Just the Other Day: Of Mice and Men

This story began on the North Shore of Lake Superior. My friend of over thirty years, Stu Stetter, came to visit. His friend Martin and Martin’s dad, Marty, came with him. The four of us would enjoy a guy’s get-away, in the north woods.

 

We set up camp at Esther Lake on the Arrowhead Trail. With only four campsites, it’s really quiet, peaceful and very dark at night. Stu and I stayed in my Scamp; Marty and Martin pitched a tent. Before we set out to paddle on Devilfish, the next lake over, we met Travis. He was set up in the campsite next to us. He came to the north woods to “get away from it all,” relax and do a little fishing.

 

We learned Travis was from Knoxville, Iowa – about forty-five miles from our hometown of Ottumwa. He did some work in Ottumwa, as well. Names started being dropped and, although we had never met before, it turns out we knew a lot of the same people. Stu asked Travis if he ever listened to TOM-FM when he was Ottumwa. “All the time.” Travis replied.

 

Stuart pointed at me and said, “That’s Tom.”

 

Travis laughed, “Well, I guess I have to travel more than a thousand miles from home to find a place where nobody knows me.” We all shared a good laugh about that. We said our farewells and our group got ready to go fishing.

 

Stu was putting his things away in the Scamp. He came out and told me there was a mouse in the trailer. I assured him there was not. “We don’t have mice in our camper.” Stu showed me his backpack.

 

“Then what’s this?” There was a small hole chewed in the mesh pocket on the side and another hole chewed through his package of sunflower seeds.

 

I examined the damage. “It looks like a mouse chewed it.” Then warned him, “You better not have brought mice in your backpack, into my Scamp.”

 

It was cold and cloudy when we launched the canoes on Devilfish Lake about a mile away. The fish were biting okay but they were mostly little guys, so everything went back in the water. Stu had a few nicer fish on his line, but each popped off the hook before he got them in the boat. Now, as guys will do, we were keeping track of who caught how many fish.

 

Stu tried to take credit for the three fish that got away but I wasn’t going to let him count them. “It’s catch-and-release.” He insisted.

 

 

“Yes, but you have to catch them before you can release them.” I said, “Besides, you didn’t release them, the fish released themselves.” Stu continued to justify that he did catch them. “How many points would you get for those fish in a tournament?” I asked him. Stu mumbled something, then admitted they would not get any points. After a couple hours of fishing, the wind started to pick up and the water was getting choppy. It was a good time to head back to camp.

 

We feasted on brats, then sat around the campfire having a few beers, telling stories and making our plans for the next day.

 

We started our day by hiking into the High Falls on the Pigeon River; the border between the United States and Canada. The falls were beautiful as always. From there we visited the trading post at Grand Portage and a few other sites before heading back to camp.

 

After dinner we were gathered at the campfire. “I got a present for you.” Stu told me. “I set it up in the camper.” He and I walked to the Scamp. Stu bent over and picked up a mouse trap from the floor. There was a mouse in it. “Well, would you look at that?” He said, then picked up a second trap, presenting another mouse.

 

“Where did you get those?” I asked Stuart.

 

“I bought the traps at the C-store in Grand Portage, today.”

 

“No, I meant where did you get real mice to put in your traps?” I insisted, “Because I don’t have mice in my Scamp.” Stu shook his head over my denial and reset the traps before we went out to join the other guys by the fire. A little later he went back to the Scamp for something and returned to the fire with another mouse in a trap. “This is crazy.” I said, “We’ve never had mice in the Scamp.”

 

I suppose it was around midnight when we finally retired for the night. I gave Stu the bigger bed in the back because he is much taller than me. I took the couch in the front. I pulled the covers up to my chin and fell asleep with my right arm outside the blanket. Shortly after dozing off, I felt something moving on my arm. “Is it a fly?” I wondered, “Maybe a bug? Egads, it better not be a spider.” Still half asleep, I contemplated the possibilities.

 

It had creepy little feet that gripped my skin like a June bug, but it was too late in the year for beetles. Just then it occurred to me, the feet were spread too far apart to be an insect. “Good God, it’s a mouse!” I whispered with alarm, while remaining perfectly still. “I’ve got a flipping mouse crawling on my bare arm!”

 

I lifted my arm slowly to turn on the light. The critter hung on for a moment, then I felt it jump off my arm, on to the covers on my chest. Still in the dark, I quickly grabbed the edge of my blanket with both hands. Giving it a good, fast shake, I flung the intruder across the camper. I heard it hit the wall of the Scamp and I quickly turned on the light and jumped out of bed. I grabbed a flashlight and checked both traps. They were empty and I couldn’t find the mouse.

 

I am not afraid of mice, but I will not, WILL NOT share my bed with them. I crawled back into bed, pulling the covers up to my chin and tried to go back to sleep. Needless to say, I did not sleep soundly.

 

It was three in the morning when I heard a noise. I awoke and listened. I was pretty sure the mouse was on the counter rustling around. I got up and looked for him, but he wasn’t there. When I laid back down, I heard it again. Again, I got up to investigate but found nothing. As soon as I turned the lights off, the noise resumed. I got up a third time, this time checking the traps. Sure enough, there was a mouse in the trap, trying to get away with it. I put the critter outside by the others. The rest of the night was calm.

