…to check for mice.
Our shed at Howard Mesa has been a mouse magnet since we had it installed two years ago. Although we’d ordered it with “hardware cloth” — a wire mesh “fabric” — under the floor, the company that built it for us had neglected to install it. They’d also left lots of places where a small mouse could squeeze in through a crack. Once a mouse gets in, it usually builds a nest in a tucked away place, using bits and pieces of throw rugs, upholstery, curtains, or any other material it can chew to shreds. It also leaves droppings that resemble dark brown pieces of short grain rice every place it’s been. And since mice can apparently climb walls, the mouse droppings can be anywhere.
This was a nightmare for me. Each time we went up to our place for a few days, I’d spend the first four hours cleaning the shed. That included sweeping, vacuuming, washing floors, and disinfecting countertops. Since mice can carry hantavirus, it was especially important that I clear the droppings out without prolonged exposure to them.
I don’t know about you, by my idea of a relaxing weekend away from it all doesn’t include four hours of cleanup.
Of course, once I realized that this would be an ongoing problem, I began to wage war against the little critters. I started friendly enough, with mouse traps that would catch them without killing them. I could then transport them to a place far enough away from the shed that they’d take up residence elsewhere.
Of course, I could only set the trap when we were around — if we were gone for a few months, the captive would starve and die a death worse than a quick snap of its neck. But there were enough mice in the place that we usually caught one or two per visit.
When that didn’t seem to be helping, we resorted to rat poison, which we’d throw under the shed before we left. The idea there is that they’d eat the poison and die outside before entering. That was a dismal failure.
Once the shed got electricity — we have a small solar energy system up there — we used a portable inverter to plug in mouse noisemaker devices. They emit a sound that’s supposed to drive mice crazy and keep them away. The constant clicking certainly drives me crazy. We put a few of these annoying things around the shed when we leave. But when we return, it’s pretty obvious that they didn’t keep the mice away at all.
Then we bought weather stripping and used it to seal up the area around the shed’s door. The people who had built the thing had done a pretty shoddy job of it and the door didn’t hang right. The weather stripping would keep out drafts, but would also close up mouse entries. At least that was the idea. Well, it helped the draft problem.
The next task was to locate and close up any exterior hole large enough for a mouse to get in. Evidently, they can get in through some pretty small holes. I took a can of that expanding filler stuff they sell in Home Depot and walked around the outside of the shed with a ladder handy. I poked the tube into every crack and filled it with a dose of the filler. I filled cracks too small to get my finger in. Some were near the ground, some were near the roof, some were around windows. The only thing I didn’t do was go under the shed. But I closed up any holes we’d put in the floor from the inside, so I was covered.
I did all this the last time we were up there, which was for Christmas. We left there on December 27 and hadn’t been back since.
An Upcoming Visit
My dad and his wife are coming for a visit this week. They should be rolling in around noon today. I decided to take them on a helicopter trip up to Lake Powell and Monument Valley, with overnight stays at each place. The flight from Wickenburg to Page pretty much overflies our place at Howard Mesa. And since my dad had never seen it, I thought I’d take the opportunity to show it off.
Of course, during the past few weeks, all I could think about is how much damage the mice could cause in nearly four months on their own. I dreaded the thought of opening the door of the shed to show them the fruits of our hard labor and finding the place destroyed by armies of rodents.
I would be beyond embarrassed.
The only way to prevent this was to take a trip up there and check it out before they came. If it was a mess, I could clean it up before I brought them to see it.
Our Quick Trip
Yesterday morning, Mike and I climbed into Zero-Mike-Lima with a bunch of things we wanted to bring up to the shed — including the cowhide we’d bought at Quartszite in January as a rug for the floor. By about 9 AM we were airborne, heading north.
The morning had been overcast, with a rainstorm moving through the Phoenix area from the southwest. Wickenburg was on the edge of that weather system, so although it smelled like rain, it wasn’t wet. There had probably been some virga overhead. The weather forecast for the Williams, AZ area called for widely scattered rain/show showers until 11 AM, with winds from the south or southwest at about 12 gusting to 17. Although some pilots might have waited until after 11 AM for the flight, I didn’t seen any reason to. The longer we waited, the windier it would get. I didn’t want to be tossed all over the sky on my way up there or back.
Visibility as we left Wickenburg was fine. There were some low clouds about level with the top of Yarnell Hill. (Mike snapped this picture as we approached; it’s kind of cool because it captured one of the main rotor blades.) We passed just under the clouds as we crossed to the right of Antelope Peak. The flight across Peeples Valley, Kirkland, and Skull Valley was uneventful. When we rounded Granite Mountain — I never fly over the top — we saw the top of Bill Williams Mountain shrouded in clouds. It was hazy up there, but any weather that could cause a problem was to the west, where virga came from the clouds and disappeared about a hundred feet over the desert floor.
Arriving at Howard Mesa, I saw that our windsock had seen its last days. It was torn and hung like a faded orange rag from the pole. The wind was coming from the west, as usual, so I looped around to the northeast and set down on the gravel “helipad” we laid out about two years ago. Mike started unloading the few things we’d brought with us while I shut down the helicopter.
It was cold up there. The temperature was in the 40s, but the wind made it feel a lot colder. I was glad I’d brought my jacket along. We walked up to the door of the shed and I inserted the key. The moment of truth was arriving. I turned the key, turned the door handle, and pulled open the door. The sound of the two mouse noise makers we’d left on could be heard clearly. I looked around quickly — at the floor and countertops — no mouse droppings.
We stepped inside. There were no fresh mouse droppings. The rat poison we’d left was untouched. The place was just as clean as we’d left it.
Mission accomplished. (Really.)
We spent about forty-five minutes tidying up the place, putting down our cowhide rug, and checking water levels in the solar system’s batteries. Then we closed the place up again, hopped back into the helicopter, and headed home by way of Bagdad. (I wanted to show Mike the plane wreck my buddy Ray had shown me earlier in the month, but I couldn’t find it.)
What’s amazing about all this is that it’s a 3 to 3-1/2 hour drive from Wickenburg to Howard Mesa. Each way. By helicopter, it’s about an hour. If we’d driven up to do our mouse check, we would have blown the whole day. But because we flew, we were back home in time for lunch.