SMALL TREASURES—A MOUSE’S JOURNEY

Suse holding Mice2009-08-10It sounded like a bird chirping. At least that was my first reaction to the squeaking noise that had Darter so intrigued in the garage. She was circling a small metal shelving unit full of Carter’s tools, her feline whiskers flexing in great concentration. I narrowed down the direction of the sound to the right hand corner of the second shelf, and stuck my hand back behind a small, greasy box full of bolts or something, and touched something warm and squirming.

Hand Holding Mice2009-08-10It was a mouse. Two mice, actually, both pink and hairless, and one with a cry that should have brought mama mouse running. But Mama wasn’t coming, because Darter had left her eviscerated body in the driveway, next to the body of yet another pink, lifeless baby.

I love my cat. I am happy that she keeps the mouse population down around and in our house, but, paradoxically, I am pained and distressed to see a baby of any kind suffer. So I thanked Darter for her hard work in keeping our house mouse-free, while I hurried the tiny pinky mice inside and warmed up a heating pad for them. Yes, I know, this is very conflicted thinking.

The little mice were the size the tip of my pinky finger, with eyes and ears tightly sealed. I could barely make out their tiny mouths and wondered what in the world I had around the house that would fit into that pinhead-sized orifice so that I could attempt to feed them.

Luckily, I had a very small plastic nipple made for preemie squirrels and chipmunks, and a 1cc syringe. I also had on hand some powdered Esbilac, which is always good in a pinch to feed baby anythings. So I decided to give these little mice a go and see if I could possibly save them. I’ve never attempted to raise anything this small and this young, and I knew the odds were not in their favor. Both were wrinkled with severe dehydration, and I had no idea how long they had been motherless. Hours at least, I assumed.

Upon closer inspection, I found that one of the babies still had his thread-like umbilical chord affixed to his belly. I decided they were both little boys, although a penis on a mouse that size is nearly invisible, at least to my aging eyes.

It was easy to name the loud one—who was also by far the smallest—Squeaky. Button came to mind as a good name for Number Two, so that was that: Button and Squeaky. The pink orphans. While their formula heated, I got out tissues, Q-tips, and a small face towel. When I held Squeaky up to the nipple, I realized I would need a magnifying glass if I hoped to avoid accidentally drowning them.

It was quite a fine juggling act: Squeaky in one hand, nipple and syringe in the other, and the magnifying glass sandwiched between my knees. Somehow, we all survived the first night.

And the second, and the third. Suddenly, a week had passed, and the mouslings were no longer pink. A soft fuzz of the prettiest grey had covered their naked pinkness. Their bellies were vanilla colored velveteen, and their still-closed eyes were circled in black liner. All was going well, but I was concerned for Squeaky. He never looked quite “right” next to Button. While Button had a coat of gloss, Squeaky looked greasy. Button was learning to scurry—albeit slowly. Squeaky walked with his back end held straight up, and he quivered with each step.

Still, they were surviving to my surprise and delight.  With eight feedings a day, I was able to spend a lot of time with them, fascinated just watching them grow and change. My daily charts of their care were full of exclamation marked “firsts”: “Button washed his face!” “Squeaky grabbed the nipple with new teeth!” “Ears open!” “Eyes beginning to open! So shiny!” “Button pees by himself!”

And I was struck once again by the miracle of small treasures. Life, I find, is awesome when it is huge and in your face, and it is equally awesome when it is so tiny you need magnifying lenses to see it. How miniscule and how perfect is something as ordinary-yet-extraordinary as a baby house mouse. The human hand is a remarkable thing, yet no less breathtaking than the perfect, thread-like fingers of Button wrapped around his white, cherished nipple. Eyes are indeed windows to the soul, whether the eye is human, or the glitter-speck eye of young Squeaky.

I am loving my journey with the mouse brothers. They are nearly three weeks old now, and while my days are spent in a bit of a sleepy haze from the necessity of late night feedings, I am learning the unique gift of mouse presence, which is quiet, gentle peace.

Perhaps this is the gift of the rodent kingdom. Perhaps this is the gift of creatures who take no life in the process of living their own. While Darter will continue to hunt and eat them, I stand in new awe of these very small treasures, who fill their own unique corner of Earth, and care for it far better than we.

More of the adventures of Squeaky and Button to come….

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