But there have been changes. The mice came out to play. Three of them were killed in the traps we had cunningly, murderously set along the kitchen baseboards. So, traps sprang shut. On the window sills, flies expired of old age or despair, their tiny legs sticking up in the air. One small shrew fell down the stairs and died on the bottom step. The shrews do that now and then, and always in the same way, dropping from some unknown place and landing on the last stair, a fatal lack of attentiveness or memory that they make over and over, from generation to generation. We came home to this assortment of small corpses, evidence that time had passed.
Each autumn as the weather turns cold again, the deer mice come back into the innards of the house. They arrive through their secret passages, the ones that we will never close up, no matter how alert or ingenious or dedicated we are. And from there, their safe places, at night, while we are asleep upstairs, they enter the kitchen. Where we have set out mouse traps, baited with cheese. They take the bait, or some of them do. And then in the morning we find them dead.
While we were away the house was cold, but still, for the island's most permanent inhabitants, a nice enough place to spend the winter. Now that we have returned, the sad but inevitable dance -- dance of cheese or death --resumes, exactly where it left off.
We do not hate the mice. They are beautiful and charming animals. If only they didn't want to live inside the house, but of course they do want to live here in this warmly crumby place. And there's no co-existing, no compromise that would suit both parties. So, with regret, we kill them off, one by one. And with determination or hopefulness or filial piety, their children and their grandchildren keep coming back to this fabled paradise, the place they hold dear in their collective memory, our kitchen.
It was about this time a couple of years ago, in the dregs of winter, when there's hardly anything left out there to eat, that we began an understanding with the ravens. It was they who thought of it first, swooping closer to the house than we'd ever seen them do before, stalking and preening around in the side yard. Before, they had mostly perched in the spruce trees south of the house, or in the lower orchard apple trees, or flapped in threes and sevens into the dead forest along the shore where the owl lives. They are birds of great size and dignity, and we were surprised to see them coming so close.
On the nights when we ate meat --lamb or venison or mutton, all from the island --we were then in the habit of putting the bones and scraps outside on a bench until the next day, when I would carry them down to the wharf and drop them into the water, for the gulls. One morning Greg saw a raven fly up off the bench. He had torn open the plastic bag and taken the scraps. Then we began to lay the left-overs on the cement platform of the solar tracker: an offering to the ravens. And soon we added the morning's mouse corpse to the collection. The ravens took it all, lifting into flight with their claws firmly holding these gifts.
Now we are home again. Outside, snows have come and gone, fallen and lain and melted. Rain. Ice. Wind. Winter in its relentless power. Of all that I can only guess, like someone with amnesia trying to puzzle this gap back together again in my mind. I get the general picture but I have missed all the detail.
A raven has noticed that we are home, and walks, gravely, like an old man, along the picket fence near the house. It is he who is the keeper of seasons past. He remembers how long ago, before Christmas, we set out meat scraps for him, and the delectable fresh corpses of mice. He hopes to remind us of our old charitable impulses, to reawaken our consciences and stir our memories, to patch December to March, and move on.