THIS time of year brings the peerie four feet folk inby and there are already mice in the cellar. But apart from the tell tale debris left behind, we rarely glimpse them, but then I had an unexpected meeting.
I went towards the garage one weekend recently to fetch something or other and as I turned left at the bottom of the steps to enter, I was stopped dead in my tracks by a most unexpected sight. A small mouse was standing just inside the doorway. It was standing on its two back legs, looking around. Tiny front paws dangling over its little chest, the small, rounded head turned calmly this way and that, as if assessing the place for all its possibilities.
I stayed rooted to the ground, trying to breathe without making a sound or moving a muscle and watched the peerie fellow, obviously completely lost in thought.
He had a long, tail, finely covered in grey brown fur, which hung down and curled across his back feet. The ears were small, petal shaped and lay almost flat against his head, far smaller than those of an adult mouse which stand up in great arcs to either side. A faint, glittery puff of whiskers gleamed about his face. Then he saw me.
For a long moment he stared at me, as if unable to comprehend something so huge, then he fled. He vanished under a pile of old sacks and I felt a bit like a clumsy “Tom” once again having missed my “Jerry”.
I knew there were mice in the garage. We used to keep the tatties there in the early 90s, but after a particularly cold winter when the tatties got well and truly nibbled, we transferred them to the cellar. Andrew stores them in a tattie tower, a stack of boxes with overhanging covers which mice have not yet learned to climb up and into. They invade the house instead and have a determined track record of direct hits into flour sacks, cereal boxes and even the Christmas present cupboard upstairs. But things have been made steadily harder for them.
They now have to rethink, as dry goods are found well packed inside heavy duty plastic storage box walls, biscuit tins and glass jars. We resorted to traps until the horrors of one little critter was found dead of shock – having eaten his own leg free of the trap – made me reluctant to use them again; and the “Catch’em’alive” traps never seem to retain their captives. Winter always brings them in by the dozen, so no doubt we will soon find out what this coming winter will present us with by way of mouse challenges.
Until the juvenile mouse in the garage episode, I had never actually seen a live, wild mouse properly They were either dead, stiff and bloody in traps, or glimpsed as vanishing grey blurs if disturbed suddenly. Despite myself, I was entranced. But Wilbert Robertson from Burra Isle knew just what I meant. He and his brother, as small boys, used to visit their grandparents, Bobby and Kirsty Robertson at Saltness near Brae, and there was one particular activity they loved; foot mouse watching.
Wilbert and Keith would arm themselves with small pieces of cheese and head for the byre. Byres are always fine places for mice; plenty of shelter, hay and straw, piles of old sacks, wood, tools, proil of all kinds, not to mention beasts and fodder.
Wilbert and Keith would find a comfortable spot, and bend down to arrange their cheese crumbs on their shoes. They would then stay still, completely silent, and wait. The byre would be warm enough, and dry.
Outside sounds would filter in, but the boys never twitched. They just stood there like statues. At first nothing happened, but after a while there would be a tiny sound – A rustle, a scuffle, a patter of tiny feet. A mouse would peep out, nose twitching; vanish; pop out again, and then, inch by inch, draw closer to the source of the irresistible cheesy aroma.
First one mouse would appear, then more and yet more. Wilbert recalls considerable numbers of mice on both feet at times. Once they had tasted the cheese, once they had grabbed a piece and shot off, then realised that nothing had happened, they grew more and more confident, until the boys’ shoes became a party venue.
Mice sat eating; scrabbled around for dropped fragments and had a merry old time, until eventually every minute, scrannable speck had been eaten. The festivities would cease. Mice would make their way home and the boys, filled with triumph at keeping so still for so long and the delight of watching the antics of the mice, would make their way stiffly back to the world of people. There were no doubt times when the boys inadvertently moved, wobbled, or failed to fight off a looming sneeze, sending the mice away in a panic, but the sheer satisfaction in succeeding in tempting wild creatures out of their hidden world all the way up to and on to your own feet, made it all worth the effort.
After my brief encounter with mouse junior in the garage, I just can’t resist the idea. I will have to review my footwear, in terms of which might hold the most cheese fragments without their rolling off.
I had an unexpected visitor recently, a caterpillar. George Anderson had found it sometime before and had been feeding it on “Tom Thumb” leaves and carrot shaws. The storm had wiped out the fresh leaves, but we still had plenty, so in they went.
The brown, curved beastie in the bottom of the container was unmoved and stayed quite still. But later on it must have come to at least a bit. There were large blobs of “frass” (caterpillar poo – useful Scrabble word if you are that way inclined) and the creature had moved across to the far side.
Closer inspection proved it to be, almost certainly, a larva of the angle shades moth. Angle shades caterpillars have striking wedge shaped markings down their backs and can be quite large. As long as the carrot shaws last, our larva will have a chance of surviving the winter. Good luck to him, or her. Life can be pretty tough for creepy crawlies, especially this far north.
Jill Slee Blackadder