Sunday, December 21, 2008

Worker Peasants Dancing in the Snow

My housemate was up late Tuesday night doing his usual middle-of-the-night computer thing with headphones on, all the blinds closed and completely oblivious to the real world when he heard a loud thump on his closed bedroom door. Before he could panic about rifle-bearing neighbors or ghosts associated with the hang noose we found in the attic, a mouse scrambled into his bedroom under the door. He tried to catch it by the tail as it stumbled about the clothes-strewn floor. The mouse seemed stunned as would any small critter confronted by such an enormous pile of dirty laundry.

When the tail strategy didn't work, he covered his hand with a dirty sock and snagged the mouse with a full body swipe. Cat King Cole was territorially waiting in the hallway and followed the sock-wrapped pair to the kitchen door. My housemate threw the mouse out the door and noticed a big puff of white go up as it landed in the driveway. That's when he realized it was snowing. We don't usually have snow, we occasionally have deer mice visit the house at night, and my new shelter cat just happens to be a fantastic mouser. It took this unique combination of random events to wrench a young person away from his computer to enjoy snow falling in the countryside in the moonlight. I, gainfully employed nature girl, slept through the whole thing.

A few workday hours later, I got up at 5 AM, discovered the snowy circumstances and did a little snow dance in the yard. That's when I noticed a cluster of canine tracks at one spot on the driveway. Using my nature-girl powers of deduction, I determined that the colony of gophers who live in the bank above the driveway had a sledding party which ended when a reckless gopher flew high into the moonlit night, landed with a white puff in the driveway snow and was pounced upon by a waiting predator.

Later that day, my housemate told me his sock-mouse story. I had the night predator angle correct, but it took an unbiased computer kid to fill in, indeed, create the true real-life details. That was a lucky coyote. It's not just anywhere you can snack on a cat-tenderized dirty-sock flavored deer mouse.

Here is a photo of mice I live-captured in my kitchen December 2007. Last winter when I did not have a cat, I struggled with mice coming into the house whenever it got cold. At first I thought I had two different species of mice because their size and color were different. One morning I found two mice in separate live traps in the kitchen and I put them in this clear container for scientific observation before marking their tails and releasing them on the back 50. When I saw the big mouse grooming the little mouse, my mom-instinct kicked in and I finally figured it out. They were not two species, just adult mice successfully breeding immature mice in my house. Adult deer mice (Peromyscus maniculatus) have brown fur on top and a bright white belly. Juveniles deer mice are smaller with grey-blue fur.

The snow lasted this week until Friday morning. Thanks to my neighbor Ruth for the above shot of Dipper Ranch in the snow from her kitchen across Peters Creek canyon. Other neighbors are promising more photos which I will try to post later (go here for fantastic snow and sky photo by neighbor Georgia). We see snow so infrequently, those who are home in the winter daylight hours are obliged to take photos of the surrounding hillsides. The worker peasants of us are reduced to snow dancing in the wee dark hours of the morning when we are prone to wild speculations about night-time animal merriment.
Here are some photos from January 2007, the only time it snowed last year, when I called into work "It's snowing, I'm not sure I can get out my driveway, bye." My Minnesota relatives are snickering. This little white lie gave me a chance to take photos and follow animal tracks in the snow.

Here's the Newt Pond surrounded by snow last year. There were coast range newts mating in it then and their eggs successfully hatched a few weeks later. Newt mating and snow was not a combination I formerly imagined. Yesterday, when I checked the Newt Pond, this week's snow had melted but there were 2 groggy newts resting in its shallow depths. They were doing something funny with their eyes. I will report on their reproductive progress over the next few months.

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