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Beyond the Turkey Sale: Fall in Pemberton brings potatoes, field mice, and moose meat

Raised in Vancouver, I never had to worry about mice (only rats in the lanes and alleys, who generally stayed there, despite threats from my dad that if I hid my unfinished liver dinner in the bathroom garbage bin, rats would come into the house).

Raised in Vancouver, I never had to worry about mice (only rats in the lanes and alleys, who generally stayed there, despite threats from my dad that if I hid my unfinished liver dinner in the bathroom garbage bin, rats would come into the house).

Here in Pemberton, rodent infestation is another matter. Field mice abound at this time of year. I have lived in two homes in Pemberton, and both have bordered on open fields. Now is the time these cute little mice (the paradox is that field mice are much sweeter-looking than their coastal cousins; tiny and round, with little thimble-like heads, resembling the Tailor of Gloucester of Beatrix Potter fame) come in from the cold and damp fields into warm houses. Leaving leftovers out on the kitchen counter is asking for trouble at this time of year, and any foodstuff stored in its original cardboard package is fair game to the little sh*ts (which is what I call them as that is what they leave everywhere).

Any package of crackers, granola bars or cookies must be put in another plastic bin or container. I have wiped out the Re-Use-It Centre’s supply of Tupperware in years past for such a reason, and I have a standing order from my near-Costco-living relatives for those clear plastic bins containing pre-washed salad greens to keep my seasoning packages, taco shells and pappadums safe from gnawers.

We moved a week ago to a house up the road. For some reason, even though this new house, like our old one, borders on a field, I hoped we would be immune from an influx of field mice. After all, we had enjoyed a year or two of rodent reprieve, thanks to diligent container-using, a few mousetraps, and the scent of our neighbour’s cat.

My husband left yesterday for the annual moose hunt. Before departing he cleaned out the freezer to make room for this year’s bounty, and took the uneaten meat from last year to friends in Mount Currie. (“Are you sure you want to do that?” I asked him, surveying our now-empty freezer. “What if you don’t catch anything?” “Bite your tongue, woman,” was his indignant reply.)

I was left alone in the new house with our five month old baby. I wasn’t happy about being left alone for four straight days but I acquiesced because basically, I had no choice. It was hunting season – essentially Christmas for male members of my husband’s family and that was that.

Feeding my baby in the living room on the second evening alone, feeling the strain that comes from knowing you are on your own with an infant for the next few days with no break in sight, I saw, as casually as can be, a field mouse scurry its way down the hallway. Down that hallway is our carpeted bedroom and the baby’s carpeted bedroom. With my child halfway through dinner, however, I could not very well drop everything to chase down this elusive little pest.

I sighed. This is the last thing I need, I thought, envisioning mouse crap everywhere. A small mouse problem can become a big mouse problem very quickly. I didn’t have the energy to tackle a mouse invasion and be a sleep-deprived single parent for the next few days.

No matter how cute they look, I consider field mice disgusting and unhygienic, not to mention an expensive problem to have. Two years ago after a big September Costco shop, our pantry was filled with lunchbox staples to be used over the course of the fall. One item that comes to mind was a jumbo box of granola bars.

After an “adorable” family of field mice had their way with my pantry, kitchen, living room and bedroom, not to mention downstairs storage room for the entire winter (I still have not looked at my box of wool blankets, knowing what I will find in them) that box of granola bars had one nibble in every bar. Each wrapper had one slight tear. Couldn’t they just have eaten one whole bar? No, of course not.

Into the garbage bin they went, along with carelessly stored Stoned Wheat Thins, Lipton soup packages and anything else that was not wrapped up like Fort Knox. Hello Re-Use-It Centre container department. I bought every container I saw there for the next two years. (All this was accompanied by much swearing.)

When feeding time was over, I put my baby in the excer-saucer and did whatever I could to protect our belongings before nightfall. We had just moved the week before so half-unpacked boxes were strewn everywhere, downstairs and up. As my child chewed away obliviously on a toy snail, I embarked on a whirlwind of activity and wouldn’t have stopped for a whine or cry. I was on a mission. First to my closet: anything on the floor went to the top shelf. Then to the kitchen. All food was removed from the counter and any means for a mouse to get onto the counter was averted.

Then to the baby’s room, where unpacked and unopened boxes were piled high into one long tower. (Let them try getting in here, I thought bitterly.) Any clothes or toys on the floor were piled high in the closet. Downstairs was more of a challenge and I quickly sorted through our belongings that didn’t yet have a home: clothes were stashed in chest-of-drawers, my un-hung pictures were placed, in order of importance, up high and away from potential gnawing. I was sweating like mad. This was one war I was not going to lose, no matter where my country-born hubby was. I had to be swift and I had to be brutal because I knew the consequences of a mouse infestation on one’s precious belongings: havoc.

Then I called my mother-in-law. “I just saw a field mouse go down the hall. Do I have to worry about one getting into the baby’s crib?” “No,” she said, “don’t worry. I will set some traps tomorrow. Go to bed and just don’t think about it.”

