What you’re looking at is a mouse in the bottom of our tall barrel of birdseed. The barrel isn’t as big as the photo implies, but I wonder if it isn’t a little like a bird’s eye view of earth and its inhabitants, our insistent needs to eat, drink, survive at any cost, our deep fears of being discovered and exposed. God’s eye view of all of us.
All winter mice have managed to enter the birdseed barrel. We cover it fully, we put the heavy bottle of laundry detergent on the cover to make sure it doesn’t get moved, in fact when we take out the barrel to feed the birds there’s no hint of infiltration anywhere, but as soon as the detergent is moved away, the barrel uncovered and shaken a little bit, a mouse emerges. Or two.
At first I used to jump back at the sight. Now I practically expect it, and I’ve grown fond of them. What are you doing here? I ask for the umpteenth time. How did you get in?
The mouse shivers, keeps its eyes straight ahead. It tries to scamper up the barrel but all it can manage is a few inches before it falls down again, while I continue my lecture: I’ve told you a million times, I don’t mind if you stay down in the basement during winter. It’s when you come up to the laundry room [where we keep food for Stanley and the birds] and the kitchen [food for us] that I have a problem. Not to mention your nests under the hoods of the cars.
The mouse gives me no promises that it’ll amend its ways. No breast beating (I sinned, I coveted, I gluttoned!) or vow of restitution. I don’t hear it saying the Sh’ma, Hear oh Israel the Lord our God the Lord is One that one says before death, it doesn’t receive last rites or make a final confession. It’s just shaking and trembling, conveying with every shivering hair the knowledge of those high, unassailable walls and the even higher human on top demanding what it’s doing here.
And I feel a little embarrassed about how big I am, the complex scale of my existence in comparison to its so much humbler life, its so much humbler needs. You poor thing, I think to myself, you’re so small, you’re so weak. That’s true, it replies, but I reproduce like crazy.
So I take the barrel outdoors and turn it sideways. The unclimbable walls become bare plastic meadows and the mouse runs out. I was hoping it would freeze with the shock of new life once it feels the soil under its feet (it’s happened before), maybe sound a hosanna and give thanks while I click away at the camera, capturing the moment, but not this time. It scampers down the new grass for all its worth, making a beeline for the forsythia and, behind it, the line where the house meets the ground. It knows how to get right back in.Make A Donation