Life Lessons from the Physical World

Thursday, August 24, 2006

Mice 3 Ways

1. Near my little house in the City is a tree-filled dog run owned by our neighborhood. During recent storms, several branches fell from trees and we piled them up until we could arrange for a landscaping service to come make them into woodchips. The woodpiles sat around long enough that they became inhabited by little furry rodents; some of us saw rats, others saw mice. Probably different piles had different rodent residents, but the point is the park became infested for a few weeks. The dogs didn’t mind—in fact, the little critters just made our daily romps in the park all the more entertaining for the canine carnivores. I didn’t mind either, even when I helped move the wood piles and disturbed what seemed like hundreds of dirty little mice that ran out in every direction, practically over my feet.

2. Recently I went to get lunch at funky Reading Terminal Market in downtown Philadelphia. I was waiting in line after ordering pad thai at one of my favorite stands, when the cashier suddenly yelped and jumped back from the counter. I couldn’t see what she saw but I asked someone else waiting in line and he reported that a mouse had just streaked across the counter. A particularly prissy woman standing behind me canceled her order and fled. I stood there considering my options. I pretty much assume that there are rodents and bugs hanging out in every restaurant I visit, and certainly at the open air stands in the ancient Reading Terminal. I figure healthy folks can consume a certain amount of mouse and roach droppings without sending their immune systems or guts into a tizzy. But still… Well, in the end I was hungry, and these folks make great pad thai, and my order was ready, and my lunch hour was waning, and I hadn’t actually seen the mouse myself, so I took my food and ate it all up back at the office. Yum.

3. During the summer of 2004 my house was overrun by mice. I mean, mice lived in my oven, under my kitchen cabinets, in my bathroom ductwork. There were droppings everywhere. I was beside myself, and my stupid dog was worthless. She had no interest in chasing or killing them. We would just hear them running around at night, and probably they ran right over us as we slept. I ran the vacuum obsessively, I kept the dog bowl in the fridge, we put down glue traps and stuffed steel wool in all the openings in the kitchen and basement, but ultimately, I had to call an exterminator and have poison spread around. Medea and I went to live somewhere else for a while. Once the problem was licked—after we caught or found the corpses of more than 35 mice—I threw everything out of my pantry, scrubbed my kitchen with bleach and bought myself a nice new oven. I couldn’t stand having those dang dirty things in my house, Nature Girl or not. If it happens again I'm getting a cat.

Saturday, August 12, 2006

Late for Blueberries

Sometimes you just walk in the woods for the sake of doing something physical, or listening for birdsong you can identify, or noticing the changing foliage as the summer goes from fresh to dog-days, finding that in fact some changing leaves have already left the trees and landed on the trail. Other times, you hike for a purpose, like a breathtaking view, or some ripe wild berries. You have a particular destination in mind.

You can pick up the AT at a hidden trailhead about 6 miles from Jim Thorpe PA. If blueberries aren't the goal, and you're not turned on by birdsong, there are certainly more picturesque vistas along the PA section of the AT. (Try Pulpit Rock and the Pinnacle itself; the trailhead's in Hamburg just off the Kempton exit from Route 78.) But at this secret spot, there's a little parking lot, and the trail climbs pretty steeply for the first mile and a half. When the blueberries are ripe, this is a lovely hike because you hardly notice the rise as you anticipate the sweet snacking you'll enjoy after about an hour of trudging. It's mostly under cover in the woods, with occasional clearings that provide a bit of a view and some fresh air, but on this late July day it stayed pretty stinking hot until the trail flattened out at the top. Then, thankfully, a nice breeze did help evaporate the sweat and melted sunscreen off my arms and chest.

We came too late for blueberries this year. That second week in July has been the peak in the past, and we keep it on our calendars, but this year it was always something—there just didn't seem to be any time. So we hiked all that way with minimal hope, and found what we expected: the familiar low green shrubs, with shriveled brown bunches that should have been plump and blue. The sun had burnt the ones the bears had missed. A few loner berries hung on in shady spots, but even those had mostly been sucked small by bees and heat.

So the hike up Blue Mountain this July was more of the just-walking kind of hike. There was a bright blue Indigo Bunting singing away in a tulip poplar, and we heard several others, with their distinctive "fire fire where where here here" call. And we did get a nice little nap in the shade on a grassy overlook.

But this time we just took a long walk, with no particular destination or plan or commitment. Bittersweet, but lovely nonetheless.