De Widgible: February 22, 2006

In which I get a small, furry gift for Valentine’s Day.


Some women want chocolate for Valentine’s Day. Some women want diamonds. Some get sexy lingerie; others get candlelit dinners and romantic cards. Me? I get rodents.

Not that there’s anything wrong with rodents, mind you — far from it. In fact, I’d argue that a heart-shaped box full of gerbils and mice is a great deal more entertaining (and less fattening) than a heart-shaped box full of cherry cordials. Think of it: all those adorable little balls of fluff, wriggling in their wrappers and twitching their whiskers up at you. What woman’s heart wouldn’t melt at the sight?

All right, ladies, I can hear your shrieks from here. Point taken.

Personally, I’ve always had a thing for rodents. Beady eyes and scaly tails make my heart go pitty-pat. Put a rat on my shoulder and a gerbil down my shirt, and I’m a happy girl. I’ve been known to surreptitiously disarm mousetraps as a favor to my furry little friends, carry my pet rats about on my head, and feed the various critters that live under the dumpster. Squirrels amaze me; hamsters amuse me; mice make me squeal with delight, not fear. I even coo over hulking brown sewer rats.

Ever since our last rat, Louise, went to the Great Exercise Wheel in the Sky, my husband and I have been… well, somewhat lonesome. It’s hard to walk by the rodent toy section in the pet store… and the bird toy section, and the rabbit toy section, and the cat toy section (rats will play with anything). It’s sad to set down a package of Oreos without having to consider the possibility that a pair of enterprising rodents might pull the entire thing into their cage. Disconcerting as it might sound to eat every meal under the unblinking gaze of a pair of beady black eyes, it’s even more unsettling to not be watched. And vacuum cleaner commercials just aren’t the same without an inquisitive little creature following the back-and-forth motion of the on-screen vacuum with focused intensity. A house without a mouse is a sad house indeed.

Of course, the universe wasn’t going to let us continue in this mouseless way for much longer. Enter… the Widget.

Tony is the self-appointed critter-saver at his workplace; over the years, he’s saved bugs, bats, and various other creatures trapped in his building and released them into the nearby fields. Note that he usually releases them immediately. Of course, Minnesota winters being what they are, it was inevitable that he’d eventually come across a critter at a time when it was too cold to release it outside. And that’s exactly what happened a few days ago.

When Tony called me on Thursday evening to tell me he’d caught a mouse and ask me what he should do with it, it was immediately obvious to both of us that putting it outside was just not an option — we were right at the beginning of a particularly frigid cold snap, and any little creature caught outside was bound to end up as an ice cube by morning. Other than bringing it home and keeping it for a few days, we could… hmm. Well — no, that wouldn’t work. How about — mmm, nuh-uh.

All signs pointed to houseguest — or, should I say, mouseguest.

So I cleaned out one of our empty rodent tanks and shredded some blank paper for bedding, and Tony came home with a big ol’ cardboard box with a small, squeaking thing inside of it. And we carefully slid the scrabbling little lump from the box into the tank, and I got my first good look at it. And I was immediately struck by three important points:

  1. That is the cutest damn thing I have ever seen in my life.
  2. That cannot be a mouse. That is like no rodent I have ever seen before.

At this point, it’s best to just let the pictures speak for themselves:

Widget 1 Widget 2 Widget 3 Widget 4 Widget 5

Click for larger view. (Sorry about the quality, but really, YOU try photographing a miniscule, monochromatic furball!)

I think these just reinforce the points I made above: it is the cutest thing to every bumble its adorable way over the face of the Earth, and it’s not a mouse. Not a typical mouse, anyway. Mice have big ears. Mice have long tails. This guy looks like a cross between a field mouse and a hamster. My rodent books didn’t help, the internet didn’t help, my all-knowing mother couldn’t help, nothing has helped us figure out what the hell is running (cutely) about the tank. As far as I’m concerned, it’s a widget(wij-it) n. –  1. A small mechanical device or part; gadget.
2. An unknown or unspecified item representing a manufacturer’s output.
. So that’s what I’m calling it.

I mentioned before that it looks somewhat like a hamster; in fact, it’s even more hamster-like in its behavior than in its appearance. It’s… tame. From the second it plopped down into its tank, it decided that it liked captivity and it liked us. It’s an energetic explorer, a seasoned gourmet (it loves croutons and fresh fruit, but turns up its little nose at my home-made biscuits), and a fearless (or maybe just really stupid) little soul that actually runs up to the side of the tank to get a better look at the big, loud humans. It’s not afraid of cats, that’s for sure; my mother’s cat spent a good ten minutes scrabbling frantically at the tank, trying to get it, while the little guy just blinked at her with his nose pressed up against the plastic wall. (He got bored before the cat did, and ended up going to sleep with the cat still circling the tank.) He even lets me stroke his head and back. Either he’s got the survival instincts of a rock (cats bad, little dude), or he’s been around humans before. Or he’s just the friendliest little furby that ever lived in the wild.

So we’re keeping it for now, at least until it’s a little warmer out. As the days go by, though, I’m starting to wonder if re-releasing it is even a good idea. After all, tameness is not an asset in the wild. And the more I rack my brains to figure out where I’ve seen a creature like that before, the more I keep thinking of nature shows where owls come swooping down on screaming little innocents. And… and once you’ve given a creature croutons, you’ve sort of made a promise to care for it — it’s not like it can just go back to twigs.

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