My husband’s job had been very stressful ever since the world stopped spinning in March 2020. Being a work-a-holic, he had accumulated too much unused vacation hours and was forced to take time off. He asked me to find a place that was secluded and somewhat nearby so that he could just relax. I scoured the internet and found the perfect spot.
A school bus that had been converted into a small house. Complete with bed, table, kitchen and shelving. It was located on 20 acres on a plateau near the top of a mountain in the Sierra Nevada Mountain Range. I presented him with my exquisite find and he was reluctant. Where was the toilet, where was the shower, he asked. Both were on other parts of the property, along with a trampoline-type apparatus to lay on and star gaze, 3 hammocks, a swing wide enough for two, a yoga perch complete with a bowl that made mystical sounds when you swirled a ladle thing around the rim, and a campfire area. Time was running out and he hesitantly agreed.
The 1 ½ hour drive up was uneventful until we got to the dirt road. Deep potholes peppered the one lane road (actually, it was more like a path) that hugged the edge of the mountain. Our SUV did fine, we were glad we hadn’t brought our smaller car. We were also glad that we hadn’t met another vehicle coming down. The directions included ‘veer left at the fork, after you pass the stream’ and ‘turn left at the sunflower sign, if you pass the abandoned house, you’ve gone too far.’ Rounding the final bend, we saw our Magic School Bus. Adorable. It was the perfect place to relax for a few days. Like children, we explored the property and the amenities, deciding to sit on the swing and look out at the mountain range and cities below us before unloading the car. The owners had made it very clear that they were stranded in Europe and had no idea what shape the property was in. Being seasoned campers, we were undaunted by their warnings. I was feeling smug at my amazing find. We ate, built a campfire and watched day turn into night with tiny twinkling lights emitting from the cities and stars sparkling from the sky.
When we decided to sleep, we doused the fire and turned off the Christmas lights that were strung on the outside of the bus. As soon as we turned off the inside lights, we began to hear rustling sounds. We fumbled around for our flashlights and turned them on. Nothing. We turned them off and laid our heads back on the pillows. Again, rustling. Faster this time, we turned on our flashlights and caught a glimpse of a rodent. We thought it was an adolescent rat based on its size. We got up and moved all of our exposed food to the SUV or ice chest. We got back into bed and turned off all the lights. Again, sounds, but now closer. When the flashlight went on, the rodent froze as if we wouldn’t see him if he didn’t move. I declared that he would leave once he couldn’t find any more food. I turned on my side and fell asleep almost immediately. My husband stayed up until 5 am battling the beast. It never left, never gave up and tormented my husband all night.
The next morning, we drove into the nearest town and bought mouse and rat traps. In all my years, I’ve never camped without traps, yet for some reason, it didn’t even occur to me to bring them this time. We set them with peanut butter and strategically placed them in the bus. That night, we built a campfire and expectantly waited to hear the traps snap. Later, I went in to inspect, assuming they had snapped and we hadn’t heard them. I was irritated that the devil beast had eaten the bait on all the traps without setting them off. My engineer husband took over the operation and reset the traps with bacon tied to the traps with dental floss. We went to bed, turning off all the lights. We could hear the rustling, but no snaps. Late into the night we decided to pack up and go home. We weren’t going to spend another sleepless night (at least for my husband, I had no problem sleeping with a rodent nearby) in the bus. We were just about to get up and pack when we heard the snap. We immediately turned on the light and the very large mouse had the steel bar of the trap firmly across its neck. He was looking at us with surprised eyes and his long tail was straight up. I grabbed my phone and began taking pictures of him. When we were sure he was dead, we took him outside, still in the trap. We left the remaining traps where they were and turned off the lights. Snap! Another mouse was caught. This one was normal size and a different color. We took him outside as well. Then, finally, we were able to sleep the remainder of the night and subsequent nights.
This entire psycho mouse experience reminded me of another camping experience from a few years back. As I’ve said, I always bring traps. We were in a cabin and I had set the traps in the kitchen. When the lights were turned off, the traps started snapping. Before we left for home, we had killed several mice. Because they had been so prevalent that year, I took the traps to campers who had just arrived. They were very young and I was sure they were inexperienced. I told them about the mouse problem and offered my traps to them. The woman incredulously stated, ‘I would rather the mice ate all my food than kill one of them.’ I smiled and said, ‘Enjoy your trip.’ On the morning of our last day with the Magic School Bus, I thought about that exchange and wondered if she had been remorseful about turning down the trap offer. For the second time, I felt a bit smug.
Thoughts that are alien to any of my other projects can be found here.