Prehistoric Mesoamerica
by Richard E. W. Adams 
 
"The best laid schemes o' mice and men
"Gang aft a-gley;
"And leave us naught but grief and pain
"For promised joy."
Robert Burns -- "To a Mouse"
______________________

Among the most common sounds of autumn in the country, along with rustling leaves and 
crackling fires, is the scratching and scurrying that can be heard inside walls and rafters of almost every rural dwelling. 

These are the sounds of the house mouse, mus musculus, one of the least welcome of guests and most difficult to dissuade. This uninvited visitor will eat, or chew on, almost anything and defecate everywhere. He contaminates food, causes damage to structures and property, and  carries dangerous diseases.

Introduced by 16th century pilgrims in the holds of their Atlantic-crossing ships, house mice followed the progress of Europeans in the New World, traveling in wagons and rucksacks and saddlebags and trains and trucks and planes across the continent and back, occupying pantries from Maine to Malibu.

Grayish brown with a naked scaly tail, the pointy-snouted house mouse puts down 50 droppings a day, on average, and gives off 300 squirts of urine in between. Messy, ugly, and presumptuous, this uninvited guest inspires desperate measures.

First, you bar the doors. To "mouse proof" a house, you must eliminate all openings larger than 1/4 inch. Steel wool -- one of the few materials that resists their chewing -- can be used to seal cracks in foundations and openings for water pipes, vents, and utilities. Doors, windows and screens must fit tightly and their edges need to be plated with metal to prevent gnawing. 

Then, you remove the welcome mat. Food is kept tightly under wraps, stored in metal containers or sealed away in freezers or refrigerators. This fellow is not one to share dinner with, not even the leftovers.

Still the mouse, a creature that squeaks for itself, will often find a way through the most conscientious of barriers and feed from the least likely of sources. Have you checked the cat food dish lately?

Some say the best deterrent to mice is a good mouser. Cats can certainly be voracious hunters, but some are too sporting with their catch and others grow weary of the game and learn to live peaceably with rodentia.

Sticky traps and poisons are effective, but a slow death by face plant can bother even the most vengeful of mouse-haters, and rotting corpses behind the refrigerator are equally unpleasant.

Another method of extermination, used by folks in rural areas, is to bait a pop or wine bottle with a narrow neck with something sweet or tasty. Bury the bottle outdoors near the house so that the top opening is roughly level with the ground. Mice will squeeze inside to get the treat and be trapped. In a few days, when the bottle is half full of furry critters, cap it and dispose; do not recycle!

No one enjoys killing the beady-eyed buggers, and some soft-hearted folks even resort to live trapping and relocation (to someone else's home?). The most humane and socially acceptable method or eradication is a quick death in a snap trap.

Flat as a nickel pancake he squeezes under the back door, avoiding the window screening, steel wool and hardware cloth. Compulsive and near-sighted, he follows his nose to the stale cheese snag-tied to the lip of a snap-trap's pallet. The sound you hear will be his last gasp as the spring-sprung bar takes his life away.

If you have the stomach for it, pry the mouse loose and reuse the trap.

***

MOVING AWAY

After seven years in this place, we're contemplating a move. We're feeling cramped, our needs have changed, careers and schooling beckon, and yet we dread the thought of moving. We remember, all too well, the agonies of relocating.

Digging through my personal archives, I unearthed something written during the last move. I share these words, again, as I prepare to cross back over a threshold I hoped to avoid:

I’m standing here in a bare-walled room contemplating a stack of cardboard boxes and wondering which contains the notes to the water rights article I’m working on. And I’m asking myself again why this is happening. What possessed me to box up my belongings, scramble whatever order there was to my life, and leave behind friends and neighbors for a new residence?

Some people enjoy moving. They like the emigrant experience, the transitory feel of ever-changing scenery and acquaintances. They live their lives like travelers on an interstate highway, pausing only for rest stops and business loops.. Life is short. There’s no time for attachments.

My wife and I do not share this feeling. We grieve over places and people left behind. Moving fills us with worry and frustration. We experience sudden headaches, dizzy spells, disorientation and nausea. Each time we move we say to each other, "Never again! Here we take root!"

We’ve moved 17 times in 16 years of marriage. Each time there was a good reason. My wife went back to school. I got a better job. We hated the city and longed for the country. We needed money and moved to the city. We missed the country and moved back.

This time there was a baby to consider, schooling and day care and life insurance to think about, and a good buy on a good piece of property in a small town we had our eye upon. It's only 36 miles down the road, but
it's still a move that involves leaving some piece of ourselves behind, and it still hurts.

It is said that moving ranks with a house fire and the death of a spouse as the most anxious moments in our lives. 

From long experience, I can vouch for moving anxiety. In my first move I said goodbye to my pinto pony, my Geman shepherd guardian, and my second grade classmates. Later, I let go of best friends, treasured toys, favorite hiding places, and my position on baseball teams. Over the years I have lost or given away loads of furniture, hundreds of books, several pets, and at least two cars.

