The mouse trap

(Caution: Graphic material. Reader discretion advised)

I thought I’d won the rat race, dodged all of the spring-loaded traps and found my piece of cheese at the end of the maze. It was late December, and I’d just floated through 8 inches of powder down the shoulder of Deadwood Mountain and into La Plata Canyon. There in front of a rustic structure I’ve admired for nearly a decade was a sign containing four magic words – “For Sale By Owner.”

Just 40 days later, Rachael, Skyler and I became the proud title-holders of a seven-acre gold mining claim and a home-away-from home – a fixer-upper happily perched on a south-facing hillside, two miles from the end of winter maintenance. The shabby little structure is more hut than cabin, but the spot boasts postcard views of Madden and Star peaks, abuts summer singletrack and is at the epicenter of some of the best wintertime action in the Southwest. As an added plus, our new “mine” is safely located many miles upstream of our new neighbors – the Wildcat Mining Co.

The road melted out in late April, and a few weeks ago, we tore into our little project and started secreting some sweat equity. At this point of the tale, I should backpedal a bit and mention that I’ve had a fairly storied history with the order of mammals known as rodentia.

I’ve faced down field mice, bagged a trophy-sized pack rat and even tagged a breeding pair of pocket gophers. From the early to late 2000s, the Sands family inhabited a structure aptly nicknamed the Mouse House. Our country home was a beacon for scavengers, calling them in with bright lights, soothing music and the table scraps only a young child can create.

Periodically, a dozen field mice would penetrate the pad’s stone walls. Then, a traveling band of deer mice would stop off at the Sands Buffet. Before long, a rogue pack rat would take up semi-permanent residence between the pro-panel and the tongue-and-groove. The scratching never seemed to end; greedy fangs devoured drywall, wiring and insulation day and night; and pellets, fur and nests popped up all over our little piece of paradise.

But I’m here to tell you now that the Mouse House had nothing on the structure we recently christened the Hanta Hut.

It was the third week of May when I made a return to the family cabin in La Plata Canyon. I decided to open our budding relationship with a small demolition project. An overhanging wall covered in warped paneling was the first step on this amateur contractor’s tour of duty. So I grabbed my largest crow bar, approached a small gap in the boards, lifted the tool over my head, inserted the sharp end and applied a little elbow grease. The board squealed, heaved and then popped. As it splintered into bits, I knew I’d hit the jackpot. But there would be no sirens, no brightly flashing lights and no silver dollars pouring from this slot. Instead, hundreds of tiny black pellets started issuing from the hole, showering me about the head, hands and face. I had quite literally stepped into a shit storm.

I promptly teleported out of the room, armed myself with a dust mask, saddled up a side-arm – a squirt bottle filled with a magic blend of bleach and water – and returned to give the whole infested area the Clorox treatment. I then stepped outside and briefly enjoyed those goddamned postcard views, hoping any lingering pathogens were enjoying their bleach bath, before returning to my charge. As each board popped, the black rain fell, and the straight poop started rising around my feet. The guano of ages had stacked up inside that wall, and I’m guessing a dozen generations of happy, well-fed mice (hundreds of adorable furry four-leggeds) helped furnish the load.

The little bastards stowed much more than excrement inside that wooden chamber. All manner of mousey treasure was stashed in various spots. A small sampling of the loot included: 22 birthday candles; a dozen colored bendy straws; a pair of surgical-grade dental picks; 43 nails; two lag bolts; an obituary notice from 2001; a miniature troll doll with a bright orange afro and a toothy grin; a rusted bottle opener; and some poor sucker’s car keys.

While the shiny objects offered little in the way of pay-off for my dirty chore, I am happy to report that I polished off the daunting task after a few agonizing hours. In the end, I had one “bag of shit” to haul out of the Hanta Hut (weighing just under a dozen pounds) and a shiny, nicely scented area to replace my personal wall of woe.

While I don’t know who the culprits were, I’m guessing at least a few members of Peromyscus maniculatus (the oft-dreaded deer mouse) stopped off at the cabin and did their business at some point in the last decade. Needless to say, I’ve been brushing up on my Hantavirus trivia. Though I have experienced a few pscychosomatic coughing fits, I daresay that I may have dodged the dreaded H-bomb. It’s a been a couple weeks and so far I’ve been blissfully free of fever, chills, sweaty palms, diarrhea, malaise, headaches, nausea and severe respiratory problems. While I’m not quite out of the mousey woods yet, I am tipping my brim to the Clorox Corp. with the dawn of every new day.

In the meantime, I’ll be back up sweating out a little more of that equity in coming weeks. In spite of that stinky early hiccup, I’m still in love with my little gold mine in the mountains. But this claim holder is done prospecting. I’ve already seen enough “nuggets” to last this man’s lifetime.

– Will Sands



In this week's issue...

January 25, 2024
Bagging it

State plastic bag ban is in full effect, but enforcement varies

January 26, 2024
Paper chase

The Sneer is back – and no we’re not talking about Billy Idol’s comeback tour.

January 11, 2024
High and dry

New state climate report projects continued warming, declining streamflows