Ready: On the folly of making mouse plans

Staff Writer
The Destin Log

A sensible person would’ve just thrown the thing into the trash instead of giving it a solemn interment. In my childhood, I would have held a little ceremony, erected a cross made of popsicle sticks, and sung “Amazing Grace … that saved a rat like me.” For some reason, I assumed that all rodents — and animals in general — were Christians, maybe even Baptists. There is still a bit of that funereal theatric in me.

It broke my heart to trap that little field mouse on one of the sticky trays that the exterminator put out. But, it had been eating the cookies and crackers in my pantry for months and, even worse, leaving its droppings everywhere for me to clean up. During that time, all humane options had failed. As a last resort, I opted for the slow, painful death trap. I say that because, once the creature steps on it, the poor thing is stuck in the “goo,” and can’t be extracted. It’s caught in a living death. I couldn’t bear to dispose of it alive, so I waited for it to die and then buried it, tray and all.

Perhaps my strange compassion for mice comes from a poem I studied in British literature classes and then taught to my own high school seniors. One cold November in 1785, the Scottish poet Robert Burns accidentally destroyed the nest of a little mouse family. Knowing that the mother and her babies would now die in the bitter weather, he wrote a poetic apology to her in his “To a Mouse, On Turning Her Up in Her Nest with the Plough.” In the poem, he acknowledged that mice had been making a mess in his corn crib and eating his hard-earned crops. But he also wrote that man’s encroachment upon nature’s creatures had caused them to make other plans, especially plans that interfered with the lives of men. He assured her that he didn’t resent the food she had stolen from him and felt “truly sorry man’s dominion has broken nature’s social union.” And now he had unwittingly caused her harm that couldn’t be made right. As he says to her, in Scottish dialect, “the best-laid plans o’ mice an’ men gang aft agley and lea’e us nought but grief an’ pain for promised joy.” My translation: “the best laid plans of mice and men usually end up in disappointment instead of fulfillment.” John Steinbeck’s novel Of Mice and Men tells a story with that very theme.

Like Burns’ mouse, my mouse had made plans. It had come in from the awful summer heat and stayed through the fall rains and cooler temperatures in search of shelter and food. Now, I don’t know much about rodent diets, but I assume groceries must be scarce in my heavily-trafficed neighborhood with its carefully groomed lawns and rapidly diminishing natural environment. Like the birds and squirrels that eat my pears, figs, and blueberries, God also made field mice, and I don’t mind sharing my harvest with them. Especially since He made the harvest. Yet, it seems inevitable; people and critters are going to end up ruining each others’ plans.

Confucius warned us to “plan ahead or find trouble on your doorstep,” but it doesn’t always work out that way. My best dinner parties have been spur-of-the-moment, throw-it-together affairs, and my worst ones have been those I spent weeks obsessing over.

I planned an eventful retirement, becoming a world traveler, and writing a novel or two.

However, I rarely leave Destin, and my “big writing” career is this silly little column each Saturday in the Log. My husband was not at all the man I planned to marry, nor did he take well to any of my plans to make him into the imaginary mate I envisioned in my youth. Our 50th anniversary plans came to an end with his death in our 49th year.

Not that I don’t respect the wisdom of planning. As I’ve often heard, “It wasn’t raining when Noah built the ark.” But expecting the unexpected should be factored into any vision of the future. Maybe that’s why I’m often pessimistic about political promises to fix the economy, the latest miracle diet program, or ever living long enough to visit Egypt.

So the mouse and I have come to realize, as the great Planner has said, “I know the plans I have for you …. They are plans for good and not for disaster, to give you a future and a hope.”

It’s that hope that keeps me going.

Mary Ready of Destin is a twice-retired English teacher and long-time area resident. Her columns are published on Saturdays.