 

The next morning, Stu presented me with yet another catch from overnight. We broke down the campsite and moved to another campground – not that we’re scared by the mice, because we’re not. We are manly men, but because we had a site reserved at the end of the Gunflint trail.

 

We fished, hiked and explored all through the day, then retired to another evening campfire. I also caught two more mice. In all, seven mice perished during the men’s outing.

 

Stu pointed out that he caught four mice and I only caught three. “Not so, my friend.” I told him, “There was also the mouse on my arm. So, as I see it, we are tied at four mice each.”

 

Stu insisted that I did not catch that mouse, while I insisted I did. “How many points would you get for that mouse in a tournament?” Stuart asked. Hmph! He had me using the same logic I used on him. I conceded, Stu caught the most mice.

 

The next morning, I fixed an egg scramble for breakfast. Marty told me he looked over my Scamp and had a pretty good idea how the mice were getting in. “There’s a gap in the weather stripping at the bottom of your door.” He said, “If you put a new rigid foam seal there, I think it would keep them out.” I thanked him and said I would look into it at home.

 

Back at my house. Stu, Martin and Marty took hot showers. We said our farewells and they began their long trek home to Iowa. I told Melissa about the mice. “What? I let you guys use the camper for four days and you bring it back infested with mice!”

 

“It’s not infested,” I argued, “we got them all.” We had two days to get the Scamp ready for our next trip; heading west to Colorado. All the bedding was stripped, curtains were removed, the cabinets were emptied and the Scamp went through an antiseptic sterilization.

 

In Colorado, we set up camp on the edge of Molas Lake, near Silverton. The elevation was 10,505 feet above sea level. The elevation at our home on the north shore is around 650 feet. Both of us were finding it a little difficult to breath while acclimating to the thinner air. We finally got to sleep well after midnight.

 

Around three in the morning, there was some sort of ruckus in the camper. Melissa sprang up from her pillows and quickly turned on the light. Our dog June was sitting upright in the dark, pressed hard against the side of the bed trying to stay clear of our black cat, Edgar, who seemed to be possessed.

 

On the floor in front of Edgar, one mouse had already been slain. He had another in his mouth that wasn’t done yet. I tried to get the mouse from him, but the closer I got, the more Edgar snarled and growled like a wild panther in the woods. It was amazing how our nice, good-natured cat took on a whole new demeanor, that of a great hunter when an intruder encroached upon his territory. I didn’t how to get the mouse from him. I was considering cowering next to June to wait this event out.

 

Melissa told me, “Hold the mouse by the tail, and gently lift Edgar by the scruff. He’ll let go of the mouse.” I did as she instructed, but first put a heavy leather work glove that I use around the campfires on my right hand. I’m not afraid of mice, but this thing was still kicking and I wasn’t going to be bitten. As soon as I lifted Edgar by the nape, he let go of the mouse. I took the now expired mouse and the other mouse Edgar had caught, outside and placed them next to the fire ring.

 

Back inside the Scamp, I washed my hands then sat down on the floor next to June. “Man, Edgar looked like a wild cat the way he handled those mice.” June said. “It was kind of scary.”

 

“Yeah, I know.” I agreed then boasted, “Did you see the way I took that mouse from Edgar? Pretty cool, huh?”

 

June replied, “How do you suppose Mom knew how to make Edgar let go of that mouse?”

 

“Mom?” I questioned, “I’m the one who took the mouse away from the vicious hunter.”

 

“But Mom had to tell you how to do it.” June argued.

 

“Not so,” I defended, “I just…”

 

From the mattress top above us came a voice, “Both of you! Turn off the lights and go to bed.” We did as we were told. There were no more incidents the rest of the night.

 

The next morning, Edgar was his usual charming, goodnatured self. When I checked next to the fire ring, both mice were gone. The same thing happened with the mice Stuart and I caught on the Gunflint and Arrowhead trails. A really cool thing about nature – nothing goes to waste.  Something will always come along and consider them an easy meal.

 

At the end of the camping trips, I tallied and shared the battle results with June. “In the Great Mouse Hunt; defending the Scamp, keeping it safe from pesky intruders; Stu was the main warrior. I came in second and Edgar finished third.”

 

“Not so fast handing out those awards, my friend.” Edgar said, as he jumped down from the front bunk and moseyed his way to the bed, then asserted, “As I see it, I won.”

 

“How do you figure that?” June and I both asked.

 

Edgar paced back and forth like the great detective; Sherlock Holmes in a black trench coat, tied at the waist, a double-billed deerstalker hat and smoking a pipe with a long swooping handle and large bowl. He was about to solve the mystery. Edgar Holmes explained. “It is true, Stu did catch the most with four mice. But more mice came in, allowing Dad to catch three mice. But still more came in. Even though I only caught two, no more mice came into the trailer under my watch. Therefore, it is I who holds the title as the greatest defender of the Scamp.

 

June said, “But Edgar, this contest was only among the men.”

 

Edgar gave June a firm look, “I am still one of the men,” then glared my way, “even though there was that most unfortunate ‘snipping incident’ which you initiated.”

 

I looked the other way, swallowed hard, then told June, “He has a valid point. In the contest of mice and men, Edgar wins.”