The moves I’ve made with wife have included harrowing cross-country journeys in questionable vehicles in various states of disrepair. We've camped out for weeks on end, moved belongings in and out of storage units and up and down precipitous flights of stairs, been broke or broke down or broken- hearted many a time, and found ourselves locked in or locked out at the most inopportune moments.

I’ve met people who have lived all their lives in one county, or nearly so. I have lived in a dozen counties so far. I cannot imagine knowing only one.

Most Americans move a lot -- a third of us every two years on average. We are descendants of footloose peoples from Europe and Asia and Africa and the Americas who left stability and certainty behind for risk and opportunity.

But we are also descendants of peoples that cherished rootedness and sought permanence. In the folds of family, like a thick quilt, lies a sense of purpose and belonging. In the web of community we find our station and our meaning. Only through careful tillage in the same soil over many seasons can we secure a footing.

With each move most of us expect to come home. At the end of every relocation there is at least the hope of some constancy. Otherwise,
why unpack?

I think these thoughts standing amid my boxed belongings and watching the furnishings of one place passing out the back door toward another. In a framed mirror I see my reflected self moving away.

***

GOOD NEIGHBORS

 Moving to the country? You’re going to love it... maybe.
 If you are anything like the thousands of folks fleeing the “rat race” of city life each year by taking up residence in some small town or rural county, then you probably have some romantic notions of country life.
 You expect to find less crime, less traffic and more friendly faces.
 That’s possible.
 But don’t come out here looking for Green Acres or Northern Exposure. There are no Martha Stewarts on these farms. You won’t find espresso bars or vegetarian bistros in most small towns.
 All across the country, in rural places from Maine to Mendocino, there are terrible conflicts raging between folks who have lived in these places all their lives and newcomers who want to change them to better meet their expectations. 
 Some novice ruralites want to look at cows grazing in a pasture without having to smell them. Others expect farms to operate without machinery and harvesting to occur on bankers’ hours. And a few even want to recreate our small town business districts with yuppie boutiques and tourist attractions.
 These are three of the “Top 10 Ways to Irritate a Rural Community.” The other seven include:
 7. Honk If You’re Angry. Hereabouts, when someone honks a horn it’s either because they know you and are honking to say ‘Hello!’ or because there’s some impending disaster.
 6. Know It All. Until you’ve been around for a few years carefully avoid speaking like a local authority or tour guide.
 5. Ignore the Obvious. Local customs are not that hard to figure out if you’ll just take the time to watch and listen.
 4. Overpay. Rural economics are different from those in the city. Pay more for than the going rate for a house or tip a waitress too heavily and you disrupt the local economy. 
 3. Complain. “If you don’t like it, why did you move here?”
 2. Give History Lessons. Any sentence with the phrases  “Where I come from...” or “Back when I was...” are likely to be received poorly.
 1. Phone Your Lawyer. Nuisance lawsuits involving pre-existing farming operations or other businesses are rarely successful, are always expensive, and are certain to make you unpopular.
 As for those of us who already live here in the country, we need to talk to these newcomers, get to know them and let them get to know us.
 "Good communication builds trust and allows people to discuss problems in a peaceful and respectful way," says Dr. Timothy Kelsey, assistant professor of agricultural economics at Penn State University.  "It helps neighbors learn that you are approachable and interested in their concerns.  If a neighbor has a complaint about your farm, it is better that they feel comfortable enough to approach you directly instead of your hearing of it second-hand."
 Newcomers are frightening. Who knows where they came from? Who knows what they are capable of?
 The best way to deal with these anxieties is to remember the story of Big Jake. It begins with a cowhand in a small town of the Old West walking into a saloon to quench his thirst. He orders a beer and while he’s standing at the bar waiting for it the saloon doors swing open and a cowboy comes in yelling, ‘Big Jake’s coming!’
 Within seconds everyone in the bar clears out, leaving the cowhand standing at the bar waiting for his beer. And sure enough, a huge seven-and-a-half-foot 500-pound cowboy comes swaggering in, tearing out the front door frame with his broad shoulders.
 The cowboy looks around the saloon, marches over to the cowhand, grabs him by the scruff of the neck and tosses him over the bar.
 “Gimme a drink!” he bellows.
 The cowhand obeys, pouring a shot of whiskey and placing the bottle down next to the glass on the bar. The cowboy tosses back the shot and then bites off the neck of the bottle and drinks its contents.
 The cowhand, shaking in his boots, asks, “Sir, would you care for another?”
 “Nope, I Gotta goes,” the cowboy declares. “Big Jake’s coming’!”
 Your new neighbors may look strange and do things differently. They might even be critical and hard to get along with. But at least they’re not Big Jake.
.


Prehistoric Mesoamerica
by Richard E. W. Adams 
University of Oklahoma Press, 2005.
Order a copy

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