A tiny, uninvited visitor

At a recent potluck dinner where several farm families gathered, the hostess's 5-year-old daughter had decorated the table for fall. Rose had arranged nests of red and gold silk oak leaves beneath palm-size pumpkins – and scattered stuffed or rubber mice about the table, along with a plastic gray snake.

I eyed the toy creatures. One spongy black mouse appeared to be scampering toward a hiding place between a cluster of pumpkins.

Most of us in attendance, except Rose, live in older farmhouses with cracks beneath the doors, empty knotholes in the boards facing the eaves, or slim spaces by the window casings. Come fall, we tuck in weatherstripping, replace sill boards beneath the door, and attempt to seal up holes. Like the squirrel I spied climbing toward his nest with a mouthful of tawny oak leaves, we seek to fortify our winter quarters.

After the meal, one of the farm wives, Laurie, picked up a stuffed mouse and said: "I've plenty of these in my house. And Lee found a massasauga rattler in the bathroom a while back. Never did figure out how it got in."

"We discovered a milk snake in the pantry," I said. "And a couple of times it appeared on our porch."

We women exchanged stories about chipmunks in the living room, voles drinking from the cats' bowls, and bats in the upstairs.

None of us relished the misadventures from the invading wildlife that hoped for a cozy spot behind hot-water heaters or in our attics. But in a small way, we understood their drive to seek shelter before snow smothered their world, and if a crack existed in the roof flashing, why not cuddle in the insulation?

A few days later, an early snowstorm lashed the Lake Michigan shoreline. My husband, John, dug out our plastic tub filled with mittens, scarves, and stocking caps. He pointed to a cache of seeds.

"What's this?" he asked.

Wild cherry pits rolled across the bottom of the plastic box. Dozens of glossy black seeds settled into the tub's corners. It was someone's winter snack supply.

"It's supposed to be mouseproof," I said.

"Lid wasn't on tight," John answered.

Nor was anything else tight in our owner-built house, despite John's efforts to close the cracks. He split more firewood and filled the wood box. I stoked the stove as the wind shook the pine trees surrounding our home and snow flew.

That evening our young cat, Fergi, forsook his spot on the rocker next to the woodburning cookstove and went upstairs. "Ka-thunk!" I heard him pounce, and then the bell on his collar jingled as he scampered down the stairs and dropped his mouse on the living room rug.

Robin, our corgi, bolted toward the mouse, but tripped over Fergi. While the pair untangled, Mr. Mouse raced once around the braided rug and slipped behind the upright piano.

"I wish him no harm, but I really don't want mice in the house," I said.

Fergi and Robin sniffed at the base of the piano. We moved a footstool and a stack of books. John fetched a leather glove and tugged at the piano enough that Fergi could squeeze behind it. Out popped Mr. Mouse, who dashed across the room and flew into the attached greenhouse. John's gloved hand scooped up the escapee. I opened the front door, and John tossed the mouse outside.

I hope Mr. Mouse found a sheltered cubby inside the woodshed. A home to line with shredded newspaper and the bits of the brown garden glove I lost somewhere in the daylilies. I'll uncover his nest in late March, no doubt, but in the meantime, with two bird feeders to choose from, he should weather the winter well.

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