The Joys of Living in Nature

This morning I went to grab a t-shirt from my suitcase, and instead pulled out evidence of my most horrific run-in with nature of the summer. One of my college shirts – Hoyas 2014 written on the back – was chewed through, destroyed.

The shirt joins a pile of other pieces of clothing that did not survive the family of mice that lived in my cabin this summer.

Each summer I spend six weeks at a summer camp in northern Minnesota, where I come in close contact with nature – much closer, that is, than my everyday life in St. Paul or Washington, DC. Mosquitos feast on my blood. I duck past bats that have built their homes in the roofs of our cabins, and make sure to close the door quickly and forcefully to keep the flying creatures out. Occasionally I share the path to the dining hall with chipmunks, squirrels, and deer.

This year, however, was particularly rough for my city-girl self.

One morning, while showering, I noticed a particularly large spider dodging water droplets while building a web near the faucet. Instead of flailing or screeching, I chuckled to myself and laughed about the joys of living in nature. So mature, so collected.

Back in my room, I dried off and moved to pull out a shirt from my shelf. A mouse flung itself from the shelf and scurried away through a hole in the wall. I jumped back, but did not scream out.

I again laughed and whispered something about how fun it is to live in nature. Shoving the mouse out of my mind, I got dressed. When I looked down, though, I noticed chew marks and holes in my dress.

A little peeved, but still in control, I pulled a different shirt from the shelf. When two tiny bodies fell to the floor, I lost it – my roommates didn’t need their alarm clocks that morning, because my screams of “Are you kidding me?” and “Is this real life?” shocked them out of sleep.

As I shook my clothes out piece by piece, I uncovered a nest of newborn baby mice. With each additional baby that fell to the ground, my roommate and I screeched and jumped around the room. In total, we scooped up and buried five mice that morning.

I threw my clothes that had been on the shelf in the larger of my two suitcases. It wasn’t until several hours later that I remembered I still had a few things in my other suitcase, which I had left under the bed. I went back to recover the bag, but when I pulled it up, another (the same?) mouse leapt out and crawled through the same hole in the wall.

“You know, I bet you that mouse laid more babies in my bag,” I told my roommate, Sara.

“No way, dumbie. Mice are mammals. That means they don’t just pop out babies, they have to get pregnant and gestate, a process that takes time. There’s no way there are more babies in your bag,” she said.

But I had a hunch. “But what if, what if, there were six babies in that tiny mouse belly, and that mouse only had time to pop out five of them before I rudely interrupted her by getting dressed? And there was still a baby left in there?”

We spent the next five minutes debating the average size of a mouse litter and the absurdity of my theory before I gathered the courage to look through my suitcase.

I pulled out a shirt and swung it around. Nothing fell out. A pair of shorts. Nothing.

That was when we heard the first screech. With more gusto, I searched through the bag to find the sixth baby mouse. This one was bigger than the other five, and by the sound of its cries, more angry about its nest being discovered.

It, too, was scooped out and laid to rest with its brothers and sisters in the forest.

In the weeks that followed, two more mice were captured in the cabin. Even so, I never fell asleep again without wondering whether I would wake up to another nest of mice in my clothes or my bed. Here’s to hoping that the discovery of the chewed-through t-shirt won’t keep me up at night back at home.

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