Back to Nature (Published on TBNWeekly.com - Jan. 11, 2006)
The cotton mouse a visit from Mickey?
See Rock City! Visit Ruby Falls!
|Illustration by Karen Mitchell Tremmel
|The cotton mouse
These were the signs that were familiar as I grew up at the foot of Lookout
Mountain, on the border of Tennessee and Georgia. Our neighborhood sloped in a
V formation, built down the lower side of Lookout Mountain to the
Tennessee Valley, then spread upwards to the west side of Missionary Ridge.
Lighting the roof tops and church steeples, the sun rose over Missionary Ridge,
spreading its warmth over the corn and cotton fields to the south. At end of the
day, in spectacular brilliance, the sun climbed the eastern slopes of the mountain
with the passion of an artist, splashing light, in reds, pinks, golds, greens and
whites on the branches of dogwood, sycamore and maples.
Then with one last breath the forest was on fire, ablaze in burning oranges, to
disappear behind a drape of velvet darkness. The valley became a womb that few
ventured from. The outside world was just that, outside, over there, imaginary, an
image on a TV screen, a photo in National Geographic or a heart-felt story in
On cold mornings we kids huddled near the fire and television with eyes of wonder,
as Bozo the Clown beeped secret messages, the Lone Ranger got his man and Mickey
Mouse delighted us with songs and mouse adventures. We wore black mouse ears and
chorused M-I-C, See you real soon, K-E-Y, Why, because we love you, M-O-U-S-E. And
in this imaginary place a dream was born, a humble dream among pans of cornbread,
ham-hocks, turnip greens, farmers fields and clear mountain water.
Someday, somehow wed find a way to travel to Florida and shake hands with
the real Mickey. As if I was a child again, this dream was realized for me when I
was in my late 30s. A hug from Mickey, a visit through his softly curved house
culminating with lunch in his garden was a dream fulfilled for a Tennessee
As I am peering out my window this morning, sipping a lukewarm cup of coffee, a
little mouse nibbling on fallen blossoms came into my view. He scampers into a pool
of sunlight. It then becomes apparent that this is no ordinary mouse. I become
fascinated by his activities.
Its hind feet are much larger than that of an ordinary house mouse and its belly
is pure, soft white. Its back is a darkish, doe brown. The little mouse has very
big, round, black, shiny eyes and large flannel, gray ears. I muse, He looks like
Mickey, my beloved TV hero. Referencing my guide books I discover this little mouse
is indeed no ordinary house mouse, but a cotton mouse.
Ducking in and out of ginger foliage, mouse tastes the nasturtiums, nibbles on
fire-bush blossoms and tender rye grass seedlings. Mickey plays in our
garden for nearly 20 minutes.
The talented 7-to-8-inch cotton mouse Peromyscus (from the Greek word pera,
pouch, and myskos, little mouse, gossypinus (from the Latin word meaning
belonging to the cotton plant) can climb trees and also swim. The
Cotton Mouse prefers dry swamps, bottomland woods, hollow trees, beaches, stone
walls and neglected human habitats nesting in or under logs or low palmettos. They
eat insects, seeds, berries and nuts, spiders and slugs and apparently within our
Florida gardens: flowers.
The Key Largo Cotton Mouse Peromyscus gossypinus allapaticola is
endangered. The Key Largo Cotton Mouse is restricted to approximately the northern
one-third of the uplands of Key Largo, Monroe County, Florida.
An estimated 18,000 cotton mice may still exist in the remaining 2,100 acres
(851 hectares) of forested habitat on north Key Largo (Humprey 1988).
A cotton mouse visits a Tennessee girls garden in Florida and an imaginary
character takes on a real face in a world a long ways from the valley
this girl used to call home, back to nature.
Karen can be reached at MyMuddyPawsStudio@gmail.com.