Sometimes my friends worry about my annual forays to Colorado.
"What about bears?" they ask. "What about snakes? What about mountain lions?"
During the first year of my retirement, I spent two months living in a tent, and, I admit, gave wildlife issues a good bit of attention myself.
A coyote howling at the moon can take you back to every western and most werewolf movies you have seen … unless it sounds like it is a few feet away (even when it isn't) and all there is between you and it is a very thin layer of nylon in your made-in-China Walmart tent.
I even got spooked once by what sounded like giant bumblebees or locusts flying over my head … only to discover they were cute little hummingbirds.
Now I rent a nice secure cabin every year and, besides, bears are seldom a problem in the part of the San Luis Valley where I hang out. All of the snakes are non-poisonous. A mountain lion did break into my neighbor's chicken coop last winter but was scared off by my landlord (okay, they scared each other off) and hasn't been back since.
Mice, however, are another issue.
Mice, we got.
Not rats, just cute little brown field mice.
Basically I have a live-and-let-live balance with critters in general. The mice don't bother me and I don't bother them. They don't seem to eat much … just the odd crumb or two off of the floor. (People who know me well, especially after I recently posted my Clean Out the Refrigerator Cacciatore recipe, marvel that they could eat anything I have cooked — and live.)
They do, well, scurry, which can be a disconcerting sound late at night until you remember you aren't in Florida and it is more likely to be a mouse than a palmetto bug.
They are also irritatingly nonchalant. They will pause in mid-scurry, survey me with sort of an arrogant "what are you going to do about it," tilt to their heads and then shift from a scurry to a swaggering saunter.
Still, I am unbothered for the most part. When my wife flew out to spend a few days a couple of years back, she had a different take.
"Come on," I said, "they're cute little mice. Kids have them for pets."
"Snakes have them for lunch," she said. "I don't want to invite them to a buffet."
I explained that the only snakes around were bullsnakes, which are non-poisonous even if they do look kind of scary. But apparently venom wasn't the issue.
And she clinched the argument with a single word:
The mice went.
My landlord, knowing I have some ethical problems with kill-traps, had provided me with "humane" traps.
A brief divergence here for a vocabulary lesson. People in Colorado are very nature/environment/sunset/rainbow-conscious. A friend of mine says, "you know you are in Colorado when you ask your husband to pick up granola and he goes to the day care center." So, to translate, "organic" means undersized with brown spots and wormholes, and "green" as applied to cleaning agents, toilet paper, sunblock and insect repellent, means "undersized," "overpriced" or "doesn't work."
I know there are some broad generalities there and that some of my environmentally sensitive friends will be offended, but when I go to buy drain cleaner I want something that will get the gunk out of my drains, not something made of herbs, essences and the ever-present avocado.
"Humane" as applied to mousetraps, means, "sometimes inconvenient or mildly irritating to mice, but also handy for stubbing toes at night and making an ungodly racket as the occasional trapped mouse tries to leave the trap."
Besides, I found, mice seem to have homing instincts and if you want them to stay away you have to drive them to another county.
It took weeks to get the mice out.
It is slightly an issue this year because I have a friend coming to visit who is bringing his girlfriend for a night or two. She, he said, can tolerate the mice and doesn't want to be part of anything bad happening to them.
I think she was just being polite.
My landlord heard me out about the dilemma and said, "Don't worry, I'll take care of them."
I didn't ask how, reasoning that he is, after all, a professional hunting guide and probably has a different take on karma than I do.
I saw him the next morning putting something under the cabin and, suddenly, the mice were gone.
I like to think they are on a farm somewhere, chasing organic, range free, non-hormonally injected rabbits.