It was time to clean the hen house. I grabbed a sack of pine wood shavings and an oversize trash bag from the run- in, the wide shovel and my gloves. After bagging up all the old shavings, wet from water and hen droppings, I began to shake new bedding onto the floor. Before I could stop the rest of the shavings from falling out of the bag, out jumped a little field mouse. Seconds later, after seeing where she ran to hide, I noticed at least two little baby mice, the size of quarters on the floor. Realizing then, that I had shaken a mother mouse and her babes into the floor of the hen house, I scooped up the two little ones I could see, looked for more which I did not find, and set to hiding the lost little mice in a place their mother could find them, but the hens would not.
Leaving them alone together in a little area of sawdust and a sock to keep them warmer for the rest of that day and night, I returned the next morning. One of the mice was gone. I had to assume the mother took it. The single mouse however, was cold, isolated and I was sure would die if it was not given warmth and milk.
For four days, I occupied my life with saving a little baby mouse that was probably a week or so old when I found it, whose eyes had not yet opened and whose little legs had only so much strength to move around. I kept Freedom in the palm of my hand during an interview for a documentary film. Freedom went with me in his own little carrying case, with a warm sock, and stayed in my hand when I went to a meeting at a local farm I volunteer for. I did try to reunite the baby mouse and mother by putting a piece of cheese with Freedom back in the same hiding place he had been two nights earlier. But when I returned to the hen house in the morning, the baby mouse had curled up on the cheese, like it was another mouse.
Like all animal lovers, I fall in love with most animals easily, especially with baby animals of any sort. I used a piece of string dipped in cat milk which Freedom sucked on the first two days but refused by the third night and fourth day. I watched this precious little life get weaker and weaker, but I still woke up every two hours during the two nights he slept near me under a lamp, to be sure he had something to drink. People I knew told me to “feed him to the hens”, or “it’s just a mouse, why are you trying to save it – it’s wild?” Of course responses like that to my trying to nurse a baby mouse by hand, called for responses. So I asked one woman, ” and if it were a baby deer, should I simply let it die?”, and to another, “my run-in is not wild. They’re suburban mice!”, which of course made me laugh when I said it. But the deeper truth is that there was not one part of my heart that would have allowed my body, to simply let it die in the hen house alone. My heart said, “this is a baby mouse. It was nursing until you dumped their bedding on the floor of the hen house. This baby mouse deserves a chance at life” (even if they on average only live a year in the wild), and the deepest pull to help, was that I did not want this baby mouse I named Freedom, to die alone. And he did not. In his last hours of life he was in my hand. A few minutes before he died I could sense he was ready to pass. I blew two short little breathes in the palm of my hand like warm air — he made a little movement, stretched his legs and then stopped breathing. I cried. Of course I cried. I have learned that one death brings up the grief of all deaths one has experienced in life. It was raining when I went out side and buried him on the hill where our precious dog, a Mountain Pyrenees named Chief Eli is buried.
Did I know the mouse would not likely survive? Yes. Did I do everything I could? I did. If he had lived, what would I have done? The plan was to let Freedom be ‘free’ and let him go in the woods at the edge of the hen house. After the short ceremony in the rain and near dark, I went back inside and began dismantling my little first aid station I had set up in the kitchen, just as I have for any of our dogs, cats, turtles, ferrets and other creatures who have ever needed special care.
As I went to take a bath, I felt a little presence sitting above my right ear. Later, I felt a little presence sitting on the top of my head as I lay down to go to sleep. I do believe that this little mouse spirit was with me for a number of days and will come visit if called. Like all shamanistic traditions, where one finds affinity to various animals, while I have been called Tiger, it was also my mother who called me ‘mouse.’ I suppose after all, she was right, I am mouse — who cherishes freedom.