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Around the Bend: Stowaways

Jennifer Steedly Duncan
Jul 1, 2012
Photographers: Jennifer Steedly Duncan
As I drew my thick comforter up over my ears to ward off the cold night air seeping through the window, I almost fell asleep when I heard the unwelcome but familiar sound that had accompanied our nights for months now. “Scritch, scratch” from within the RV walls.
So when I awoke the next chilly autumn morning on the bus to find my knitting basket perplexedly knocked on its side and yarn strung out all over the floor and down into the steering well, I was at first confused, and then dismayed. Without a doubt, we had rodents. Images of evil rats flashed through my mind and I was ready to drive the 60-mile round trip to the nearest store to pick up my ammunition. It’s war!
Photo 2/7   |   around The Bend Stowaways 1989 Mci Bus Conversion
Meeting Ralph

That night, though, I had an encounter that doomed me to months of scritch scratching. As I was reading to the kids, up from the steering well came the cutest little field mouse. With ears aquiver and nose twitching, it came racing across the floor, inches from my feet and then dashed back down into the well.
This was no fearless evil rat determined to take over our bus. This was Ralph S. Mouse out on a nocturnal adventure, just as confused to find itself on our bus as we were to see it. I looked up at our bookshelves, lined with books about brave mice, adventurous mice, mice that battle for love, and of course, mice that wear cute little pinafores. Then I looked at my children’s excited faces and my heart sank.

So we found ourselves exiting the next hardware store we came to with a live-trap and carefully set it up that night. Night after night, the trap came up empty. We truthfully answered, “No,” when the Canadian border agent asked us if we had any pets on board and breathed a sigh of relief, both that they had not asked if we had any animals on board and that the children, as instructed, sat mutely in their seats, volunteering no information. Night after night, we set the trap, in different spots, with different food but to no avail. Not only did we not catch it, but we were no longer seeing any evidence of it. Maybe it had hopped off somewhere, we could only hope.
Photo 3/7   |   Stowaway evidence — the stash.
Photo 4/7   |   Captured!

Finally, one night in a parking lot on the outskirts of Quebec, as we were cleaning up after dinner, Elliot looked at the trap and let out a squeal of excitement. Chris and I looked at each other with relief when Elliot piped up.

“Mom! We can’t just put it outside. We’re in a parking lot! And it’s cold! He won’t have his nest or all his food. He’ll die!” Elliot said, his voice rising to a wail.

So a big bucket was procured, with a little food and water put in the bottom, and in the mouse went. The 2-foot-high bucket was barely high enough to keep it from escaping as it frantically jumped and jumped, trying to escape. It was a scene straight from The Mouse and the Motorcycle, by Beverly Clearly, in which Ralph S. Mouse is stuck in the trashcan all night after falling in and exhausts himself trying to jump out.
My kids were enthralled, while I focused on keeping the damn thing in the bucket until we could get to a field. Two days later we were on our way to Montreal, scanning the highway exits looking for a kid-approved spot to drop the mouse off. What happened next was ridiculous. I still shake my head when I think of it.
The Great Escape

Elliot, our animal lover and gentle-hearted little boy, was adamant that this mouse, defenseless against the cruel Canadian winter, could not be dumped in the woods. Therefore, he created a little habitat for the rodent out of a 1-quart milk bottle, complete with bedding and food. His idea was that we would transfer the mouse from the bucket to the milk jug and then place the jug in the woods.
All of which was a fine plan. A kind plan. A humane plan. Except this mouse was a jumper, and for some reason, it never occurred to us to do the transfer outside.

I grabbed my camera, Chris pulled on gloves, all the kids huddled around and the transfer commenced. As soon as the lid was pulled back on the bucket, the mouse started jumping. As Tucker squealed and Chris frantically grabbed for it, the mouse jumped and jumped and jumped until it was free, running over legs, past grabbing hands, over the mountain of laundry, and disappearing behind the bins in the back and down into the bowels of the bus.

Oh, how we laughed and laughed that night replaying the whole ridiculous scene!

A month and another border crossing later, as the kids slept, Chris caught the mouse and unceremoniously booted him into the night. “Gotcha!” we crowed. Then a few nights later, another little field-mouse head poked out from behind the bins. It was confirmed. Ralph had really been a Rachelle.
Photo 5/7   |   Oh! The folly! And what a jumper!
Photo 6/7   |   Baiting — Again.
Check Your Boots

So far, we’ve caught and gotten rid of three mice. We thought that was it, but the first morning back on the road after our long holiday/repair break, the kids discovered mouse holes in their pillows. The kids knew the routine and set the trap while I stitched up the destruction.

So there I laid, four months after our first mouse sighting, wondering if we would ever be mouse free, listening to the coyotes and the mouse, reflecting on all the tips we had gotten the previous night at the communal Dutch-oven potluck.
The seasoned old-timers who return year after year for the winter to this isolated spot had plenty of advice on how they deal with unwelcomed critters, from kangaroo mice to little antelope ground squirrels that try to come back to their homes from the desert. Advice ranged from getting a cat and caulking every little hole to covering the bottom of buckets with honey to keep the mice from jumping out once captured.

I also learned never to leave your shoes outside at night, because the kit foxes will take them away to play with. Most importantly though, always, always, in the immortal words of Louis L’Amour, “Check your boots!”
Photo 7/7   |   Ready to go.


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