I had no choice. I block the damn rodent (and its offspring) out of my mind after the baby falls asleep and get some shut eye.

Until 3 a.m. I hear scurrying in the bathroom. I go in and see, in a small, closet-like nook, a long tail.

OK, I thought, war on. I closed the two bathroom doors and placed towels under the bottoms of them. (According to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, mice can squeeze through spaces of a quarter inch in height.) I emptied the bathroom garbage on the floor and filled the garbage can with water. Just you wait, I thought. Still more scurrying.

I covered the air vent with a piece of wood. I looked in the bathroom cupboard for some kind of gooey gel or spray that I could pour on the mouse rendering him immobile but couldn’t decide. Waste my nice shampoo, or have a mouse running around my house covered in aloe vera gel if I doused him but did not catch him? That’s a tough decision to make at three in the morning. I pulled my hair back in a ponytail, all the while not taking my eyes off the nook. A battle was about to take place and I needed to be in fighting form. This could be a long night.

Every precious minute ticking by was a minute I was not sleeping. And I was damned if I was going to let this mouse wake up my baby. So it was time to strike. As a final measure, I placed a piece of plywood along the opening of the nook. He was veritably trapped, unless the nook had another exit somewhere in the back wall. The tail was still there. He was hiding, right? He knew there was a crafty human a few feet away, waiting to get him. He was trying to make himself very, very small.

I braced myself by putting one of my slippers over my hand. Yes, that was how I would kill this mouse. With my slipper as protection, I could bash the mouse without it touching my hand, thereby ensuring I would not scream and wake the baby up down the hall. A few small pieces of plywood were leaning along the nook, obscuring the rest of the mouse. I could still see the tail. Still hiding. Judgment day had arrived.

With a sharp intake of breath, I moved the boards. Oh my god. The rest of the mouse…was in a trap. That husband of mine was thinking ahead! With a happy heart, I dismantled the bathroom from its wartime state and went back to bed. Not long after I heard a wail from the baby’s room.

Unlike the arrival of mice in Pemberton homes, hunting season is much anticipated. My husband pores over the latest hunting catalogues like porn. (During my labour, his in-between-contractions reading material was an issue of Big Buck magazine.) He and his father have all manner of guns for every type of wildlife, but there is always room for more (stored in a locked gun cabinet, they are quick to emphasize.)

Hunting attire is not for fashion. Isaac Mizrahi would probably have a heart attack if he saw my hubby before an excursion into the bush. His wool pants are full of holes and frayed at the hem, but, according to him, they do the job. As does an odd-looking army issue sweater, that looks like it saw action in the Korean War. During hunting season bullet casings can be found at the bottom of the washing machine. Little white gauze cloths find their way all over the house. They look like make-up remover pads but are used for gun cleaning. I won’t make that mistake again.

After the hunting trip is planned for months, my husband and fellow hunting buddies go off to bag a moose, hopefully, and a deer or two. I go to the grocery store, feeling abandoned. While I may not know everyone in Pemberton by a long shot, many people know my husband. “So do you feel like a hunting widow?” asks a man I don’t know while scanning the yogurt aisle. I can only smile. At least he understands.

When the triumphant hunters return to Pemberton, the animal(s?) is hung to dry in my in-laws’ shed on a medieval-looking hook and chain. I think of Bullwinkle as it hangs there lifelessly above the sawdust.

For our dog, butchering time is better than Christmas. He gets all the scraps. I was the proudest mother a few years ago when he was just four months old; he growled the neighbour’s much-bigger dog away who dared to venture near his pile of entrails. My puppy became a dog that day. During hunting season he gets rounder with each butchering session. At the peak of the season he resembles a furry blimp with a tiny head. His usual bowl of kibble sits untouched. (That’s for city dogs.) In the shed, he is thrown so much raw meat that he starts haphazardly “burying” it into the sawdust on the floor. Not much of a hide job but after a while he is overwhelmed with the sheer quantity of food. It is not unusual for fall visitors to our house to be greeted at the front door with a half-chewed deer leg on the welcome mat.

I dislike meat-packing time, when we gather around the big wooden shed table to weigh and pack cuts of meat for the freezer. Never in my city-girl life did I expect to write “moose roast” on brown butcher paper over and over and over again. That said, moose meat is delicious – far tastier than beef – so I must do my part.

Fall is, of course, harvest time in Pemberton as well. You need some spuds to go with that moose roast. Tractors lumber up and down Pemberton Meadows Road, making one realize that for some Pembertonians the morning commute is not the daily grind to Whistler but a day in the back field. Our in-laws get a big bag of spuds from the Beks’ farm and we do too, along with a sack of carrots from the Hellevangs. Devotees of the Slow Food Movement would be impressed with our dinners of local spuds, moose steaks, beets and Swiss chard from my in-laws garden, and a pie made from our own rhubarb and raspberries. Just a typical fall dinner in Pemberton.

But there is no time to savour the meal or victory for long. I hear some more scurrying down the hall…

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