The Food Chain

18 Apr 2006

My wife and daughter dropped me off at work today, as they needed the car. We're a one-car family, which seems a true rarity these days.However, it's a purely financial decision. Without that extra car and insurance payment (and without cell phone bills or cable TV bills), we figure we save several hundred bucks per month (and still manage to be completely friggin' broke all the time). Being broke really sucks, by the way -- especially today, as I have a board meeting tonight and get to do my monthly schmoozing with the wealthy. (Perhaps I'll blog about that tomorrow.) For now, I was reminded of a funny story on the way to work, and figure I might as well tell the tale before I forget it.

A few years back, we discovered one day that we had a rodent problem in the house. We were cleaning the kitchen and had opened the door to the broiler. We never use the broiler, by the way. I'm not even sure how to turn the damn thing on. To me, it's just that weird extra shelf under the oven, near the floor. Anyway, when we opened the broiler up, the whole drawer was filled with dog food -- probably a good three or four pounds of the stuff.

It was an amazing sight. The dog food was around an inch deep all throughout the broiler pan.We simply stared at it all for a few minutes, mentally calculating how long it must have taken one or even several little critters to carry this stuff one piece at a time across the kitchen from the dog bowl to the broiler. Weeks of effort, at least, we figured.In a way, it was really impressive.

My dog, Woofie, gave it all a sniff and looked up at us, rather confused. I think that was her way of saying, "Yep, that's my food, but I didn't do it."

The next several hours were spent attacking the problem from several angles. For one, we got rid of the broiler stockpile and elevated the dog's food and water bowls. After that, we walked the perimeter of the house looking for any holes in the bricks that would let mice (or rats) through. We found several, and patched them with mortar.Finally, we bought some no-kill traps. We figured we'd be nice to the little buggers and simply set them free away from the house. According to some internet site my wife found, you have to take mice a good mile or so away from your house to ensure that they won't be able to navigate their way back.

As memory serves, we caught around seven mice that year. The first one we placed into a large planter pot to have a closer look at him. He (or she?) was pretty neat looking -- dark brown with huge eyes and a long tail (like the picture, above, only darker). Clearly, he was freaking out from the trauma of getting captured, and wound up dying right away.I figured maybe the stress of it all gave him a heart attack or something.

After that, we caught the rest rather quickly.Each time we'd catch one, I'd drive it about a mile away to a spot behind the local Pizza Hut. There was a large dumpster there that seemed like a suitable home for mice. Usually, I'd open the mouse trap, give it a shake, and the mouse would fall out onto the pavement. They'd usually stand there stunned for about one second, and then head off, as if by instinct, toward the dumpster. I came to enjoy the trips, somehow. Each time, I'd set the little bugger free, knowing full well that 99% of the rest of the people in the world would have used the standard kill-the-mouse traps. The whole thing seemed like good karma (even if I did enjoy a good slab of ribs now and again).

One day, I pulled up behind the dumpster and jumped out.I usually looked around to make sure no one else was around. There's probably some weird law, after all, about setting rodents loose. No one was there, so I opened the trap and shook out the mouse.As usual, he dropped out and remained still for a second or two. Then, as he headed off toward the dumpster, a giant dark thing passed within inches of my head. Scared the shit out of me. It was so damned sudden, it took me a second to register. It was a full-grown red-tailed hawk, its wings fully extended around four feet wide.

The bird grabbed that mouse in its talons and took off -- the entire span of time between passing my head and becoming airborne again taking roughly two seconds. It flew immediately to the top of a nearby telephone pole and began disembowling its prey.

I never heard the thing coming, and I'm sure the mouse didn't either.If I were a philosopher, I'd be tempted to craft some well-thought-out metaphor here about how life (or death) can come at you unexpectedly, even when you've gone to great lengths to avoid the inevitable. But, I think that would detract from the sheer awesomeness of that moment.It's rare ever to get that close to a wild hawk, to witness their grandeur, and to watch them masterfully snatch an afternoon snack from the ground.

When I got home, my daughter (who was aroun seven at the time) said, "Did the mouse run to the dumpster and join its family?"

"Well, kiddo," I said. "You remember when we learned about the food chain?"

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