I hope my wife doesn’t read this.
I’m proud of our compost pile. Our family has been able to divert a boatload of food waste away from our trashcan in the last five years. It’s cold compost pile. We don’t turn it, use worms, or aerate it much. We just dump scraps on top and once a year we pull some coffee grounds-looking material out from the bottom for planting.
Everything was cool until I noticed a few mice living in the compost a couple of months back. In retrospect I’m surprised we hadn’t attracted them earlier; the compost is warm, has tons of rotting food, and provides protection from the legion of cats on our block.
I needed to discourage these pestilential rodents from living in the compost, lest they try to eventually enter the house and give the kids hantavirus. So I started turning the pile more and then watered it down with a hose. Just adding water showed that my “couple of mice” was actually a colony of a dozen plus. Wet mice were jumping everywhere. The calico next door was over the fence in a heartbeat.
I didn’t see any mice after that. Had they left for more hospitable digs? A couple of weeks ago, in sub-freezing weather, I had to dump a tub filled with water and rotting apples in the compost. The pile erupted with wet mice. I stopped counting after fourteen. I left the top off the compost hoping the cats would run them out.
The next morning I saw one little frozen mouse, right next to our decaying Halloween pumpkin. I used a stick to break open the orange globe. Inside were ten other hypothermic mice. I knew right then that I’d read the kids too many mouse books—Redwall, The Rats of N.I.M.H., Abel’s Island and more—because my brain started anthropomorphizing in high gear. The expired mice had their paws around each other, as if cuddling together for warmth in their final moments.
No one else in the family knows about this. I was just trying to help the environment and instead I caused the Great Mouse Massacre. Was I too lazy? Should I have turned the pile more? Should I even care? There are no easy answers. Pest control is Dad’s burden in our family, and with it comes a reminder of how hard it is to disconnect your modern life from nature.