Enjoying, exploring--and surviving--the flora and fauna on this beautiful planet

"It Started With a Mouse"
June 12, 2013
(Updated June 14, 2013)

It's strange how a seemingly insignificant event can ultimately change the course of a whole day. Although we didn't realize it at the time, this story started on a Sunday at a local do-it-yourself car wash....

Late in the afternoon, we decided that we really needed to wash a car that we hadn't driven for a couple of months. We knew it was going to take at least two rounds of washing, so the first $1.50 paid for the "foam brush" wash to remove the worst of the dirt. When we switched to the noisy, forceful pressure wash wand, I was surprised to see a mouse run out from under the car! I assumed that it lived in the drain and was trying to get out before it drowned, but I did notice that it ran around erratically for a moment, as if it didn't know where it was. When I walked over to get a better look at it (wishing I had my camera--which was in the car), it ran across the parking area and stopped a couple of times before finally disappearing into some bushes.

Once the car was clean and the mouse was basically forgotten, the next plan was to make sure that the car was road-worthy. We dropped it off at a service center on Monday and after getting new tires, an alignment, an oil change and more, it was deemed safe for travel. I picked it up on Tuesday morning, drove it home and it did fine. A couple of hours later I realized that I needed to put a new insurance card in the glovebox, so I went back outside, opened the car door--and stopped.

Oh my gosh...

There on the front passenger side floormat was a tiny baby mouse! It was fully furred, but its eyes were only partially opened. For whatever the reason, I did not immediately connect this to the mouse I'd seen at the car wash; all I knew was that I had just found a very tiny baby in a very hot car. Not good.....

It was about the size of the baby bats I've cared for each year, so quickly fashioning a makeshift container out of a phone charger package, I gently scooped it off the floor and took it into the house.

When I finally realized that its mom was probably the mouse that had run out from under the car two days before, I was surprised that this baby had survived as long as it had. Between the heat and dehydration, I knew it didn't have much of a chance, but needing to do *something* to help, I put on gloves, poured some lukewarm water into a small container and located the small paintbrush that I use to hydrate bats. Unlike the bat babies that quickly learn to latch on and suck water or goat's milk from a paintbrush, the best I could do with the little mouse was to keep putting water on its mouth in the hopes that it would take some of it in.

Next I transferred the baby from the phone charger package to an empty plastic coffee container. These containers, when topped with knee-high hose, are great for carrying small animals. I've lost track of how many baby bats I've taken to the wildlife rehabber in Folgers cans!

Unlike bats, baby mice are very rarely "only children," so we went back out to the car to see if we could find any others. We looked under the seats, in the glovebox and trunk and anywhere we thought that a mouse could have possibly built a nest. We didn't find any more--or any sign of a nest--but I wasn't convinced that they weren't there....

I called the shop where the car had been serviced and asked if they had seen a mouse nest in the engine, but they hadn't. Perhaps the whole nest (minus this baby) had been washed out with the power spray at the car wash; I just didn't know. If the nest had fallen out under the car, we wouldn't have noticed it when we drove off. I knew that any mice left in the car wouldn't survive long, and from a practical standpoint, I was concerned about the possibility of a bunch of baby mice dying and decomposing in a hot car. Ew. Seriously....

But just as some people might question why I'd go to the trouble of trying to rescue a baby bat, I'm sure fewer people would understand what I did next: I ditched the plans I'd had for the afternoon, grabbed my purse and the container with the mouse in it, got in my car and headed to the Wildlife Center of Virginia.

This wonderful facility is just about fifteen miles from my house. I didn't know if they would try to care for a baby mouse (especially since mice are on the menu for many of their reptiles and birds of prey...) but I knew that its fate would best decided by the compassionate and knowledgable people at the Center. I wasn't even sure if the mouse would survive the ride over the mountain, but when I pulled into their parking lot, it was weak but still in the land of the living.

I was welcomed by a staff member when I walked in, and as soon as I told her what was going on, she took the baby mouse back to the clinic to see if someone could try to hydrate it. While I was waiting for her to return, Ed Clark, the President and Founder of the Wildlife Center, passed by, smiled and said hello. There wasn't time for more than a greeting, but I was thrilled to see him; he is truly one of my heroes for the work he does with injured and orphaned wildlife! I also saw and said hello to Randy Huwa, the Center's Executive Vice-President, when he walked by.

When the receptionist came back, she warned me that wild baby mice are very hard to care for and that their success rate with them was not good. I fully understood that, but my heart/conscience always dictates that I try to do *something* to help, and delivering it to the Wildlife Center was the best help that I could provide. I then started telling her about "my bats," and as we were talking about the horrendous loss of cave-dwelling bats due to White Nose Syndrome (as many as 98% lost in Pennsylvania, and perhaps as many as 70% in Virginia!), a car pulled up to the door and a man came in. The woman at the desk asked if he had an animal, and he said that he and his wife had just found a fawn lying in the middle of the road. He said it may have been hit by a car, but it didn't seem to be injured too badly from what he could tell.

Mr. Clark reappeared, greeted the man, and he and the receptionist walked out to the man's car. As his car was near mine, I was able to watch as they gently reached into the front seat floor of the car and lifted out a beautiful baby deer. While I hoped its injuries were not too severe, I knew it was--quite literally--in the best hands possible at that moment....

