A Very Tough Winter if You are a Mouse.

For Robbie Burns Day, January 25


A terrifying dash across open snow to the bird feeder.

When darkness falls, the courageous mice who live near the house, despite the cats, slip onto the deck at night to steal sunflower seeds from the bird feeder, exposing themselves to all kinds of danger.  They make a wild dash for it, snatch their seed and gulp it down pressed into the shelter of the wall,  explaining the tidy pyramids of sunflower shells I kept finding in the day.

They are the lucky ones.  With the entire landscape turned into vast sheet of thick, almost impenetrable ice and snow, it’s a challenge for a country mouse to make it through the winter.  I haven’t helped. Taking wood from my woodpile, I have unfortunately uncovered and ruined snug mouse homes walled with grass which, in the words of Robert Burns, must have cost “monie a weary nibble.”

In honour of Robbie Burns day, and in apology to the mice, I’m offering Burns’ immortal poem, To a Mouse.  When his plough sliced through a mouse nest, this is his address to the terrified little creature he turned out into the cold.  He understood, better than anyone, that both mice and humans were subject to unforeseen disaster.

To a Mouse

Wee, sleekit, cow’rin, tim’rous beastie,
O, what a panic’s in thy breastie!
Thou need na start awa sae hasty
Wi bickering brattle!
I wad be laith to rin an’ chase thee,
Wi’ murdering pattle.

I’m truly sorry man’s dominion
Has broken Nature’s social union,
An’ justifies that ill opinion
Which makes thee startle
At me, thy poor, earth born companion
An’ fellow mortal!

I doubt na, whyles, but thou may thieve;
What then? poor beastie, thou maun live!
A daimen icker in a thrave
‘S a sma’ request;
I’ll get a blessin wi’ the lave,
An’ never miss’t.

Thy wee-bit housie, too, in ruin!
It’s silly wa’s the win’s are strewin!
An’ naething, now, to big a new ane,
O’ foggage green!
An’ bleak December’s win’s ensuin,
Baith snell an’ keen!

Thou saw the fields laid bare an’ waste,
An’ weary winter comin fast,
An’ cozie here, beneath the blast,
Thou thought to dwell,
Till crash! the cruel coulter past
Out thro’ thy cell.

That wee bit heap o’ leaves an’ stibble,
Has cost thee monie a weary nibble!
Now thou’s turned out, for a’ thy trouble,
But house or hald,
To thole the winter’s sleety dribble,
An’ cranreuch cauld.

But Mousie, thou art no thy lane,
In proving foresight may be vain:
The best-laid schemes o’ mice an’ men
Gang aft agley,
An’ lea’e us nought but grief an’ pain,
For promis’d joy!

Still thou are blest, compared wi’ me!
The present only toucheth thee:
But och! I backward cast my e’e,
On prospects drear!
An’ forward, tho’ I canna see,
I guess an’ fear!    

If your 18th century Scottish dialect is rusty, go here for translation:  http://simple.wikipedia.org/wiki/To_a_Mouse

Gail Hamilton’s books.

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