The mice which haunted my house were not the common ones, which are said to have been introduced into the country, but a wild native kind not found in the village. I sent one to a distinguished naturalist, and it interested him much. —Thoreau, “Brute Neighbors,” Walden
“Something’s moving inside the walls of the family room,” my wife says. “I can hear it scratching when I’m watching TV.”
“Maybe it’s a bug of some sort,” I say, thinking of various beetles, carpenter ants and termites.
“No, it’s too big for a bug.”
“You think it might be a squirrel?” I say, recalling similar sounds I’ve heard in the attic late at night.
“It might be. It makes quite a racket.”
I retreat to the computer, google “crunching sounds in the wall” and pull up 20,300,000 hits in 0.30 seconds.
One post describes the likely source of such sounds:
“Mice are mainly nocturnal, so you are probably dealing with mice if only at night. I say whatever you think you have, you’ve got something smaller. So if you think it is a hippo, it is probably a raccoon. If you think it is a raccoon, it’s probably a squirrel. If it sounds like a squirrel, it’s probably mice. Everything sounds louder at night when you’re trying to sleep.”
As I read through several additional posts, I hear a munching, crunching noise in the ceiling overhead. Whatever it is that’s making these sounds, it’s a good bet that there is more than one of them.
I retire to the basement to find my Have-A-Heart trap resting on the window sill. I pick it up, dust it off, check the mechanism to see that it still functions properly and traipse upstairs to the kitchen.
I find an unopened jar of natural peanut butter in the larder and break the seal, stirring the oil into the thick peanut paste. I use a kitchen knife to scrape a small amount on the treadle inside the trap.
I find an electric lantern and ascend the stairs to the attic, trap in tow.
The attic is cold and cluttered with bags of old clothing and boxes of books. I move a few items to make a pathway to the back corner and gently rest the trap on one of the floor boards. Then I retreat down the hatchway and let the wooden stairs fold back up into the ceiling.
That night I waken to a scratching sound in the ceiling above the bed. The sound does not travel, but stays in one place. I drift off to sleep. If something is in the trap, it can wait until morning.
I rise early, before first light, pull down the hatchway and climb the creaking wooden stairs to the attic. I hold the electric lantern high to illuminate the path through the clutter. Both doors of the trap have been tripped.
I pick up the cage and peer through the mesh. There, huddled in a corner, a white-footed mouse hunkers down.
I carry the trap with the mouse downstairs to the kitchen and place it on a wooden stool. I brew a cup of coffee and sit watching the mouse. It wiggles its nose; its whiskers tremble.
Wee, sleekit, cowrin, tim’rous, beastie,
O, what a panic’s in thy breastie!
Thou need na start awa sae hasty,
Wi’ bickering brattle!
I wad be laith to rin an’ chase thee,
Wi’ murd’ring pattle!
I’m truly sorry Man’s dominion
Has broken Nature’s social union,
An’ justifies that ill opinion
Which makes thee startle
At me, thy poor, earth-born companion,
Coffee mug in hand, once again I ascend the stairs to shower and dress. I tie a bow around the collar of my shirt, pull on my grey tweed coat, and regard myself in the mirror for a fleeting moment before descending to the depths of the kitchen, where the mouse waits, shivering in the trap.
I doubt na, whyles, but thou may thieve.
What then? poor beastie, thou maun live!
A daimen icker in a thrave
‘S a sma’ request.
I’ll get a blessin wi’ the lave,
And never miss’t!
I pull on my coat and cap and step out of the back door into the cold, carrying the trap in a gloved hand. It’s a fifteen minute drive to the other side of town across the river. I stop by the woods and unceremoniously open the trap. The mouse leaps to the ground and scurries away beneath the leaves, making one last brief crunching sound.
Now thou’s turned out, for a’ thy trouble,
But house or hald,
To thole the Winter’s sleety dribble,
An’ cranreuch cauld!
But, Mousie, thou are no thy lane,
In proving foresight may be vain:
The best-laid schemes o’ Mice an’ Men,
Gang aft a-gley,
An’ lea’e us nought but grief and pain,
For promised joy.