I don't know for sure, but perhaps one of these babies (in a video just shared on the Wildlife Center's Facebook page) is the one that I saw:

Since the day had already taken on a life of its own, I wondered if there would be other adventures or unusual experiences; it sometimes happens that way.

As I left the Wildlife Center, I headed towards the cemetery in Nelson County where both of my parents are buried. As I was carefully making my way down the mountain on the winding road that goes through the community of Afton, I had to brake suddenly when I came upon a large peacock standing right by the side of the road! I didn't have time to grab my camera, but I slowed down and stopped after I passed it, and in my rear view mirror I was able to watch as it slowly and regally crossed the road, dragging its magnificent tail behind it. Well, cool--that was well worth the twisty trip down the mountain!

Last November I saw my first in-the-wild Bald Eagle in this area, so I always look for them when I'm passing through. As I was driving towards the church, I caught a sudden movement with my peripheral vision. No, it wasn't a Bald Eagle, but I saw a large hawk grab something from the bank of a fast-moving stream and carry it up into a tree. The hawk was hidden by the leaves so there was no opportunity to take a picture, but it was another reminder that I should be watching and paying attention: there are truly wonders everywhere.

As I pulled into the cemetery, I thought of a scene in the play "Our Town" by Thornton Wilder. The character, Emily, had died and she found herself in the cemetery above Grover's Corner with all of the townspeople who had already passed away. While I don't think that the afterlife involves people sitting on chairs in cemeteries and quietly conversing with each other, it wouldn't necessarily be a bad thing if they did that at this particular cemetery. It's such a beautiful, peaceful location and bird calls and the wind are usually the only sounds you hear.

I got a small trowel and two plastic baggies out of my car and walked up to my parents' graves. I'd planned to visit the cemetery later in the week because I had a specific "mission" in mind, but delivering the baby mouse to the Wildlife Center had changed that plan, too. Yes, it's still hard to look at the stone with my parents' names, birth and death dates engraved on it, but I knelt before it and dug up a small bit of dirt from one grave and then the other.

I think that the death of a loved one is something you ultimately get "through," but perhaps never fully get "over." We all find different ways to try to cope with these losses, and so with the first part of this "mission" accomplished, I took the baggies and the trowel back to my car.

Just beyond my parents' graves, I spotted a bird that I didn't recognize and I wasn't familiar with its call, either. When I tried to approach it to get a picture, it flew over my head and landed in a grassy area behind me. I turned and walked towards it, but each time that I was *almost* close enough to get a good picture, it would run along the ground, then flop down in the grass and flap its wings. I still didn't know what kind of bird it was, but I knew what it was doing.

I let it lead me to the upper edge of the cemetery, and then it again took flight, flew over my head in the opposite direction, and landed close to where I had first seen it. This time I walked back slowly and didn't try to get too close--and I was rewarded with some pictures of a Killdeer and her babies.

Like many birds that nest in open fields, the Killdeer will try to lead any suspected predator away from her nest or young by pretending to be injured. I couldn't get close enough to take any video clips, but I found this (and several others) on YouTube:

In researching further, I've learned that Killdeer are "precocial" birds, meaning that--like chickens and ducks--they're able to see, move around and forage for themselves within minutes after hatching. The adults don't really build a nest; instead they scratch a shallow depression in bare ground or in gravel and embellish it with light colored pebbles or sticks. If their "broken wing act" doesn't discourage a predator, they'll fluff themselves up and attack whatever is threatening their nest or hatchlings, regardless of its size. It takes about three weeks for the chicks' downy fuzz to change to feathers that will allow them to fly, so until then their parents continue to guard and protect them.

Since it was an unusual day--and being curious, as always--I decided to look up the symbolism associated with each animal that I'd encountered or observed. From Native American folklore to the wisdom, legends and myths of virtually every world culture, there's quite a bit of information out there regarding the significance of seeing or dreaming about one animal or another. Some of the beliefs vary by culture, but here's a brief summary of the symbolism surrounding the animals that I saw--starting with the mouse:

Mouse: A quiet animal that accomplishes what it needs to without attracting attention. It serves as a reminder to pay attention to details.

Fawn: A symbol of gentleness, kindness and caring. A reminder to let love and tenderness guide all decisions.

Peacock: A universal symbol for resurrection and the ability to see the connection between the past, the present and the future. Peacocks represent beauty, knowledge and immortality.

Hawk: Considered to be a messenger, protector and visionary spirit, who leads to an awakening of the soul's purpose. Hawks represent the higher levels of consciousness and the need to see the "big picture."

Killdeer: Represents a need to live simply, while creatively and courageously protecting the things that are important.

So is there some overall "message" that these animals delivered through their presence? I don't know, but if so, perhaps it is related to the purpose I have in mind for the two little bags of dirt from my parents' graves. While I won't say more now, like the peacock, my "mission" involves making a very personal and symbolic connection between the past, the present and the future.

Will I succeed? Time will tell. ♥

"Oh, earth, you're too wonderful for anybody to realize you."
Emily Webb in "Our Town"

Sharon K. Barrett 2013
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