John James Audubon Common American Shrew Mole

Earlier this week I saw the lifeless tiny bodies of two mice along the curb at one of my jobsites. If I was betting I’d have guessed they were casualties of municipal leaf removal operations. Their remains were beneath a big old Red oak,  and I knew for a fact there had been lots of leaves there days before.  I’d guess further that they were contentedly tucked away from the cold until the machinery that keeps our urban life tidier did them in.

In truth I wasn’t feeling too sentimental about their fate until later in the week when I was exposed to a couple of essays that made me think about some of the creatures I have humorously dismissed as “natures Cheetos.”  In the recent Resurgence there is a piece that revisits the Wind in the Willows and the fate of the mole in garden and folklore.

Anyone who has ever had to set a mousetrap can’t be too sympathetic for any of those at the Rodentae end of the animal kingdom.  But winter is coming and I don’t mind seeing these little guys ducking for cover in their proper outdoor setting.  Their lives can’t be as easy as the fiction writers would tell it:  keeping a step ahead of dogs, cats, hawks, and street sweepers would probably make anyone a little jumpy.

But help is on the way for some of them.  The new issue of Audubon profiles all the life that lurks within and under a snow bank.   All we need now is an honest Midwestern winter and our small friends will get a break from the chase.  

I suspect that Robert Burns penned one of the kindest acknowledgements of the fate of these small creatures when they collide with the world of humans.  When I saw the dead mice in the gutter the other day this famous poem was the first thing to cross my mind.   That said, if a mouse is in my kitchen he can consider himself targeted for expulsion, or worse.  But to the field mouse scampering ahead of my shoes I will offer a farewell and a wish that he finds a snug snowdrift fit for winter slumbers. 

Join the discussion on social media!

Dave Coulter

I have been a horticulturist for thirty years working in the Chicago area and beyond. I have lived in Oak Park for over thirteen years. My writing has recently appeared in the journal Ecological Restoration...