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Annual battle has begun between mice, men


I haven't seen this development reported anywhere else, but lately there has been a major mouse migration.

Last weekend, the mice of the world, or at least those of the Baltimore-Boston corridor, stirred from their summer lairs (do mice have condos on Nantucket?) and tried to establish winter quarters. In particular, they attempted to set up residency in my house and that of my brother outside Boston.

As siblings do, my older brother and I have regular telephone conversations to discuss the affairs of state, the baseball standings and the latest domestic amusements. He reported that the night before, he had watched his older son chase a mouse around their Wellesley family room as the family's two dogs were stretched out on the floor, unaware of the intruder.

I replied that I too had spent the evening in rodent warfare, setting out an elaborate array of traps to snare critters that have recently made uninvited appearances in our Baltimore kitchen.

This, we agreed, was an early start to the annual standoff between mice and men. Usually, the mice wait until the first cold snap of autumn to sneak into your house. But this year, a few days after Labor Day, they barged in, like a team of hungry football players, and started chewing.

We speculated on the causes behind the early mouse movement. It could be the weeks of exceptionally hot, dry weather followed by a recent drop in temperature and burst of heavy rains. It could be that recent construction in or near our homes might have sent the mice looking for new digs. We did not mention the genetic factor. Namely that both our families are big eaters, that we spend a lot of time at home cooking, eating and spilling. If you are a mouse looking for some aromatic, tasty morsels, our floors, it seems to me, would be good hunting grounds.

I do think that mice have a network, a method of communicating to each other where the morsels are. Moreover, I think that our house is now known on the mouse circuit as a four-star stop, a reputation I blame on the Princeton mouse.

This is a mouse I matched wits with a few winters ago. It repeatedly outsmarted me, dancing around the traps I set out, posing in the middle of the kitchen floor, taunting me. I figured that arrogant ball of fur was kin to one of the smart, genetically engineered mice bred by Joe Z. Tsien, an assistant professor in the department of molecular biology at Princeton. Tsien's experiments in how to build brainier mice have resulted, he has reported in scientific journals, in mice that were faster learners than ordinary rodents.

I never did catch that mouse, he just stopped showing up, tired, no doubt, of toying with me, a creature of lesser intelligence. I figured he left town. Since he hailed from Princeton, he probably belonged to an eating club, a spot where he socialized with colleagues and passed along tips such as "I have found this great little spot in Baltimore. It has lots of food and an accommodating, if somewhat slow-witted, host."

Once word of our hospitality got out, mice returning from their summer idles have shown up, in droves. This time around, I have not been as obliging as in prior years. This time, I have armed myself with virtually every mouse-fighting weapon in the hardware store arsenal.

I bought the eat-now, pay-later feeding stations. I got the no-exit motels which lure the mouse in at night then shut the door and keep him there until you scoop him up the next morning. I got the old-fashioned spring-loaded traps, baited with bacon. (If you want to lure mice or teen-age boys to your kitchen, cook bacon.) And I have the glue traps, which so far have grabbed me more often than the feet of meandering mice.

The battle is on in Boston as well. I won't say that I am engaging in childish sibling rivalry over mouse kills. But at the end of last week, the score was Baltimore 4, Boston 0.

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