What then? poor beastie, thou maun live! -- Burns Some years ago, when our daughters were 10, 11, and 13, we all vacationed in a friend's cottage in northwestern Michigan.On the last day of our allotted two weeks, we took a final swim in the lake, and then turned to tidying up the cottage and packing our belongings in anticipation of leaving early the next day.
As we were preparing to lock up next morning, we found the girls in a sudden agitation over the fate of a tiny field mouse they had found in the cottage two days before.
Mind you, it was 5:30 a.m. and raining; my wife and I were anxious to get started immediately for home so that we could make the entire trip of 600 miles in one long day. As a result, at this early hour, I was quite short-tempered with the girls and their concern for the welfare of a mouse. (Little did they know that I had already trapped three of his "relatives" during our stay.)
With lingering irritation, I grudgingly let the girls prepare such containers of food and liquids as would presumably ensure the survival of the mouse until our hosts should arrive in a week or two.
"When we get home," I said, "you can write the Drakes a letter and tell them to be on the lookout for this mouse when they come home."
This seemed an acceptable arrangement under the circumstances, so the girls equipped "Mr. Mouse's" larder as they saw fit, and off we went in the rain.
Once home, Maggie, our 13-year-old, wrote the letter about the mouse. Our friends were so charmed and touched by it that later in the autumn they gave the letter to us. We have treasured it ever since.
What particularly interested me in the letter was a child's total affectionate attachment to a small creature of nature. As the poet Blake urged in his Songs of Innocence,m the child's world of love and compassion makes a good deal more sense than the adult's world of calculation.Here was a universe in which, for the moment, a young girl and a tiny field mouse were the only inhabitants. Maggie's letter was, I believe, a work of high imagination; and I was never more ashamed of my failure to understand and make provision for a child's point of view -- especially my own child's -- than when I read it. I transcribe her letter exactly, with all its remarkable detail:
Dear Mr. and Mrs. Drake,
We found a two-week-old mouse under the Television Set about two days before we left. He was very weak so we made a nest for him under a birch tree on the right of the deck. We put enough food in there and water and milk also to last him a while. We didn't know if he would live but if he is still there when you go up we would REALLYm appreciate it if you would put bird seed in there for him till he is old enough to fend for himself (3-4 months). the little cups in there are for water and milk. If you could fill them if he is still there we would appreciate it.
Also we found another baby but he passed away one day after we found him. We buried him outside the back cabana door. His marker is there. His name was Buck. The one we hope is alive is named Nosy. If you could just feed him for a while we would be most grateful. We really made a friend of him. (Thanks alot!)
Love, The Girls
P.S. My Mom thinks she left an onion in the disconnected fridge.
I don't think I have ever known a more striking illustration of the intensity of a child's moral imagination. Maggie may have been 600 miles away, but her heart was with the mouse -- and incidentally with an onion.
Neither mouse nor onion survived, we learned later, but there was no need to report that to the girls.