“Mum, we can explain.”
No one wants to hear those words from their nine-year-old after work, and yet...I was intrigued. After an anxious side-eyed look to my spouse, who was studiously avoiding my gaze, I awaited the forthcoming explanation with a certain fascinated resignation.
My daughter (being a helpful creature) was out on the deck to put some recycling in the bin, when she discovered a dead mouse. We live in the city, but close to a fair bit of green space, so this was, in itself, unfortunate but unremarkable. Further inspection with my wife revealed that this was actually an almost-dead mouse. Keen students of biology and/or Monty Python fans will be aware that this is a minor, yet critical, distinction. Speculation was that a hawk or owl may have dropped it and abandoned it in our bin.
A note about myself is necessary here. Having grown up on farms in southern Ontario, I have a fairly practical approach to reconciling the difference between “almost dead” and “dead” mouse, particularly in cases when the animal may be suffering. My wife and daughter are made of more sympathetic stuff, and so with some trepidation, I asked if the mouse was still alive.
“Yes. Hopefully it is when we get home. It wasn’t moving much, but was still breathing.”
The half-hour car ride home confirmed the following:
- if it lived, we would let it recover, and release it in the nearby woods, far from houses. It would not become another pet.
- The mouse, sex unknown, seemed to attract male pronouns, and would receive the temporary name ‘Geronimo’ during his stay with us.
- My family is composed of ridiculous, ridiculous people (I include myself here).
On arriving home, I went to check on the status of the mouse: not moving, but breathing, and the angle of one leg as it jutted out worried me. I sat down with my daughter and had a talk that every parent dreads: I was pretty sure that Geronimo was not long for this world, and would not survive the night. Many tears followed, but she understood by the end that, if his fate was inescapable, at least it was in a warm place with lots of food and no worries about predators. We moved him carefully to a borrowed hamster pen, with lots of shavings, clean water, and a buffet of rodent-friendly treats that would make even the most pampered pet envious. After the transfer, his tail twitched a bit, but very little movement otherwise. My wife quietly suggested we set the box in a corner away from the traffic of the house to let him rest while we got supper.
After a somber dinner and cleanup, and we heard a promising series of squeaks. Cautiously, we peeked into the box, and discovered a very active, unbothered field mouse bouncing about in his new home. No sign of a limp or any other distress was evident, and wee Geronimo was determinedly investigating the culinary delights left out for him. Relieved smiles all around our house, and we set in for an evening of mouse-watching, mouse-photography, and mouse-related discussion.
Somewhere along the line, in a joking online chat with a family friend, the idea was brought up of releasing Geronimo with a comfy setup for the winter ahead. He would, of course, be left with a store of food that could feed an entire mouse army, but we could also build him a cottage out of popsicle sticks...no! a pumpkin! Our friend mentioned having a plastic gourd that she had used for Halloween but we eventually vetoed the idea out of environmental responsibility: the Hazeldean woods do not need more plastic, however adorably intentioned. Eventually, it was time for bed, and we went to sleep with the soft sounds of digging above our heads.
The next morning was busy, as it was a school morning. Geronimo was still doing fine, although our dog was slightly baffled as to what the interesting thing in the box was. We collectively decided that we would release him before dinner.
After getting my daughter packed off to school, it was time to decide what knitting to bring on the bus to work. Hmm. My mind drifted back to the conversation about mouse houses the previous night. I could /probably/ make something for him, but it would have to be both biodegradable and safe for animal ingestion in case he (or another woodland creature) decided to make a meal of it. I packed up some leftover yarn and needles, and headed out.
