We had a thundering rain storm a few days back. Bigger than any I can remember. Rain came down in sheets and the sky stayed black all afternoon. The next day, when Carter and I walked the dogs down into the hollows, it looked as though a tide had come through the creeks and washed the place down to bare sand and stone. Gone were the leaf piles of last winter. The ferns and bluebells were bent down flat on the forest floor. In the smooth, bare, brown creek sand, I saw the tracks of wild turkeys, opossums, and squirrels. I wondered to myself how the box turtles had fared in the storm waters…
Just as the storm had begun, I hurried outside in the pelting rain to place a clear plastic tub over one end of my bathtub pond. The toad eggs had hatched out just that day and the tiny toadpoles were still tender and vulnerable. The plastic protected them from the battering rains, and I found no floaters the next morning when I checked in on them.
Carter and I make it a point to walk in the woods each day now, knowing our time here is brief. We move in just about two weeks. Life right now feels as turbulent as the storm that passed over us. I have moments when I feel as flattened as the ferns on the forest floor. We pack, we eat, we sleep, we pack. And pack and pack. We’ve signed our house over in advance of escrow, because we will have left Indiana before the house officially changes hands. Our buyer is a busy man, with a full plate. A new job in a new town, a death in the family only this past winter. An estate to settle. He has been unsettlingly quiet the past two weeks, not responding to any of our calls or emails as we update him along the way.
This morning, I wondered what we would do if the deal fell through. If we simply never heard from him again. Ever. This morning, my mind was on possible catastrophes that might be looming in our future. No completed sale. An empty house, its contents on the way to Washington. Everything upside down. While I worked myself into a numbing trance, my hands were absent-mindedly opening up a section of quilt-stuffing fabric. I use quilt stuffing to add another layer of filtering to our pond pump when I clean it out every few weeks. With the storm rains we had, the pond water was looking the same color as the moving boxes stacked up in the living room. You know that color—latte brown. So I set the material out on our picnic table and cut off a good long section. Then, I unplugged the pond pump, pulled the pump and filter casing from the pond, and set the muddy, mucky mess on the slope to the hollows so that when I hosed it all off, the mud wouldn’t run back into the pond or onto my lap.
I was so transfixed by my moving—or aborted moving—fantasies that it took me awhile to register the chirping sound that was coming into my ears. I heard it, yet I hadn’t heard it. My brain reluctantly turned away from my “oh-no-what-if” hallucinations, and focused its gray matter on the peeping sound coming from….from where?
I cocked my head left, then right. I paced around the pond. The cheeping sounds continued. Birds? No. When my mind is not on some other planet, it can clearly register a distress call, and that is the sound I was hearing. And it was coming from…the picnic table?
Not the table, actually, but from the quilting fabric folded on top. Carefully, I began unfolding the soft, white sheets of stuffing. The chirping grew louder. It sounded downright indignant. And suddenly there they were. Four of them, like the prettiest little pussy willows you ever saw. Gray, of course, with fur like velvet. Four tiny, pink-toed house mouse babies. And mother was there, too, but I only saw her in a blur as she whooshed away out of the stuffing and down onto the decking. She was gone before I could blink my eyes.
I cupped the babies in one hand and clumsily cut off a large chunk of fabric with the other. This, I rolled into a cozy mouse enchilada, and inserted the four still-chirping youngsters. They felt warm in my palms as I carried them back to the cabinet near the pond where I store the quilt fabric. In mouse distance, the cabinet was probably about five miles from the picnic table where I’d last seen mom. I set the babies carefully into the corner of the cabinet drawer and closed it. Then I traveled about three mouse-miles to the patio swing by the pond. When I sat down, I could still hear those little ones chirping away like angry birds. I figured Mama Mouse could hear them, too.
While I sat, I pondered their tenuous situation: Single mother mouse with a family of four loses her home in a Wizard of Oz-style event. One moment, she’s busily nursing four hungry babies, the next the whole family is hurtling through space and plopping upside down on a faraway table in a faraway land. I figured that in the grand scheme of things, the mouse’s housing situation was far more catastrophic than mine. And I knew that she would handle her dilemma with far less hand-wringing (can mice wring their hands? I think so…) than I.
She did, too. I checked the contents of the drawer after about ten minutes of watching my frogs do water ballet in the pond and, of course, it was empty. All the babies had been cleared out. I could still hear them cheeping very faintly. She had re-homed them all close by with little fuss. Most probably, she was washing them all off to clear away the offensive odor of an overly-anxious human. And then, she’d take the time to wash her own face and paws. And then, she’d simply get on with life.
I put the rest of the quilting fabric away and washed my hands with hose water. Then, I went back into the house and when my mind began sneaking off into house-catastrophe land, I thought about Mama Mouse, and told my mind to be quiet. It is not easy to steer my mind in a fresh direction when it is chewing on something as satisfying as a catastrophe or even an imagined catastrophe, but that small mouse gives me courage, and determination, and hope. Hope that I will be as strong-hearted and pragmatic as that tiny single mother of four, should the situation warrant it.