Help! Mice have invaded the garden shed and taken my tools hostage.

I stepped into the shed for a shovel and something furry ran across my foot. I reached inside a bag of bone meal and pulled out a handful of mouse droppings. And when I tried to start the lawn mower, it squeaked.

Telltale signs, all. But I never had come face-to-face with the rodents until recently, when I discovered a nest of baby mice inside a roll of agricultural cloth I'd stored on the top shelf of the shed.

Mrs. Mouse had chewed through the cloth to make her nest, thereby destroying the whole $20 roll. I'd bought the cloth to cover and protect my vegetable plants from bird and insect damage. Now the cloth had a hole in it the size of a condor.

I was furious. OK, I bought the cloth at a nursery, but I never expected it to be used as one.

I felt like slipping Mrs. Mouse a mickey. Then I looked at the two babies curled up in the cloth, fast asleep. They were mere days old, tiny gray bodies with tiny pink tails.

I shrugged resignedly, then took a pinch of bone meal and laid it by their side. For a snack.

Then I tiptoed out of the shed, though not out of respect for the young 'uns. Their mother was lurking somewhere, and I've discovered I can't stand the feel of mice on my feet.

Of course, this whole episode could have been avoided if we'd kept the stray cat that wandered in, starving, last winter. We fed the cat and kept it in the shed. It slept on an old bedsheet in the wheelbarrow.

The cat stayed for three weeks, purring as loud as the Rototiller, until we found it a good home. In retrospect, perhaps we should have kept it. That cat wouldn't have let those mice into the shed, and I still would have my cloth. But then the cat would have my wheelbarrow.

Still, the mouse incident annoyed me. Briefly, I considered enlisting the aid of Katydid, the family dog. I would like to have introduced her to Mrs. Mouse. Katydid wouldn't have eaten her. The dog would have just sort of played with the mouse until it collapsed.

No wildlife is too small a playmate for this 60-pound retriever. If Katydid spots an ant on the sidewalk, she'll cock her head to one side, woof excitedly and try to play with the ant by swatting it with her paw. Usually at this point the ant stops moving, having been reduced to ant goo.

I suspect she'd have more fun with a mouse than an ant. However, Katydid wasn't in a playful mood just now. I found her snoozing on top of our 8-foot compost heap, snoring loudly. I suspect she climbs up there to escape life's pressures. The warmth of the pile must feel good to her.

The dog certainly seems more content than the sparrow that keeps banging its head against the phoney doorway of a purely decorative birdhouse in our front yard. The birdhouse is strictly ornamental, but the sparrow doesn't understand that. She wants it for her nest. And she won't give up.

My wife, a mother herself, sympathizes with the sparrow.

"She's giving herself a migraine trying to get inside that house," says Meg. "Every so often she stops, sits on a limb of the birch tree and just chirps and chirps. Then she tries the house again."

Meg feels so badly about this that she is going to buy a real birdhouse for Mrs. Sparrow. Me, I don't see why the dumb bird can't use a tree like other birds. Besides, we're already out $20 because of the darn mice.

Wildlife is twitterpating all around us this spring. Every day we find large clumps of rabbit fur on the lawn, as if it were the scene of a monstrous battle in "Watership Down." But there are no bunny bodies. I thought that odd, until learning than female rabbits often pull out their own fur in order to make nests for their young.

So I guess that's the answer. We're to be godparents again. The yard is filling up fast. Like Mrs. Mouse and Mrs. Sparrow, Mrs. Bunny is preparing for parenthood. She is using her own hair to feather her nest, so to speak.

Either that or there's an all-night bunny barber shop on our lawn.

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