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Speaking of Nature

Speaking of nature: White-footed mouse

There are many things I like about my yard, but one of the best things is that I have my own campsite down in the woods. All along the western side of my yard there is a long strip of forest that is made up almost exclusively of white pines. They are all the same age and they are growing far enough apart so that, with a little effort, I was able to clear a trail between them. This is the trail that leads to my campsite.

In the summertime, this trail is really quite lovely. On dry days, the air is filled with the smell of pine needles and on rainy days the ground is so soft that you can happily walk all the way to the end of the trail in bare feet without making even the slightest sound. The trees keep the trail cool, which makes it a very nice place on a hot day and I make many visits to this area when school is out.

In the winter, the trail takes on an entirely different feel. On quiet days, the trees hold a cloak of snow above your head and you feel like you are walking into a wilderness. On windy days, the snow falls from the trees and the needles whisper to you in the passing air. This also feels like a wilderness, but one that is much farther away from people, if you know what I mean. Days like this under the pines make you feel alone.

Right after Christmas, we had a snowstorm and since I didn’t have to go to school that day, I decided to visit my campsite. There was just enough snow to make a walk quite a lot of fun without being too much of an ordeal. Next year, I have to ask Santa for some snowshoes so I can walk out in the deeper snow more easily. It was one of those calm days and there were a few flakes still falling from the sky. It was truly beautiful outside.

When I got under the pines the snow stopped (because the trees were catching it) and the atmosphere got a little dark, gloomy and mysterious. I made my way down the familiar trail and enjoyed how beautiful the new coat of snow made everything. I also enjoyed seeing the tracks of a deer and a rabbit that had made use of the trail.

When I finally reached the actual campsite, there was no sign of the fire circle, but I had a pretty good idea of where it was and found it without too much trouble. I thought it might be fun to have a winter campfire so I walked over to my wood box. This one is about 3 feet long, 2 feet high and has a large tilted lid. I made it myself and it does a great job of keeping firewood dry. But as I was reaching for the lid, I saw that some mischief had been done.

There was a little hole gnawed into the wood just under the lid. The hole was about the size of a quarter and it looked just about right for a mouse. Could it be that my wood box had become a mouse house? There was only one way to tell, so I gently opened the box and peered inside. At first there was no clue, but when I moved a piece of wood, I got my answer.

Out from the wood hopped a little mouse. It zipped over to one corner and then just froze. It seemed to know it was cornered and decided to sit motionless in the hope that I hadn’t noticed. But I had noticed and I was going to do something about it. I reached under my heavy coat and pulled out my camera. “Now don’t you move,” I said as I removed the lens and focused. I snapped a photo and then closed the lid again. No reason to ruin the poor little thing’s day after all.

When I checked the photo I discovered that this little mouse had a little white star on its head. I’ve never seen a mark like this on a mouse, but then again I’ve never seen a Christmas mouse so closely before. I’m sure the little fellow is snug in a nest, safe from owls and snow. To me, the box was just for wood, but to the mouse it is a brand new home.

Bill Danielson has worked as a naturalist for 16 years. In that time, he has been a national park ranger, a wildlife biologist and a field researcher. He currently works as a high school chemistry and biology teacher. To contact Bill, or to learn more about his writing, visit
www.speakingofnature.com

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