Just when I thought I more or less personally knew all the critters that inhabit Chaos, I met a new neighbor last week. I don’t know if she’s been here the whole time or if she just moved in, but she’s never met her before.
We have not yet been properly introduced. I only caught a quick glimpse of its fat, furry body and long tail. There was not a polite pause to exchange names when she disappeared down my study step after looting and scattering kernels from a bundle of Indian corn she had hidden in a basket on the study porch.
I didn’t care for the leftover corn. It was years old, bought for fall decorating, and needed to be replaced anyway, although until now it hadn’t been bothered by squirrels who preferred the bounty of black walnuts and acorns. I was a bit puzzled when I first noticed the overturned basket and a partially peeled cob, but simply handed it over to a curious squirrel who may have righted the basket and stuffed the corn in its place, intending to care for it later.
A day or so later, a friend visiting the studio spotted her, busy stuffing her cheeks before taking the stolen loot to her stash below the studio, perhaps sharing the groundhog’s lair below. Bigger than a mouse, she said, not a chipmunk or a rat, and fat and furry and round.
We racked our brains trying to identify my mysterious new resident until my friend remembered a similar animal she had recently evicted from her pantry, identified as a North American deer mouse. After some research online, it appears that she was right.
I’ve seen my new squatter several times since, but she’s too quick to capture in a photo. I didn’t check her gender, but I consider her female as she is stocking the pantry for winter or the nest she is preparing for a fall family. She will also have another calf in the spring.
Distinguishable from a mouse by its size and from a rat by its ears, tail, and girth, a North American deer mouse (Peromyscus sp.) is an irresistibly cute little thing. Approximately 4 to 5 inches long (excluding tail) with soft, shaggy brown/gray fur; white chin and belly; long bushy tail; large black eyes; long mustaches; and big pink ears, it looks like a chimera of a baby mouse and bunny – the perfect model for a stuffed toy.
He didn’t stop long enough for me to ask about his family tree, so I don’t know which of the four Missouri subspecies he identifies with. Often variable, intertwined and indistinguishable from each other, it could be any of them.
Deer mice feast on grains (like my Indian corn), nuts, fruit pits, insects, spiders, slugs, select plants and bird eggs, and even feed on dead mouse bodies. They are important prey food for foxes, hawks, and other raptors, including possums, shrews, and snakes.
Typically nesting in woods or brush piles, in unused tunnels and nests made by other mammals (or themselves), grasses, and occasionally squirrel nests, deer mice will sometimes seek out a cozy spot in a house or building. Since she’s so close to my studio, I’ll have to be careful to keep the door closed and clean out the cabinets and boxes in case she found her way in and an eviction is ordered. Tenderness is no reason for me to offer a room; if she is there, she will have plenty of time to find another place to live before winter.
The queen of the night was very rushed after I wrote about it last week; Her Royal Highness must have taken my insistence seriously. I checked back a couple of hours after the morning photo of her fat bud to see white tips starting to stick out and by 8:30 she was half open.
By 2am (I stayed up so I wouldn’t miss a thing), it was fully displaying its magical, pristine white glory. I thought I caught a sly wink and smile (although it may have just been my imagination or a bit of pollen in my eye). He may do it again just to show that he can; another branch has another small but vigorous bud.
Sadly, when I went looking for my other long-awaited late-summer beauties, native spider lilies (Hymenocallis caroliniana), I was a day late and had lost them. The flowers had already opened and withered. It was also a good year, with four flower stalks.
It was a clearly remembered lesson: it pays to be alert to see what is going on in the garden. I wasn’t expecting much with such a dry summer and brown leaves, but I should have known with all the spring rains, the bulbs were well fed and ready. Short-lived like the queen of the night, the flowers don’t last long, just a few days and they leave until the next year.
It hasn’t been too late for daturas; Every night they display giant white flowers that unfurl in the mesmerizing Fibonacci sequence, sweetly scenting the night air. After an overheated summer that has given way to cooler temperatures, all three brugmansias have long buds to welcome September and bloom with the only surviving morning glory vine to survive the heat.
Another reminder: the mauve-pink fall crocuses (Colchicum autumnale), also known as “naked boys,” should be ready soon, and I don’t want to miss out. I’ll find one to dig up and put on my study window sill; now there are no roots, but the flower is already formed inside the bulb and will open like a little gift. It can be replanted after the flower fades.
This week’s afternoons will be spent cleaning out the study cupboards in search of Mrs. Deer Mouse. While I’m at it, I’ll try to figure out how the mother squirrel gets in to nest on a closet ceiling every spring and also put the “no vacancies” sign on it.
Sigh. The evidence of being an accidental landlady and throwing out disorderly tenants.