One of the joys of camping is the quietude, the tranquil sleep, awaking to birdsong and rustling leaves. Noisy campers are the worst — especially when they’re next to you. Noisy mice are worse than that — especially when they’re in the van with you.
When you camp for more than a day or two you invariably begin living with the sun: early to bed, early to rise. One night, just before midnight, while camping at Detroit Lake State Recreational Area in Oregon, I was awakened by startling sounds. Masticating animal sounds. From inside the van. Something was in here with us, eating.
Grabbing the flashlight, I began my search. The light didn’t deter the monster — or my sleeping wife. A critter was behind the dashboard of our camper van, vigorously chewing on something, gnawing on cords and cables. I pounded on the dash. It stopped… momentarily. All night this routine would continue: a feeding frenzy briefly interrupted by my attempts at Morse code, banging on the dash.
Morning finally arrived. The satiated critter had found a soft place to sleep. I made coffee and plotted my revenge. After breakfast, I methodically took everything out of our camper van. Everything. I emptied the cabinets and toolboxes, the bins and baskets. In the glovebox, I found where the vermin had been sleeping. On top of a handkerchief, he had left me a poop. Taunting me.
Smoke ‘Em Out
I reorganized and reassembled. Our foodstuffs had been unscathed. No apparent frayed wires. I checked the brake lights and turn signals. Searching under the van for any obvious holes, I found nothing. All the while, I never came upon the critter. I was sure I would be able to smoke him out, as they say. Find his hideout and chase the pest from our van.
Night fell, I heard nothing. I probably scared it off. Finally, laying down I realized how exhausted I was. I nodded off into a deep sleep. It was shortlived.
Dammit! There it was again. The chewing had grown fierce and determined. Again, from behind the dash, I could hear the Lil’ monster pulling cables, noshing through fiberglass with reckless abandon. This time, when I banged on the dash, it barely paused. At some point, I got out of the vehicle in the dark of the night, crawled under the van in my pajamas, and proceeded to bang and cuss on the underbelly of our van. I was on the verge of tears.
Up all night again with my friend Gerald, I befriended my enemy. That’s right, at some point, the mouse and I exchanged formalities. Deciding to take a more diplomatic approach, I formally introduced myself. In turn, the little mouse told me his name was Gerald. He was named after the friendly mouse from the Pink Floyd song, Bike:
“I know a mouse, and he hasn’t got a house
I don’t know why. I call him Gerald
He’s getting rather old, but he’s a good mouse”
I tried to reason with him. Explain the consequences. My diplomacy was clearly failing. Negotiation talks were breaking down. Later, I moved to thinly veiled threats as I, again, pounded on the dashboard til the break of dawn.
Declaration Of War
The next morning it was official: War had been declared. Gerald had laid a fresh poop in my glovebox. After a hurried breakfast, we drove 25 miles to Mill City, the closest town. I pulled up to the hardware store and entered. A giant of a man in flannels and a red ball cap asked if he could help me. I told him I had a mouse in my van. He directed me to the aisle with rat traps and then pointed across the store and said: “And that way is the gun department if you want to take another approach.”
Opting for the more silent option, I bought a pack of mouse glue boards, or glue traps as they are affectionately called by some. We drove back to camp with a new sense of purpose. We had hoped Gerald would be scared off by the engine, hop off somewhere along the way, find a new place to settle down and raise a family.
Just past dusk, I put the glue board in the dashboard, in the exact spot Gerald had defiantly defecated. We went for walk, taking out the evening’s trash. When we returned, we could hear the sweet drums of victory thundering from within the van. Actually, the sound was Gerald struggling to free himself from the glue board. I’m pretty sure I was grinning wildly.
I talked to Gerald, even apologized before I forced myself to end his anguish. Call it a mercy killing. Once the adrenaline stopped coursing through our veins, we settled in for the night. My fatigue was total. Finally, I was going to get a well-deserved solid night’s sleep.
Zonked out, I was startled awake yet again around midnight. Was I dreaming? The chewing had returned. The sounds of desperate feasting. Our poor van was being consumed! A nightly nocturnal feeding frenzy that was driving me nutty. I jumped out of the van, ran to the disposed glue trap, only to find Gerald dead as I remembered. Oh God! That meant there were others. Reinforcements.
Apparently, Gerald had a wife. And now his grieving widow was bingeing on our camper van. Eating through her grief, Geraldine was determined to finish the mission her husband had begun. In spite of her vigilance, it was all in vain. Around dawn, Geraldine joined her recently deceased husband in the great camper van in the sky. I managed to sleep a few hours afterward. It was a fitful sleep though, haunted by visions of mice and men. Of weeping orphaned small furry animals with furtive eyes of condemnation. In my dream, I was desperately apologizing, pleading for mercy before the Council of Rodents.
The following day, after breaking camp, we had a brief funeral at the campground’s dumpster. It wasn’t much of a ceremony. Not much to say. Two dead mice. Taken too soon. Cute, too. We silently shook our heads at the senselessness of it all. The sleepless nights. The untold damage to our van. All for naught. We climbed into our van and soldiered on to the next spot: Cove Palisades State Park.
It was a beautiful drive up and over the Cascade mountains. It was early September. The summer season had just concluded. The weather was cooling. The ferocious forest fires that engulfed the area had finally been contained. The first rains brought an end to the summer-long fire ban in all campgrounds. We were excited to go to another beautiful Oregon State Park.
After we arrived and set up camp, we explored a bit on our bikes. We had a stellar view which we paired with our stellar dinner. Battle-weary, a bottle of wine sent us to bed early. Daisey can sleep through anything so she wasn’t as exhausted as I. But I know she was relieved to not have to listen to me fuss about mice in our precious campervan.
Midnight, the bewitching hour. I awoke to a bag of chips being rustled. You know, that distinct brittle sound of plastic as it crumples. Holy shit!! There was a mouse in our van, again, and now it’s eating our food! Grabbing the flashlight, I startled him but not before I caught the first glimpse of Geraldo, the love-child of Gerald and Geraldine. He had his father’s coat, grey with white spots and his mother’s lean build. He was spry and curious, adventurously hungry. Geraldo scurried behind the crankshaft and into the safety of the dashboard. I thought I was hallucinating. Sleep deprivation had finally gotten the best of me.
Fortunately, the glue board came in packs of three otherwise I would have wound up in the gun department of the closest hardware store. It only took an hour so before I heard the sweet spasmodic flapping sound of mouse on board. Music to my ears! It sounded like jazz to me, like Max Roach had just begun his drum solo.
I am happy to report I slept like a baby. I wasn’t plagued by nightmares of vengeful rodents or phantom sounds of feasting vermin. Truth be told, it was the best night’s sleep I had in weeks. I slept like a hero returning to home, like a triumphant warrior finally back in his own bed. A king again of his domain. When I awoke I was refreshed but troubled by the notion of how the smallest things can sometimes cause the biggest headaches.
Britt is a photographer/music producer & proud member of #teamtraynham