After relating the story of our accidental mouse to amused coworkers and customers, as the day progressed so too did my project. At some point in the day, it occurred to me that the house should be lined...winters in Ottawa are cold, and the extra insulation might also protect our wee friend from predators as well. I had to restrain my impulse to embellishment several times (no! Rodentia Cottage does NOT need a chimney any more than it needs an embroidered floral garden!), and it was somewhat liberating to not have to worry (much) about the quality of finishing as I sewed in the ends. By the time I left to head home, it was complete:
After the family had all gathered at home after work and school, we introduced Geronimo to his new digs:
He figured it out pretty quickly, and spent most of the ride out to the woods hiding out in his hut, peeking out occasionally to the delight of my daughter. After a good hike into the woods, and off the main tracks, we found the perfect place for Geronimo to relocate, though he refused to leave his hiding place to investigate while we were there:
After leaving a supply of food at his front door that should suffice for an utterly amazing moving party, we headed home assured that Geronimo had the best chances for surviving the winter. We’ll check in come spring to see if the house is still there and if there are any signs of him about. I suspect, however, that he wins this year’s mouse-prize for craziest weekend.
Instructions for a Mouse House
I have included this in case anyone else wants to make one. I did not keep close notes or follow a pattern, but these instructions should give you something close to my result. Adapt and use your knitterly judgement to modify if something doesn't make sense...the mice won’t mind!
If you are making this for a living creature, a few cautions. Use wool, and not superwash: eating anything synthetic or highly processed can cause digestive issues and even death for wee critters. If it is for a pet, please understand that rodents do not have the cleanest bathroom habits, and that the mouse house is probably not going to be cleanable—it has a temporary lifespan, and you should use the usual precautions in handling rodent mess as it can be very dangerous to humans.
Leftover dk or worsted wool yarn, under 25 grams. I used leftovers of Retrosaria Vovo which had a nice structure to it.
3.75-4 mm needles, circular or dpn. The house is knit both flat and in the round, so pick what suits your style.
Odd bits of wool roving and batting, whatever is leftover from felting projects. About 5 grams, I think.
Walls (side to side)
With dk or worsted yarn, and 4ish mm needles , cast on 12 stitches. This is going to be the “wall” of the house. Knit a strip that measures at least 14”. Cast off.
Roof (top down)
With the same weight yarn (can be a different colour) and circular (magic loop) or dpn, start with a 3 stitch icord and work for a centimetre or so.
Round 1: kfb three times (6)
Round 2: Knit 6
Round 3: (kfb) 6 times
Round 4: knit 12
Round 5: (kfb, k1) 6 times
Round 6, 7: knit 18
Round 8: (kfb, k1) 9 times
Round 9, 10: knit 27
Round 11: (kfb, k2) 9 times
Round 12, 13: knit 36
Round 14: (kfb, k2) to end of row
Round 15, 16: Knit
Repeat the last three rounds, until the circumference of the roof is a little bigger than you would like the walls and door to be. Bind off with a 3 stitch icord cast-off, you can use a different colour here too if you’d like.
Sew the side-stitches of the wall to the inside of the icord of the roof, leaving an appropriate-sized space as a door. You can reinforce this door and the floor-edge of the walls with a 3-stitch applied i-cord in a complimentary colour, if you want to be fancy.
Pick up and knit one stitch for each garter ridge around the floor-edge of the wall, and cast on about 6-8 stitches at the door of the mouse house. Join in the round. Stitch counts will vary, so don’t worry if you have an extra stitch for the repeats: the mouse won’t mind if the math is a bit off. Stop when you get down to about 6 stitches, and cast off.
Round 1: purl all
Round 2: Knit all
Round 3: purl all
Round 4: (k2tog, k1) across all stitches (reduce stitch count by about 1/3)
Round 5: purl all
Round 6: knit all
Round 7: purl all
Round 8: (k2tog, k1) across all stitches (reduce stitch count by 1/3)
Round 9: purl all
Round 10: knit all
Round 11: purl all
Round 12: (k2tog) across all stitches (reduce stitch count by 1/2)
Round 13: purl all
Round 14: (k2tog) across all stitches (reduce stitch count by 1/2)
Round 15: purl all
Continue 14 and 15 until you get down to 6 stitches or so and cast off.
Use any and all tails to sew in some wool roving or batting to make the inside of the house cozy and warm. You don’t need to sew it down firmly...the mouse will enjoy fluffing it around and nesting with it, nor do you need to be particularly careful with the quality of your sewing in of ends: just make sure they are trimmed close enough that they don’t pose a strangulation risk.