Lately—for somewhat unfortunate reasons—I’ve been thinking back to the research I did for my novel, Come in and Cover Me, which is set during an archaeological dig in New Mexico. I discovered a big chunk of this love story/ghost story/mystery during the two weeks I spent on an archaeological dig in the middle of a remote canyon, surrounded by stunning scenery, untouched ruins, and real archaeologists.
I loved the whole set-up. It was the perfect place to relish leaving civilization behind, and I knew exactly what should be involved. Before I got on the plane, I practiced putting up my own tent in my den. (Quite successfully.) On site, I started drinking my coffee black. (Not successfully. Blech.) I got acquainted with coyotes and wild turkeys and mouthfuls of dirt and skinned knees and weird acid-spraying scorpions called vinegaroons. Overall, I left feeling quite competent and outdoorsy.
Now, in full disclosure, there were no cockroaches in New Mexico, at least not the cat-sized kind we have in Alabama. My only defense against those monsters is to throw shoes at them from a distance.
This feeling of competence when faced with nature’s arsenal has resurfaced lately because of one word: mice. Because I may be a wuss when it comes to roaches, but I am very good with mice. This came about, I believe, because of one terrible night in New York City during my mid-20s when, as I was napping on the couch, a mouse landed on my head about 2 a.m. one night. Panic ensued. I was trapped in the apartment with the mouse for a full night until the hardware stores (i.e., mousetrap stores) opened in the morning. Before the whole mouse-on-the-head thing, I’d believed that mice were afraid of people, but since that was obviously untrue, I couldn’t sleep with it in the apartment. I set up all sorts of McGuyver-ish traps, like masking tape left face-up around my bed so I would hear its little feet stick if it came too close. I also took the lids off a few shoeboxes, filled said shoeboxes with crumpled paper and cheese, and cut out little cardboard ramps that the mouse could climb in order to dive into the box. (My thought was that I would hear the mouse hit the crumpled paper, then I would slam the lid on the box.)
I caught no mice, but I felt really good about my survival skills.
Anyway, when my stepdaughter spotted a mouse in the kitchen a few days ago, it all came back to me. Survival skills. I eventually caught the little guy (so cute, really) in a glue trap, which I had set, plus I picked it up and disposed of said mouse. I singlehandedly conquered that mouse. (My husband handles roaches—I handle mice. It’s a solid arrangement.) It was strangely satisfying. It is as close as I get, I think, to mastering the wild, to hunting food or building shelter or scaling mountains and digging up mysteries from the dirt. It is a brief spark of woman against wild.
And, really, I’m okay with brief sparks.