Sunday, February 23, 2014

Cabin Life: The Life And Death of Small Mammals

Woodland jumping mouse (Wikipedia Photo)The wild winter weather is continuing.  Friday it was so warm that even several hours after the sun went down, there was still a steady drip-drip-drip coming off the roof.  In the forties Saturday, the season just can’t seem to make up its mind.

That’s not to say that it has been an easy winter.  And to me, there has been a recurring theme out here at that cabin that demonstrates this better than anything else.  I have had a steady supply of small rodents around the house looking for food.

When I moved into the cabin a few years ago, Amy not so light-heartily called it the “Mouse House.”  Since then, it has been significantly cleaned-up.  With Ed and Herbie running nightly patrols, the mice moved out and other than a very occasional rustling in the walls, I have not had to deal with any other rodents inside the cabin.

That is not to say that there is a lack of small rodents at the cabin.  Red squirrels used to attack the bird feeders on a regular basis and there is a family of mice living in the outhouse.  There are certainly plenty of places for them to hole up for the winter out here.  Unfortunately, they seem to have decided to try and spend nights in a couple of buckets I have.  This has resulted in me finding more dead rodents in the last month than I’ve seen in well over two years.

The first one was a mole that for some reason climbed into the open bucket in the outhouse that holds the lime.  The lime is the off-grid version of a vanilla candle, and is essential to using the facilities.  I was not surprised to find the little bugger frozen solid in a bucket that offered no food or shelter even though I had no idea why it went in there.  I buried him… Unceremoniously.

About a week later, I spent a comfortable night watching TV and soaking up electric light and flushing toilets at my girlfriend’s. When I got home in the morning I found what I think is a vole frozen to death.  This was in another small bucket on the porch in which I keep some chicken food.

I use a combination of store-bought chicken feed and winter wheat, and when I was making a mix of the two, I had a small amount of the wheat left over.  This is a bucket that I can understand the rodents trying to get into at least.  It was frozen solid, and since there was only a little wheat left in it I just tossed the vole and wheat into the woods.

Then, even though there was only a little wheat frozen to the bottom of the bucket, the very next day there was a deer mouse in the bottom.  This was the first of the three rodents that were still alive when I found them. Since it hadn’t been inside the cabin, I decided to let it take it chances out in the wild.

As I laid the bucket down out front, the mouse scampered off.  It went a few yards down the trail towards the chicken coop, and then stopped.  I went inside to get the camera, and when I came out again, it was making a big loop over the snow back towards the woods.  I watched it run and leave a neat little trail across the snow.

Later, as I made my way to the outhouse, I noticed that the mouse tracks went right under the shed.  I took a little solace in the fact that it’ll be around for the rest of the winter.  I like having the wildlife around, even if it does require the occasional funeral.

Photo: Woodland jumping mouse (courtesy Wikipedia).

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Having grown up in the southern Adirondacks, Justin has always been at home in the mountains of New York. After graduating from Paul Smiths College, he began his career in the environmental field working for the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation. After a brief five year detour to Florida, Justin returned to the Adirondacks to live off the grid in a small cabin with no running water or electricity.

Justin continues to work and play in the outdoors, and maintains a blog about living off grid, hiking, and being outside in the Adirondacks called Middle of the Trail.

7 Responses

  1. Tom says:

    Cute, other than the fact that a mole is not a rodent.

  2. joanstreetman says:

    enjoyed the story

  3. Bob Kibbey says:

    Cute story. Do you ever get out for some ice fishing?


  4. Margaret says:

    Love your tales of cabin life. Look forward to them.

  5. BTW, the rodent pictured is a woodland jumping mouse (Napaeozapus), which is not active in winter as it is one of the few rodent species in our area that hibernates (the woodchuck is another).

  6. K says:

    I am curious about the lime – does it really reduce the odor and how much do you add per day?

  7. Charlie S says:

    I don’t like killing any thing,and I am always futuristic in the moves I make regards this non-killer instinct in me.Per instance…when I see a bucket on a deck right side up I have the tendency to topsy-turvy it as I know some mice and other critters (including insects) tend to find their way into them and then are unable to get out.In some cases,like Justin’s experience above,they’ll freeze to death,or drown if there’s water in the bucket,or bake to death under a blazing sun.I always turn buckets upside down for the above-mentioned reasons. There’d be a lot less misery in the critter kingdom if more people were as thoughtful.

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