This week has at last seen hotter temperatures in our part of the world. It is so very welcome here as the snow is really starting to thaw out and although the mornings are still particularly cold, the evenings are especially pleasant with the sun lying sharp above the mountains before slipping away at about 5.30pm. I sit up on the hill and take it all in; the sun, the melting snow and the promise of Spring.
I take this opportunity to reacquaint myself with my sit-spot; the place I feel I half-abandoned during the stormy and snowy weather over the last couple of months. Now the visibility is good and the weather warmer, it feels great to get back into the routine again. Things are hustling and bustling; birds chasing each other to establish their territories and squirrels searching for the last buried nuts to see them through the lean times before the shoots start to appear from the bare earth again, not quite exposed yet. I see hawfinches quarrelling in the top of the ash trees and blackbirds turning the leaf litter appearing in little circles around the base of trees with such gusto, hoping that the worms will have surfaced again. A song thrush perches on the highest point of the tallest fir tree for miles around, sings its urgent mnemonic refrain as mistle thrushes below him call in their more plaintive minor keys in reply. Smaller birds sweep by, searching for insects in every nook and cranny of the bent hazel boughs that surrounded me, their companion cheeps plinking overhead as they go.
I have made a friend; a little wood mouse has decided to start visiting me every evening, literally two minutes after the sun has dipped behind the mountains. I would not have noticed her if it wasn’t for the insistent rustling she was making in the leaf litter as she sprang from one place to another. Looking down at my feet again and again and not being able to spot her, I suddenly see two small ears gently raising themselves from behind a rock only to disappear again once I move. Staying perfectly still, the ears re-appear, then a delicate nose and finally a bright face, watching me intently. She will only come out of her hiding place when I turn my back to her, pretending to get ultra-fascinated with something going on in the opposite direction. I watch my behaviour (and my thoughts) and notice that when I drop my mind-chatter she will come out and in two jumps be next to me on the fallen branch by my elbow.
Then we play a game. Perhaps it is a quieter version of ‘What’s the Time Mr. Wolf?’; a kind of gentle ‘What’s the Time Mrs. Mouse?’ I will turn away and settle my mind, move back into the sensations of my body and wait for her to jump forward towards me. As soon as I start to think however, perhaps hearing a rustle right next to me and wondering if she has run right over my feet, she flees back into her hole and then a moment later lifts her ears and fixes her bright eye on me.
Then we do it all over again.
I have started thinking about her when I am away from that spot; whilst I am in bed at night or sitting out on my porch in the sun. I see her in my mind’s eye curled up in her hole, in the south-west facing bank, warm and radiant in the low spring sun. She is fastidious, she keeps herself scrupulously clean, moving her paws rhythmically through her tummy fur over and over again. She has everything in order and this year she will have a litter of young with her mate. I have seen them both together on the bank but he is not so keen to engage with me, staying half hidden and nervous, once he poked his little nose up from under the leaf litter to have a good whiff of me, but nothing more. I saw him once dragging a huge leaf into their hole, perhaps to line a nest they are making together.
I wonder why she is playing this game with me. Trickster mouse, making me smile as I turn away yet again and wait for her to approach. Every culture needs a trickster – be it coyote, raven or spider. I spent many months here waiting patiently for fox to show himself, half catching him in the shadows once or twice staring at me; waiting for me to become less threatening. And all the time I was sitting on this fallen tree branch, waiting for fox to come out of the shadows, mouse was watching me; patiently waiting for me to lower my eyes and notice her as she danced around my feet. Now we play this game together and she helps me to remember my inner child; to relax, laugh and come back into the moment with no agenda whatsoever.
I had a secret spot when I was a child, a place I would spend hours and hours in, under some bushes at the end of our garden; that was when I was really small. When I grew older, I moved my secret spot half way up an exotic twisting Japanese Maple that grew with beautiful dark red palmate leaves in our front garden. Then when we moved house, it became an old apple tree overlooking the road; I would lie on one very welcoming branch and watch people passing on the pavement underneath me. I would eat apples and beech nuts in the autumn and time would pass slowly. Mouse reminds me of the times when all I did was lie in trees and under bushes or think about lying in trees or under bushes. She is making time slow down again. When I go out at night, I look forward to seeing her and I hope she looks forward to seeing me – smiling and lifting her little ears out of her hole to get a good look.
This morning, as Mouse was asleep in her hole, I found a little hazelnut under my feet that I thought she may have chewed at to get to the kernel. I took it home with me. To say thank you, I left a peanut on the fallen branch for her, for the Spirit of the Grove that has given me such joy and for our future lives together. The hazelnut was small and warm in my pocket as I walked back to my house. I casually looked up the teeth marks of wood mice on hazelnuts in my Track and Sign book, as I wanted to make sure it was her who had gnawed into it. The only conclusion I could come to however, from scrutinising the markings under the magnifying glass, was that this little nut had been gnawed open by a dormouse. What a lucky find! What a magical amulet! And I laughed, another little trick Mouse has played on me. “Don’t get too familiar,” she says, “I am a wild creature and you are domesticated human, that’s all.” Yes, Mouse – I hear you but what about the dormouse?
“That’s another story,” she replies.