pleasant about having a mouse pee in your air vents and eat your carpeting, but I have to admit to you that I was just tickled as a kid at Christmas holding that little trap in my hands. I talked baby talk to the mouse inside, telling “her” that we’d be taking her down by the creek when we walked Mazel Tov later that morning. And we did. I carried her small trap in my jacket pocket, and could not resist opening the trap and tapping its contents into my cupped hand. All my life, I have been captivated by the feel of the wild, cupping small birds, injured chipmunks, newly-hatched snakes, anything and everything I could put my hands on if only for the briefest of moments. In such instances, I feel the vibrant electricity of mystery race powerfully up my wrists and arms and into my racing, thankful heart.

This morning, The Wild was a young and shaking mouse with shining eyes and a white chin. She sat looking up at me, not daring to move, and I was caught up again—as I always am—by a wave of absolute wonder that the gods could make such a perfect little being and that I could be blessed to share space on this earth with such furred perfection. Carter caught the moment on camera, and I share it with you so that you might be reminded of all those moments in your own life when you have come face-to-face with a moment of winter magic.

For those moments, I had all the company I craved: Husband, dog, and wildling. Who could want for more?

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10 Responses to WINTER GUESTS

  1. kathey says:

    Hi Susan, your photo is very beautiful. What a landscape you live in now. Those ferns are unbelievable! I can just feel the chilly air and the damp moisture. Ms Mouse is about to delight in her freedom once you are able to give her up to her wilds. It would be difficult for me, I know, to let go of such a moment as you have here.

    • Susan McElroy says:

      Yes, Kathey, I’ve always lived in beautiful places—a deep need of mine—and this one is a magic place of green and water. The ferns ARE amazing any time of year, and that place where we took that photo is only a mile down hill from us. It’s a lovely walking park that has trails that wander for miles. I am blessed! Hopefully, I’ll catch yet more mice tonight…The car seems to be full of them!

  2. Nancy says:

    Susan, there is another book I see in you, I don’t know if I can adequately describe. The deep connection you have with animals, to nature, to the earth, to the unseen, to the understanding of how all things work together and our place among it all. The deep connection you have to yourself-you hold within you the long forgotten, the thing that many will never see or feel and others could not even understand. I wish I could explain better–Hay House would be a good publisher. You could freely explore the depths of your connection and they would understand. One of their online radio shows is devoted to reviewing books also. I wish I could describe the book I see in a better way. Your writing makes me feel it but the depth is hard to put into words at 5 AM.

    I am confused by the date on the photo. Is this beautiful story from the present? Or the past?

    • Susan McElroy says:

      Nancy, I can’t figure out how to make my camera get the dates current. It is a real bother! That photo was indeed taken just the other day. Now, could you please tell me more about this book of mine? I have a manuscript that my publisher rejected. Because my mother is my best fan, I made a copy of it for her for MOther’s Day. She read it and loved it (bless mothers!!), and told me that she could see how publishers would reject it, as few people understand what I am saying about nature and animals, and few people are capable of going there these days. As my writing has deepened, I have indeed lost the large audience I had with my very first book, Animals as Teachers and Healers. The deeper I go, the fewer go with me. And the fewer chances I have to publish. Crazy world, these days!

  3. Carter says:

    The only more there could be is you, my love.

  4. Nancy says:

    Susan, crazy world, sadly, yes. Parts of it anyway. I did not know just how so until this awful sewer thing. I fell so hard but, in the coming up, in the seeking of help, I landed in a world with Souls still very much linked to the Sacred. Yours included here. Others are very much out there, and slowly growing in numbers I think. There is hope. Finding them sometimes is a bit of work. You seem intensely connected to the Sacredness of Life. You seem a protector of the animals. They surely need protecting. As I was being healed, I was told I am a protector of the earth. That made a lot of things make sense to me. I thought I was going to die; not live to see my grandbaby born. I needed things to make sense. If I get more thoughts concerning your next offering to the healing of the world, I will gladly send them on. I would love to read the manuscript you gave to your mom. The thought that comes to me is for you to sit upon the ground and be your own sacred offering. Sit as a open vessel, asking nothing, connected to everything, accepting your place and the messages to come. You are precious, and you are connected to the preciousness of life- and I just know in my heart that you will receive the understanding needed to bridge the depth of all you are, and all you love, with words those not so blessed can understand, take into themselves, and be changed. The world needs your voice. I have to go and write of lesser things now. We live in Tennessee. If you have some extra blessings please send them our way.

  5. kathey says:

    Susan, I would love to see in book form all of your blogs from their inception. Every one of them is wonderful reading, and your themes are so varied! i personally would love to have them all bound together and handy to read whenever…and to gift to friends to read. Perhaps you could use your blogs as your starting and finishing points with other complementary stories added between the blogs. I think that your great great gift is your ability to tell wondrous stories. About the daily and remarkable events in your life. Because you see these events as remarkable, and you have the gift of telling their stories.

  6. Hope says:

    After 2 weeks of winter white ground, the January thaw has turned the woods around my house back to brown. While this means that animal prints are not so readily apparent, the moss on the rocks seems a more vibrant green. For me it means that my cat Pearl once again accompanies me on walks. A rescue, I do not know her back story except that she came into the shelter with a litter of kittens and was sick for an extended period. Once home, she’s become a happy and affectionate cat but, inside the house, I have never heard her purr in the years we’ve lived together. However, on walks, she jumps on a large rock or a fallen log and purrs loudly while I pat her. This continues throughout the walk. I treasure this time of sharing time together.

  7. Nancy says:

    Susan, I listened to an online radio show (on Hayhouse) about this the same day I posted to your blog. It was so timely, I thought of you. How can anyone doubt that animals possess consciousness?

    http://fcmconference.org/

    http://fcmconference.org/img/CambridgeDeclarationOnConsciousness.pdf

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