Of all the pieces of trivial knowledge I wish I did not know, high on that list is the fact that mouse nests reek like acrid, pungent honey.
I didn’t love the smell the first time I caught a whiff in our recently remodeled kitchen. I really didn’t love it when I figured out what it was a week later. But like most things, once we identified the problem, my husband and I were able to handle it — and by handle it I mean we dropped a fair chunk of change to have a specialist come handle it for us.
The result? Our kitchen went back to perpetually smelling like grilled cheese sandwiches and we gladly forked over the new monthly expense for pest control services. Problem solved. Or so we thought.
Turned out the specialist properly motivated the mice to move out of our home, but the vermin didn’t go as far as we had hoped, taking up residence above the air vent in our minivan.
Different specialist, same result — for a pretty penny, a mechanic cleared out the large nest and installed a mesh guard on the vehicle’s undercarriage. The fee was handed over gratefully; the mice were not going to be moving back into the van any time soon.
Why would they when the old sniffer confirmed that they had happily migrated over to our second vehicle?
Normally, I chalk misadventures like this up to inexperience and take solace in the knowledge that I’ll know what to do next time. But this? The case of the rodent house guests who cannot take a hint? Never mind knowing what to do next time, I’m still stumped about what I’m supposed to do this time.
Maybe that’s why I have a fair amount of compassion for the folks in charge at Washington State University right now. Back in the spring, when COVID-19 first started getting its musk all over the place, the college made the tough call to move courses online for the rest of the semester.
They asked the students not to return to campus and the students impressively and overwhelmingly acquiesced. Accordingly, Whitman County COVID-19 figures stayed blessedly low.
Fast forward to fall with its evidence of rodent — I mean COVID-19 — infestations increasing throughout the nation. Again, WSU made the tough call to sacrifice finances for the sake of public health and again encouraged students to shelter at home — their other home, preferably the one in their parents’ county of residence. But this time, myriad circumstances brought a huge population of students back and with them a dramatic — nationally competitive level of dramatic — explosion of COVID-19 cases.
I think it’s fair to acknowledge that school officials were naïve to think the students would stay away. But it’s also fair to say we’re all naïve on just about every aspect of navigating this thing. I mean, it’s new. It’s overwhelming. With the exception of “Old Town Road” assaulting us over the airwaves, nothing else has infiltrated the country so suddenly and unexpectedly (and that very different, also tragic epidemic only lasted 17 weeks, thank goodness).
So here we are with single day additions to the COVID-19 count higher than the previous five months’ totals combined, with students living in the community, their community of choice (a detail we normally quite proudly celebrate). Students are here, coronavirus is here, and along with my exterminator and mechanic, we’re all left shrugging our shoulders wondering, “What now?”
I haven’t got a suggestion. I’ve barely got an opinion about it other than recognition that plans that could have worked — that really, really seemed like they should have worked — didn’t work out so well after all. I don’t think it was negligence. And I don’t think WSU made the wrong call. I think life is unpredictable and messy, and sometimes things just stink.
But if anyone knows how to clear the air — metaphorically in our community or literally in my car — I’ll gladly pay.
Jade Stellmon set sail for a three-hour tour on the Palouse in 2001. She is now happily marooned in Moscow with her spouse and five children.