Minnsota. 2017. No virus. Boy and Girl greeting me every morning with a kiss and a smile. Billy fit-ish, and kind-er. Mid summer. The shadows are playing across the grass and the concrete and the water and the rocks of Stony Point. The humidity hits you every time you take a breath, the heat on your skin, the wet, the damp, the green, the laughter, the salt and the sweat and the laughter and the joy. I can almost force myself to go back there in my mind, to look out the window and see my babies suck at pencil tops as they attempt to draw some flower or bush or bird. They are relaxed and happy. Aldi bags crowd the floor, as I unpack our groceries. I judge a place by the quality of it’s grocery stores. I know it is wrong, but how people buy their food says a lot about the place you are in. Is it gas station fast food and 100 miles to the nearest Walmart? Then you are in the beautiful wilderness, but the locals might not be happy you are in town. A Whole Foods, A Chinese grocery store, a Korean bibimbappu place, and a Trader Joes? Big City. Aldi and some of the most gorgeous farm produce stands I have ever seen with the tastiest tomatoes ever….I’d take a guess at Midwestern loveliness.
I was unpacking those big red homegrown tomatoes, and the free zucchini someone begged me to take off their hands. Minnesota in August is an explosion of zucchini, overgrown and bursting from the ground, pulling out cereal packets and putting it into large plastic containers, and shuffling around the ice in the coolers to try and fit a block of creamy Wisconsin cheddar next to the milk and the chicken sausages, when I looked over to the built in burners. A little scratching sound, or the feeling somebody was looking at me drew my eyes over there. I squinted in the brilliant summer light, and focused in on the offender. A small softly grey mouse poked his head up from the space between the burner and the surrounding splash guard. He looked at my quizzically, cocking his head to one side, his huge oversized cartoonish ears vaguely flapping as he did so, heard my yelp, and ran away. He ran somewhere in the RV. He moved so fast I couldn’t work out where he had got to.
I knew what had happened. Like clockwork every evening in space 17, an owl that clearly lived in the space up somewhere in those huge trees, would swoosh down and in a wind of wings and beak and claws, would catch a little mouse or small rodenty creature. I would hear a contented whoowhoo, clucking and owly sounds of happiness, meaning he had caught an acceptable dinner, or else an irritated predatory shriek, a grumbling hoot, and a flap of wings meaning either dinner was too skinny, or else tough and old, or just escaped entirely. Which is what I think happened with Jerry. I think Jerry was being hunted by Owly and Jerry saw a crack in my screen door and ran for safety. Safety and cheerios.
I don’t like spiders, but I don’t mind mice. He just surprised me, that was all. I did not want him in my food, though. I didn’t want him in my cupboards. I didn’t want him crawling over my feet. Jerry had to go.
That night was awful. Jerry came alive at night. He scurried around happily, my camper a giant hamster wheel of fun and crumbs. He got in cupboards through tiny cracks. He got into the oven. He climed into bags and ate notebooks. He devoured words. He ate things and he pooped and peed joyously free. Free and safe from owls.
I found a no harm trap and primed it with nut butter and a peanut stuck into it. I added a crumb of cheese. He ate the food and left the trap empty. I got a different trap. Then another. It was out of control.
He became bold. I saw him holding an entire cheerio in his paws like a donut, eating it in ectasy. Nibbling and munching and licking the crumbs from tiny paws. Heights didn’t bother Jerry. Jerry had back paws like a kangeroo. I looked Jerry up, trying to identify what cute little criminal I had picked up. It announced in serious terms I had a Woodland Jumping Mouse. I began to find him cute. He sat on my boot as I stared down, big brown eyes looking into mine, and I started imagining him in a cage, safe from owls, and my food safe from Jerry.
August turned into September, the air grew colder and brighter and lighter. Summer ended. Billy starting prophesying doom. Old boys in rusty trucks came to the campground woodpile and started loading unused firewood into their flat beds, bottles in their hands, and hunting rifles slung over back seats. It was time to either get inside or get out of Minnesota. Minnesota winters are a trial by ice and wind. They are not survivable in a camper van, water freezes, engines freeze, life freezes. tourists leave, and ice-castles take over the frozen over lakes, and men with their augers drill holes and drink moonshine while they fish for trophy big mouth, or whatever else is in the lake. I wanted to stay. I saw a kind of life I thought I would enjoy up there on the lake. I looked for winter housing, I made small plans to try live near Grand Rapids, or Cass Lake, or up near Floodwood, or even Duluth. I like Duluth. Minnesota is as lovely as I find Oregon is not. It is as friendly as Oregon was never friendly to me. Minnesota is full of people, and mice with big feet, and friendly smiles. Minnesota is homely and welcoming. I loved Minnesota. I still do, even though I am happily settled in California for as long as they will have me.
We had to leave suddenly. Billy decided he wanted to be back in Oregon, he was adamant. It didn’t matter that I was happy there, it didn’t matter the kids were happy. It didn’t matter that I felt safer. We were leaving. We were leaving and that was that. He wanted to be close to adult kids who hated him, he wanted not to do winter. He wanted to stay in the camper, not an apartment. What he wanted mattered more than me. So we left.
We drove and drove. We drove out to Fargo. Drives that he would not do coming out there in a day, became nothing to him. He drove from Leech Lake to Fargo, from Fargo right out through the entirety of North Dakota, right the way back to Medora in one day, and Jerry came with us.