Mammalian Monsters

But what is a monster? I ask this because I’m writing here about Beowulf and everyone knows that Beowulf was famous for battling monsters. I’ve allowed myself a loose definition and included everyone from George Bush to the NRA. How about mice?

I have a running battle with varmints of the mouse family. For several years they have destroyed my crop of green peas – and that’s monstrous. We like green peas and I try to grow a lot of them. Some years I’ve put 20 or 30 pints in the freezer. But then the mice discovered that it was fun to attack my plants. Not just green peas. Some years it’s been broccoli and some years beans. Their taste seems to change from season to season.

And they are a monstrous opponent: lethal in their activity; nearly impossible to find and overcome.

You don’t often see a mouse. They are monstrously small (sure, that’s an oxymoron, but oxymorons happen; that’s why there’s a word for them) and not given to doing their thing under observation.

I’ve tried many tactics over the years. I tried discouraging them with unpleasantnesses. I was told mothballs would work. They played soccer with them. I found them rolled here and there overnight but the destruction went on. I tried protective devices. I cut the bottoms out of gallon milk jugs and put those over young plants. The next day the plant would be gone with “no sign of forced entry.” I tried red pepper flakes (don’t rub your eyes if you happen to touch one); I tried a highly recommended concoction of castor oil and clay. Still I would come out in the morning and find a dozen or more pea vines nipped off. They don’t eat the plant, mind you, just nip it off. It’s a game with them: you can’t catch me!

Over the years I avoided the old fashioned mouse trap. I was concerned that a bird might get caught in one and perish as an innocent bystander in this mammalian struggle. But this year, as the pea vines perished under nocturnal and diurnal assault, I’ve gone back to traps. The chicken wire the peas grow on can be curved a bit to overshadow the traps and (I hope) prevent birds from getting to them.

“Mission Accomplished.” We all know the perils of premature preening. But after two days of the new/old approach, six mice, voles, field mice, whatever, have bitten their last bait. And the daily losses of pea vines are way down. Stay tuned for further developments. And if you can build a better mousetrap, I will beat a pathway to your door.

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