It’s been a long four years.

Let me take you back to 1998 when we were fortunate enough to put a down payment on a little piece of heaven in Georgian Bay. Built in 1938, our cottage is quickly becoming the place where our itinerant kids all get together and the family is once again whole.

We’d been cottaging in this region for a quarter-century, so when we got our own place, our friends were enthusiastic for us. And generous.

One friend gave us a box. A big box. Eight feet long, 30 inches high, two feet wide. It was loosely built to hold fireworks for a huge water-side festival in the community that year and there were four of these boxes left after the fireworks fizzled. I was thrilled to receive one.

“Why, this will be perfect perched on a level footing down at the water. We can put the gas cans, the noodles, the oars for the rowboat, a paddle or two, all kinds of things that would ordinarily ‘junk’ up our shoreline!”

I was keen.

Assembling every tool I own, I undertook to finish off this box, adding more supports, stuffing screening in the corner joints just to be sure, drilling air holes in the back, front, sides and floor and covering them with screen so gas vapours wouldn’t build up. I added 2 x 4 supports to the floor and wrapped foam around them so paddles and oars wouldn’t get too beaten up. Then I found some hinges and cut a lid and sheared off an old paddle to act as an opening wedge for when the lid needed to be up. I didn’t do this all by myself... my mother and sister were visiting and wielded a number of tools as well.

We painted it gray. The kids added some flowers, scenes, Georgian Bay pines. And we were feeling justifiably proud of this, our newest device.

Score? Donna... 1.

I loaded up the box. And at the end of the summer we went home to Barrie.

Summer, 1999. One day during that second summer, I retrieved the oars for my morning row, and as I slipped the pins into the oarlocks I noticed the leathers were grooved. Teeth-sized grooves. Little teeth. I went back to the box for a better look. And there, nestled under the oar and paddle supports, was a veritable mouse condominium. Colourful condo, it was because it was built from bits of life jacket, noodles (turquoise, yellow, orange and blue), newspaper, and the outside wrapping of a bag of concrete mix. (You can guess where the concrete was without part of its bag!)

Score? Donna... 1, Mouse... 2.

I couldn’t figure out where the little things were getting in, but I got a couple of hooks and eyes and tightened down the dock box lid. And I brought the oars up to the cottage, just in case. And I swept out the nest. Actually I devoted an entire column to how we removed the mouse.

Score? Donna... 3, Mouse... 2.

Next morning, mouse was back, nest was back, Hooks and eyes were still shut.

Donna... 3, Mouse... 4.

Again I lifted out gas cans, noodles, life jackets, part of a bag of concrete, etc. etc. I checked all the air holes. They were tight. Using 2 x 4’s I fastened a stronger, tighter support on the back of the box and moved the lid, once again putting the hooks and eyes in place. I left one rolled up newspaper as a nest tester.

Donna... 5, Mouse... 4.

Ha! Mouse... 6.

Well, now we’re at 2000 which was last summer. The air holes were still intact but the mouse certainly wintered in the dock box.

I painted it green. Don’t ask me why I thought that would make a difference. I stuffed new aluminum screening in the corners. I put a stone on each corner of the box’s lid.

I added moth balls to the dock box. I was told mice don’t like moth balls.

Donna... 7, Mouse... 6.

Summer 2001. The dock box took a back seat to 60 year old windows that are crying for putty and paint and other chores that seem to jump onto the list during the few weeks we’re lucky enough to be here full time.

Donna... 7, Mouse... 8.

However, this week I could avoid reality no longer and once again removed everything from the dock box. (We no longer keep oars, paddles or life jackets there). I chased my little friend out by banging a paddle along the side. I swept out the nest, grabbed an indelible marker, and climbed into the box. My husband lowered the lid, promising not to hook & eye me in. I had some thoughts about burials while my back, rump and heels were supported by the foamies wrapped around the 2 x 4’s. This was not comfortable, but using a flashlight and the marker, I drew all around the lid.

Then I set up a workshop down at the dock (this requires several feet of electrical cord and many trips with mitre box, hand saw, drill, screw drivers, screws (there are never enough of one kind of head...) and tediously, carefully, slowly I built with 1 x 2” strapping, a stopgate that exactly matches the interior of the box. I took the lid off while I worked to attach each piece of wood to it. Saw, drill, screw, fit; saw, drill, screw, fit; swim. Saw, drill, screw, fit.

Put it all back together. Loaded everything in. Added the tester newspaper. Locked the lid. Smiled.

Donna... 9, Mouse... 8.

I gave the critter two days before checking.

Donna... 9, Mouse... 10.

One little hole through an airhole screen.

Down comes the portable workshop again, drill, hammer, saw, mitre box, table, electrical cord, strapping. And every single strip of air holes was closed over.

Donna... 11, Mouse... 10.

I don’t know how to even this up.

As I write this the dock box is empty. The gas cans are littering the shoreline. So are the noodles. Bags of cement are on the dock. Paddles are in the canoes. Oars are up at the cottage. So am I.

The tester role of newspaper is in the box. Waiting.

I dare that mouse. I just dare it.

Next week’s tester newspaper role may be this column...

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