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Sometimes it takes more than peanuts to catch an intruder

I was sure we had a mouse in the house. As I lay in bed at night, I heard it scurrying about. In the morning I found holes chewed in bags of rolls. Its droppings peppered the countertop. And it had even attempted to bore through a plastic jar of peanut butter.

My 10-year-old son was aware of the invasion. He asked me what I intended to do. When I voiced the idea of spreading out a few mousetraps, he grew so enthusiastic about the kill that I relented and decided against it. I did not want to encourage blood lust. I was also mindful of that humbling line by Walt Whitman: "A mouse is miracle enough to stagger sextillions of infidels...."

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And so I whiled away too much of my time thinking of some strategy to capture my unwanted visitor without killing it.

About a week ago, I thought I had the situation under control when I concocted a Rube Goldberg device consisting of a wooden plank and a plastic mixing bowl. I balanced the plank on the edge of the bowl and put a peanut at the end overhanging the bowl. Then I placed it in a dark corner of the cupboard.

The next morning I inspected my handiwork. The peanut was gone, and the plank was in the bowl, but there was no mouse. Curious.

I asked a friend, an old Mainer, about the incident. "How did the mouse get the peanut without falling into the bowl?" I asked.

My friend laughed. "Oh, he took the plunge," he said. "But a mouse can climb a sheer surface, so it wouldn't be a problem for him to get out of that bowl."

Aha. So what to do? The creature continued its nightly foragings. My bedroom has a tin ceiling, and I could hear the mouse's little claws scratching along the metal, which reminded me – how could it not? – of fingernails on a blackboard.

After three nights of this, I had had it. In the morning, before I left for work, I loaded a mousetrap, put a peanut on it, and set it out in the cupboard.

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The act weighed heavy on my mind throughout the day. During my childhood, I never had an interaction with a mouse. I never even saw a mouse (except for the little white, pet-store variety). The only "outsider" that ever got into our house was a cricket that took up residence behind the furnace in the basement. Perhaps, then, in order to kill a mouse, one had to come to it early on, because now I simply found the business not only unpleasant, but unacceptable.

And then, echoing Whitman, a small miracle occurred.

I walked into a room in the building where I work and spotted, of all things, a gray and white field mouse. It scurried along the floor a ways, paused to preen, and then scurried again.

Not making a sound, I inched toward it and watched. It seemed absolutely oblivious to my presence, although I'm sure it saw me. But the amazing thing was that it suddenly turned and walked in my direction. I froze. When it got close, I put my heels together and made an angle of my feet. The mouse curled up in the little corner I had created and preened some more.

It was all too much for me. I left the mouse to its affairs and went home, hoping the trap had not done its work.

I bit my lip and opened the cupboard. The trap had indeed been sprung, but there was no little corpse about. Well, it made sense. Any animal that can walk the plank, get its peanut, and escape from a mixing bowl can surely think of a way to outwit a spring-loaded mousetrap.

And then another miracle occurred – the second of the day.

I heard a scratching from inside the cupboard. Searching with a flashlight, I found my culprit. Only it wasn't a mouse. It was a mole, and it had fallen into an aluminum pot from which it apparently had not had time to escape. Next to it was a partially chewed peanut.

How convenient. I took the pot by the handle and carried its passenger outside. I deposited it where grass grew in some soft earth. The mole inspected the landscape for a moment and then scurried off.

That night I lay awake in bed, unable to sleep. Only this time it was because of the silence. I kept listening for the scratching of tiny claws until I finally fell asleep.

The next morning my son asked me if I ever caught the mouse. "It was a mole," I told him, to which he replied, "But did you kill it?"

What could I say? I guess I'm just an infidel with a heart.