Jane Goodall and I have a lot in common.

I’d have made a pretty good wildlife scientist, living alongside my furry, tick-ridden subjects, eating the same food they eat, sharing their miseries–drenching rain, biting gnats and hungry tigers. In fact, I’d probably be doing that right now if room service wasn’t so sketchy in the jungle.

I have developed some methods for dealing with wildlife, however, first of which is never invite it into the house. That makes the mouse in my living room a bit of a problem.

Woke up early this morning, intending an early start on a cold and rainy Monday, but heard strange sounds. Tiny windchimes, maybe, or someone playing the marimbas. I thought perhaps it was sleet against the tall clerestory windows in the front hall and went downstairs to check.

The builder gave my house more levels than bathrooms; there are a lot of stairs. I’ve sheathed them in maple plywood, which apparently has the acoustic characteristics of a fine guitar. A critter–probably a mouse–was scritching against one set of living room steps, sending out tinkling little musical notes. I looked behind things, didn’t see any sign of life.

My house is rather high off the ground and critters have been known to get in under the house; until I found and plugged the hole under the living room stairs I’d entertained a number of unwelcome houseguests. Most likely something had returned to find access blocked and was taking out its musical frustrations on the maple from the outside.

Relieved, I sat down on the sofa. And watched a tiny mouse saunter onto the fireplace hearth.

He regarded me calmly and collectedly, apparently not realizing that I was a vicious predator poised for destruction. Instead, he checked his tail and preened a bit.

I had to admit, he was cute. He had that chinchilla-like fur typical of field mice, with velvet-brown ears nearly as large as his head and enormous button eyes. He looked eminently pettable.

But he was also a mouse, i.e., unwelcome, and while he groomed on the granite I considered my options:

  • I could shriek, “Eeeek! A mouse!!!!” but beyond exercising my lungs I didn’t see what that would accomplish. Besides, the mouse and I had been watching each other for a minute or two, well past the point of spontaneity, so it would sound a bit contrived.
  • I could throw something at him. A chunk of heavy bronze or glass would certainly stop him in his tracks, and there were plenty within arm’s reach.  But it would most likely crack the hearth and certainly break the art. And while I have pretty good aim, would I be able to calculate an accurate trajectory for an asymmetrical piece of glass and metal hurtling toward a fleeing rodent? Possibly not.

    In any case, hitting him might be just as bad as not hitting him, since I’d be cleaning exploded mouseguts off the walls, the fireplace, the (appropriately named) bloodwood floor with the beveled, suck-up-any-guck-within-50-miles grooves. Or I’d be stuck finding a way to humanely dispatch a pain-wracked, maimed rodent with accusing eyes.

  • I could sic the cat on him. Great idea, but I no longer have a cat.
  • I could feed him obnoxious and deadly poison. Another great idea. Also something I don’t have, and unless the mouse was willing to come to tea on the coffee table, probably not an immediate solution.
  • I could grab a broom and hit him with it. Fine, but the broom is in the kitchen and the mouse is in the living room. And unless the broomstraws are made of heavy-gauge steel, what exactly is that supposed to do? Brush the lint off his fur?
  • I could catch him in a ziploc bag and throw him in the trash. At about this point the mouse decided to try the staircase again and streaked halfway across the room. If I could move that fast I’d be a track star, not a webbist, so scratch that idea.

Similar notions–stomping on him like a bug, smashing him with my 10-pound copy of “Nudibranchs on the Pacific Coast,” overturning the media center on his head, and sucking him up in the vacuum–proved equally impractical. I was barefoot, that book turns out to be out of print and unexpectedly valuable, and I had that speed issue. Besides, all these violent impulses were beginning to depress me.

So I sat for maybe a half hour on the sofa while the mouse explored the living room. I came to no useful conclusion except that he probably is using the fireplace vents as a front door and figuring out how to plug those will be interesting.

The last time I saw a mouse in the house I plugged every hole I could find with expanding polyurethane foam, AKA “Great Stuff.” The walls looked as if they’d sprouted pale yellow breasts. Doing that to the fireplace vents would be counterproductive.

I’d called a pest control company when I had that last mouse issue. Orkin technicians assured me that spraying the foundations of the house with insecticide and not actually setting foot inside was appropriate treatment, then charged me $150. My cat Rajah later decimated the mouse population for free, and I pretty much lost my faith in exterminators.

So…for now there’s a mouse in the house. He kind of looks like a colleague of mine from awhile back, so I think I’ll call him Nate.

Happy holidays, Nate.