I was out working in the yard with Heather, moving compost from the first bin to the middle bin* when we saw the mouse (Suburban Correspondent won't like this next part!).
She was huge. Clearly she'd spent plenty of time in the bin, eating kitchen scraps and was as healthy and sleek as you're ever likely to see a field mouse get. There were tunnels in the nearby herb bed that were clearly her work. She was frantically running back and forth along the back edge of the bin, unable to escape now that she was much larger than the 1/4" hardware cloth openings. (Note to DIY builders of compost bins: use 1/8" or smaller hardware cloth for the sides of your bin to attempt to exclude mice. Or just keep turning it to keep the pile too hot for mice to live there. Unlike us!) She also looked kind of funny. What was that attached--?
There were baby mice attached to her abdomen.
Clearly we'd interrupted feeding time and were left shocked and staring. We needed to get her out of there, one way or another.
In the few moments it took to figure out what we were looking at, I recognized the dilemma we were in: do we let the mouse and her progeny live or die?
If we let them live, they'd go on to move back into the pile (unless I keep it hot this year), and possibly nibble on my garden plants. They might even consider moving into the house if it gets too cold in the winter, as they did last year. However, they also would provide a food source for the local owls and snakes.
Looking at her and at the shovel in Heather's hands, I made the only choice I could: I took off my heavy leather gloves and handed them to Heather so that she could lift the mouse and her pinkies up and out of the bin and release her. (I might be willing to let her live, but I'm too chicken to touch her! Heather is made of tougher stuff than I!)
Terrified but alive, she scurried away, her children flapping about her furry little legs.
I identified with the mouse. I couldn't kill her.
A mother of multiples, she was trapped and facing desperate odds. She wasn't hurting me directly (The rules change if they step foot inside my house, though!) and she had the right to live her own life, in her own way. It's tough enough being a mother with a singleton, multiples add a whole 'nother level of complexity. I can't tell you how often we thank our lucky stars that we didn't have triplets or more! (I remain convinced that each group of parents of multiple children are convinced about how easy it would be to have one less child. Twin parents look at singleton parents and sigh wistfully about how easy it would be and then give thanks that it wasn't triplets. Triplet parents do the same thing, looking at twin parents. How easy it would be! Then they look at quad parents and wag their heads, grateful for "only" triplets. Quad parents sigh with longing at a "mere" set of triplets and look askance at sextuplets. The children, my friends, are always...cleaner on the other side!)
Poor little fat mouse! She doesn't get a break from nursing, either!
* The day before this, I had stolen a few minutes out in the yard alone (Successfully scraped off the twins!) to empty out the middle bin of its "black gold". All of the compost that had gone unsifted and unused from the previous year due to my ginormous gravid state.
I have to tell you, there's something so incredibly satisfying about looking at 5 or 6 inches of finished compost in a 3' x 3' bin and feeling like you've accomplished something. The best part, however, is when you set up your wheelbarrow, break out your screen (I use a 1/8" hardware cloth screen that is attached to a frame of 1" x 2" boards that I made, big enough to fit over the top of the wheelbarrow.) and sift away. As I shoveled and shook and sifted all of that material, the dross remained on top, while the fine garden enhancing material dropped into the wheelbarrow below. Who knows how much kitchen waste each shovelful represented? Waste that my family kept out of the trash and instead would turn into a useful garden amendment.
I tossed the large chunks back into the first bin to give them another season to break down further. Some bits were still recognizable: peach pits, mussel shells, corn cobs, sticks, but the vast majority just looked and smelled like clean earth. I put just about everything into the pile (No meat, fat, oils, bones, dairy products, animal poop, diseased plants or weeds that have gone to seed. Everything else is fair game: shrimp and mussel shells, cardboard toilet/paper towel rolls, egg cartons, used paper towels, spoiled fruits and vegetables, peelings, moldy rice, crushed egg shells, etc.) and do the lazy gardener version of composting: turn it when I remember, water it at the same time and let time and tide take care of the rest. Composting can be just as intensive as you want it to be. Mine would be "better" if I paid more attention to it so that I could kill off any weed (or tomato) seeds that are in there, but when you don't remember (or have the time or inclination) you just don't remember. That's OK, too.
Magically, that 5 or 6 inches expanded to fill that wheelbarrow all the way to the brim. I then shoveled out 1/3 of it into an empty heavy duty plastic bag that previously had potting soil in it, until it was too heavy to move, then I finished emptying the bin which filled the wheelbarrow up again. Ahh!