It may have been my Scottish roots (on my mother's side) -- or perhaps it was an introduction by a beloved high school English teacher. Whatever the spark, I've always been drawn to the great muse of Scotland, Robert Burns, and his poem "To a Mouse", one he penned in 1785.
It is at once mysterious and plainly simple -- mysterious because it is couched in old Gallic language, and simple because it is man's apology to mouse on turning up its nest with his plough.
Not ever, not once ever, did I actually think I would come face to face with said mouse in a similar situation, until now.
Here's how it happened.
Each year, when we leave home and hearth for an extended period, the mouse population on our street holds its annual meeting declaring our place is available for shelter and comfort. I'm sure legions of hard-working mice take note, but only one is successful at penetrating our fortress. And he comes back every year.
This year he left his -- ahem -- "calling cards" in my food pantry. Mounds of tiny, black balls covered our tins of soup and tuna. The shelves were strewn with mouse feces. It was a mess.
Luckily, I must have anticipated such an invasion, and had most of our foodstuffs sealed in containers. But a couple of boxes of granola bars were opened, and shockingly, the foil wrappers were neatly stacked in the cardboard packaging, completely empty. My mouse had dined at his leisure on tasty granola.
There was nothing left but to clean up the mess. So one day, when I moved a tin of stewed tomatoes in the corner of the pantry, I uncovered him, crouched on his back legs, front paws up, alerted to danger.
He literally froze, staring wide-eyed at me. His nose quivered. His ears twitched. His eyes were pools of black glass. His grey and white coat was shiny. He was portly in a dignified way, most likely due to the excellent buffet he had regularly enjoyed at my expense.
I froze too. We both knew we were caught off guard. And it was then that I began to mentally recite Burns' words:
"Wee sleekit, cow'rin, tim'rous beastie,
Och, what a panic's in thy breastie,"
Of course this little drama had a predictable ending. I called my husband George, who swept the little creature up in his bare hands, and flung him outside, over the hedge and back to his buddies. I'm sure he was relieved. The mouse, that is, not George.
I know I was relieved too. I'm not a big fan of killing things. But thanks to Mr. Burns, I clearly understood how "the best laid plans of mice and men gang aft agley."
Ahhh, Robbie, you rakish rogue. You always had a way with words.