Two weeks ago a beehive checkup revealed a field mouse had made her nest of grass and leaves in an old unused hive box and born her litter of fuzzy gray babies. Covered by a styrofoam top, they had the perfect shelter from predators and the weather. Finding them inside was touching, a glimpse inside the life of an often unappreciated little animal.
The mother mouse clearly felt suddenly vulnerable and nervous at the disturbance. She ran around inside the box a bit once the top came off, unsure what to do. The babies, blissfully unaware, stayed put and nursed on.
Mice actually love to take up residence within a beehive– enjoying the small, warm spaces and a food supply supply within –although the mess they make is not a very beneficial situation for the bees. It’s much less troublesome to have found the mouse and her babies living in the empty hive box, not bothering anyone or anything, where they can be left alone to grow unmolested and then head out into the world on their own.
It struck me as I was watching them how many mice I have trapped in the house, how many my cats have killed. I’ve almost always been sorry for it. But inside a human home they become a pest, pooping in kitchen drawers or scrabbling around in the attic at night, burrowing in walls and chewing on wires.
Last year a mouse munched on some wiring behind a kitchen floor cabinet. I had smelled an electrical burn before, and I heard the telltale hissing noise so I knew there was a problem. My contractor came quickly, cut the cabinet and repaired the damaged wiring before any real fire broke out. I was so angry and afraid, visualizing my house burning down with all my animals inside, that I cursed the mouse and prayed it didn’t survive the encounter.
So lately I haven’t exactly had a love affair with mice. But I can say I have normally a soft spot for them, like I do for most small things.
When I was kid, before I knew as a homeowner the kind of damage they can do, I used try and raise any orphaned baby mice I found. Tiny and helpless, I felt so sorry for them. I would put them in a glass aquarium filled with bedding, just like I used for my hamsters. I would try to feed them, give them water. But they always died. I’m sure my parents must have been grateful, dreading the mouse escaping one day into the house. They knew then what I know now.
But I felt the same thing I did when I was young seeing the mother mouse and her babies in the beehive, sorry for their utter vulnerability in the world, admiring their small softness, and frankly, their cuteness. It was an entirely different thing to find them out there in nature, doing no harm, trying to survive. I imagined the fear the mother mouse felt. So after a few moments of wondering at them I covered the box back up and left them in the safety of their nest again.
One of the best human traits to me, is our ability to empathize with other creatures. Cats don’t empathize with mice; mice don’t empathize with bees. So it’s a feeling I like to feel, recognizing that everything struggles. It is the part of me that knows compassion.
Even though I did not feel sorry for the mouse that chewed my wiring, I knew that was because I was angry and afraid. The mouse didn’t know what harm it could do, it was just looking for a meal. But I knew. And though I can understand the motives of the mouse or anything trying to live, I also know that I can’t let them run willy nilly inside my house. So the traps will stay, and the cats can catch their fill.
Nature, like a person, is both light and darkness. It is not just beauty and softness and cute baby mice in the field. That is just one aspect, though it is entirely true. The other is side is equally true, too: it is the shadow, the mouse that chews wiring and burns down a home, and the cat that hunts and torments it’s prey until the bitter end. Both are real, both have meaning. And one can’t exist without the other.
I think it’s coming to understand and then learning to live with that idea that is one of the hardest things to do sometimes.
So I will go on marveling at the mother mouse and her young living wild when I find them, and I will go on trying to remove or keep them out of my own home when they move back in for the winter. And maybe in striking a balance between wonder, safety and compassion, I won’t wrack up too much bad karma. After all, like the mice, in the end I’m just trying to survive, too.