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The living room window sill in the living room at Chris Wyatt’s Patterdale Hall, as it appeared earlier this year — bones and all. (Submitted photo)

The Patterdale Hall Diaries | Mice and moles and shrews, oh my!

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Feb. 19, 2023

Karen and Betty have been spending a lot of time out at the Hall, and it is wonderful.

Last Friday, Karen was joined overnight by our friend Athena, which was also lovely. Guests are rare at Patterdale Hall because, well, it’s for us, not guests. Occasionally, though, I think it will be a good thing. Athena met our resident mischievous ghost — about whom I will write at another time — who threw a lighter at her and gave Karen a friendly nudge. She then got to see a blue-sky sunrise out there, which is one of the things I enjoy most about the Hall. The light streams in and everything is bright and wonderful for at least a few hours. Sitting and drinking tea in that light is invigorating and sets you right for the rest of the day.

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There are a few things that need attending out here. The fire box needs new woven gaskets, which are fiberglass impregnated with graphite. These seal the doors to the box when closed and are cheap and easy to replace, thank the lord. Well, I say that — I haven’t replaced them yet, so watch this space. I was concerned that the gaskets were asbestos, but that doesn’t seem to be the case, although maybe the old perished gaskets were. Who knows? Maybe this is a project for the beloved children. Embrace the mesothelioma.

Our mice population has also been growing and so needs knocking back. Four traps set today, and I will clear them tomorrow. We set the traps high on countertops to catch the mice, because we also have shrews that stay at ground level. I like the shrews, but not the mice; the last thing I need is hantavirus. Shrews, though — splendid little beasts.

I’m feeling good at the moment. Karen is well, and the kids are in positive frames of mind; that’s all I ask for, really.

It is abnormally warm for February, 70 degrees yesterday and same again today. However, the temperature will fall tonight, so I have cemented the gasket onto the stove and split some honeysuckle rounds for Karen to burn. Then tomorrow after Neurolab, I will go and pick up approximately two cords of aged, split maple from my very kind friend Joel. This addition to the woodpile will see us completely through the winter. In order to cure the cement that holds the gasket in place, we need to build a fire of tinder and keep it small for an hour then slowly build to a medium fire. Honeysuckle and the old trash wood are perfect for this. Ideally, the fire should then be held at 500 degrees Fahrenheit for several hours, so Karen will stay out with Betty and keep it going into the night. Perfect.

Feb. 23, 2023

I’ve killed five mice since I last posted and there are clearly more. By placing the traps on countertops, we get the mice but keep the shrew population alive. Shrews are amazing creatures and I am loath to kill them, unless they become a problem. They occasionally steal bits of Betty’s food; but again, if we put her food up on the countertops, they don’t seem to get it. Karen loves the little shrews, and Betty doesn’t seem to give a stuff about them. Archie would, of course, lose his mind over a shrew.

March 17, 2023

It’s a chilly March evening tonight, St. Patrick’s Day, and it’s my turn out at the Hall.

I just cooked a lovely pork chop with mushrooms and parsley in a butter and cream sauce; it went well with some steamed broccoli, and I am now set for the evening. I’ll do a little writing, but am mostly keen to read a new graphic novel about a colony of mice following the apocalypse. Tony at Superfly Comics in downtown Yellow Springs recommended it, and it seems great so far. I do enjoy my comics about animals — “Digger,” “Mouseguard” and “Squarriors,” for instance.

Reading is a joy out here as there is no noise, and there are no disturbances other than the occasional enraged shrew or howling packs of coyotes. It is a very atmospheric place to get some reading done, and we have stocked the place with appropriately atmospheric books. There is a substantial amount of horror fiction here. I really love good horror. I discovered H.P. Lovecraft almost the same time I discovered “The Dragonriders of Pern.” I would have been 11 or 12 years old and was exploring Cheadle Hulme Library. Libraries are sacred spaces, and the ability to take these books home and read them delighted me.

Many years later I would read Agatha Christie novels in the Bodleian Library at Oxford University, which was wonderful, to be honest. One lasting memory of my time at Oxford was watching a cricket match between the Bodleian librarians and some local captains of industry. Much as you might expect, the Bodleian librarians all looked like little moles. I wish I could remember how the match ended. I suspect the moles were utterly, utterly defeated. It was very bright that day and there was a lot of squinting going on.

It is now 8 p.m. and full-blown twilight. The sun is down and darkness is descending. Time to read about little mice.

*Originally from Manchester, England, Chris Wyatt is an associate professor of neuroscience, cell biology and physiology at Wright State University. He has lived in Yellow Springs for 16 years, is married and has two teenage children and two insane Patterdale terriers.

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