The other night Denise and the dogs and I were all snuggled on the sofa bingeing the new season of “Never Have I Ever” when I thought I saw a frog. I didn’t say anything. The dogs were snoozing. I watched the frog hop out of the shadows and realized it was actually a mouse. Not a rat. A mouse. The mouse sniffed and shuffled and made its way into the bathroom. I turned very slowly to Denise so as not to disturb the pups. “Babe, stay still,” I whispered. “Don’t freak out.” The look on her face told me she was concerned and leaning towards freaking out. “Shhh,” I said. “I see a mouse and I don’t want the dogs to get riled.” Her face turned white but she didn’t move.
When I was little and we were sailing around the world on a boat, one of the most dangerous things that could happen was to have a rat on board. If you ever tied up to a wharf in, say, French Polynesia, you were apt to get a copra rat. These babies were BIG. They fed on coconut. They were afraid of nothing. they were excellent swimmers. They had teeth that would insult your mom. And they needed to keep those teeth sharp, so they would chew, for example, bilge plumbing, or engine wiring and plumbing. Presto! Imminent danger of sinking and/or fire!
I think it only happened once during my childhood (maybe twice?), and we narrowly escaped disaster entering a tricky harbor when a stowaway rat had chewed through some engine hoses.
After college and apprenticing boat building with my dad, I was crewing with my parents down through the Pacific to New Zealand where their new boat Beowulf was to be outfitted (see www.SetSail.com for all boat history stuff). Sure enough, while tied to a wharf in Takaroa, a tiny atoll in the Tuamotus, we acquired a rat.
I think it took a month to catch it. We had set out traps with peanut butter. No dice. One morning my mom woke up and there was a rat dropping. On her pillow. My dad was nonplussed. But days later we discovered that the rat had been getting fat on our extra bags of potato chips and my dad was finally filled with the kind of rage that’ll put a copra rat in real trouble. We set out traps galore, now filled with jam and PowerBars. The next morning we had caught the rat, who was now easily the size of a small raccoon (I’m only exaggerating a little). My mom and dad had a bet as to whether the rat would prefer apple cinnamon PowerBar or strawberry jam. At first I thought it was the jam and yelled it out. My mom was incredulous, “It’s the JAM?!!” she shouted. “No, IT’S THE POWER BAR!!” Triumphant. She had won. The rat was toast. The boat hadn’t sunk. All was well again aboard our floating home. The remaining potato chips held out till New Zealand.
Fast forward 27 years to Park City and my little family on the sofa in the mountains. I scurried to the kitchen and grabbed a small container. Followed the mouse into the bathroom and softly closed the door. “Hey little one, I’m not going to hurt you, I’m just going to get you outside,” I sang. I don’t think the mouse believed me. Eventually I cornered it between the toilet and the wall, and it hopped right in. Covered it with a lid, walked downstairs and outside and let it go behind the aspens. The dogs never woke up. Denise said if I hadn’t been there she might have slept in the car.
There are a lot of different ways to live this life, but they all include protecting your loved ones, in times of both real and perceived danger. Sometimes it takes potato chips to send you over the edge and sometimes it’s simply the knowledge that the sweetness of an evening pack snuggle is sacred. In any case, I’m glad I had the container and no creature was hurt. We finished “Never Have I Ever.” It’s a really good show.