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I find mice adorable. IF it is me who sees them first, not the other way around. It’s not that I am afraid of them, they just have a way of sneaking up on a person that makes me jump. More often, I think it is probably more of a mutual startling. The ol’ “What in the heck are YOU doing here,” kind of moment.
Rather like when I forget that my husband, Jim, is home. Just by walking into the room, he can scare the bejeezas outta me. I’ll jump and say, “Don’t DO that!” He’ll look at me like I’m a lunatic, “I just wanted the scissors,” he’ll allege innocently, backing away. As if.
Some of us have trigger fingers. Some of us have trigger startle reflexes. Just sayin’.
My hubby is a duck hunter. I am not. I have no business handling a gun, what with that whole startle reflex situation. But I do like to go along. The first time I “got it” (the whole hunting mentality that is) I was sitting in the back of our canoe, floating down a river, on a beautiful autumn daytrip into the Boundary Waters Canoe Area. Jim was up front, sans paddle, holding a shotgun in its stead, Elmer Fudd style.
Now, my usual place is in the front of a canoe. I’m a good, strong paddler, but steering is a honed skill and one I rarely get to practice. That day, however, Jim wanted to float down the river, to jump shoot; meaning he needed to be in the front and I didn’t need to do much other than to use my paddle as a rudder. We would simply let the river’s current carry us along. The idea was to be as quiet as possible, controlling even the barest drip of water off the paddle, to silently slip around each bend of the river. We were trying to sneak up on any Mallards that might be around the corner, you know, like not-so-proverbial “sitting ducks.” If we startle them, then it’s a jump shot, which is also good. And dinner.
It was a gorgeous autumn day, and I was concentrating on my steering. A light dip of the paddle here, a correcting stroke there. I tend to over paddle, so I do a lot of the latter. I get the “C” stroke and the “J” stroke confused. A lot. In other words, I was stressin’ out for no good reason. Other than I reeaaallly wanted duck for dinner.
As we zig zagged our way along. Jim would occasionally turn around and grin at me, or point directions… to which I shot back a silent “I’m doing the best I can” look. He just smiled. Is he trying to irk me?!? Fast forward to the next portage. As we drift to shore, I’m rather miffed. On top of which, I’ve been stifling my miff.
Jim stowed his gun and stepped out to land the canoe. I was about to start a perfectly good rant when he turned to me and quietly said, “Wow! Wonderful habitat, right?”
“Did you see all that snake grass back on the first stretch? That beaver lodge was huge, wasn’t it? Hey, I’m thinking on the return trip we should try fishing that spot where the cedars were casting shadows… I bet there’s Brookies in there. And, man! The Tamarack trees are just stunning right now, aren’t they?”
Huh? Uh, ya. I was gonna say the same thing. Things.
To tell the truth, I was totally oblivious to the beauty of the day. I’d been too busy stressin’. I looked around and found myself standing beside the canoe in clear, lusciously cool water. The breeze was warm and soft against my skin. My arms were sun browned and felt good from a day of paddling. I looked up as an eagle soared overhead. On the portage trail, I could see blueberry bushes. Birds were singing. Holy Moses, it’s beautiful… and… and I’m happy!
I smile back.
Since that day, many years ago, I’ve learned that it’s not about the hunting. It’s not about the gun, or the fishing pole or even the prey of the day. It’s about communion.
I’ve learned to sit silently in a swamp. There is no better place to experience a sunrise than in a misty bog. I once saw a bird trip, mid-flight, on the brim of Jim’s camouflage hat. I kid you not. I’ve heard a pack of wolves howling nearby in the early morning dark as we unloaded the canoe. One hot summer day we watched a moose swim out into the middle of the lake where we were fishing. It was shallow in the middle and he would duck his head under the water to graze, water cascading off his massive antlers when he lifted his head to slowly chew and gaze at us, ears flippin’ away flies. We had to stay put and keep fishing until he was sated and meandered his way back into deep water for the swim back to shore. I remember one cold morning when I sat watching, over the course of an hour, ice crystals glitter on a bright yellow birch leaf, to gradually melt as sun crept across its surface. I learned to watch the wind.
I also got really, really good gear. I just love my neoprene waders! Knowing I can be a big baby if cold and damp, I’m outfitted for maximum cozy comfort, head to toe. I have better gear than Jim. He’s smart that way.
One October morning I was hunkered down in said waders, on a floating bog, enjoying a piping hot cup of tea from the thermos when I had my favorite mouse encounter. I didn’t startle. I didn’t even flinch. Fact is, I heard him before I saw him.
Like I said, I was hunkered low on the ground, all in cammo, sitting hidden behind some branches, hat pulled low. I heard something approaching through the underbrush, making a lot of noise; a lot more noise than I ever would have thought a mouse capable of emitting. The best word I can use to describe the sound is “muttering.” Somewhere between a squeak and a spit, that mouse was muttering and snap, crackle, popping his way along. He was havin’ himself a good bitch session. I could tell from the bad grammar.
My legs were stretched out in front of me. Mr. Crabby Pants came trundling out of the cattails by my right foot and proceeded to climb up and over the tip of one wader-clad boot tip, then down, across a stretch of moss, and then, yup; up and over the other camouflaged foot, mutter, muttering the whole time. Mutter, mutter, spit and spuffle, mutter, mutter, mutter.
He never even saw me. Didn’t turn his head, didn’t change his gait, just mutter, muttered his way into the reeds to my left and disappeared. I thought, buddy, you better stifle that rant or you ain’t gonna last long out here.
Not only that, he was missing a lovely morning amidst some beautiful habitat. But who am I to judge.