Forgot your password?

We just sent you an email, containing instructions for how to reset your password.

Sign in

  • “Benjoy, it had to be you. Those animals you had out here. All that hay. Bags of feed. You must have brought them over. Out here all winter, stands to reason.” Lyford rested on the ragged mattress he was wrestling into his outboard. “This lot is just out of Old Lady Parker’s place. I still got three, four houses left to clean out.

    I hadn’t had animals on the island for years. “I broke open every bale and scooped out the grain a pound coffee can to a time. I’d have seen them. I never saw a thing.”

    “Still, out here year round, like I said, stands to reason.”

    “It’s been years since we were out here year round.”

    “You brought out all those plants when you were working for Rockafeller. Must have been in them then. I told Lyle, I did. Said, that boy keeps bringing plants out like that he’s liable to bring along something with them. Like I said…”

    Yeah, I thought, stands to reason.

    “Benjoy,” bellowed George across the bonfire down at the shore that Fourth of July. “what the hell you want to go and bring mice out here?” He tipped his jug and winked. It was a half-gallon Coke bottle but the color was wrong, at least five shades too pale for Coke on its own.

    “Ah, the mice,” said John. “It’s interesting you should bring that up.”
    The other professors around the fire moved closer sensing a discussion brewing.

    “You know,” he went on. “One of the papers at the conference was about the role of islands in evolution. A small colonizing population can find itself free from the competition and predation it experienced on its ‘mainland’ home and relatively rapidly adapt and expand to fill the available ecological niches.”

    “You don’t say,” said George. “That mean we’ll have an island special? Come back next spring and have to deal with Mouzilla. Hey, Benjoy, maybe they’ll name it after you. Mousicus benjaminus.”

    “Well actually,” said John adjusting his glasses. “Rapid is relative. We’re talking evolution and adaptation here not spontaneous combustion.”

    “Shame,” said George “Be quite a sight wouldn’t it? Drink Doc?” He handed his jug to the group clustered around the fire, hitched up his pants and began to lay out hot dogs and hamburgers.

    John choked. “What on earth do you have in there George?”

    “Oh, just some of what Granny had in the cupboard” George winked.

    “Let me see, where was I?” asked John.

    “Like the rabbits in Australia, didn’t he use that as an example dear,” added his wife.

    “Indeed. Indeed. Can you imagine the hubris? Importing rabbits to make a new landscape more like home.”

    I thought about that.

    The jug went round again.

    Jon belched.

    “Bring it up again and we’ll vote on it Doc,” said George.

    “You know,” said Spencer, an economics fellow, who had been leaning back looking at the stars. “Where would we be without transplanted species?” He brushed the crumbs out of his beard, picked up the jug, got up and began to pace. “Coffee, tomatoes, potatoes, they all were carried…”

    “Just don’t carry my jug too far,” said George keeping a steady eye on the level.

    “Very true, “ said John. “There are economic opportunities. But accidental or intentional, beneficial or otherwise, once a new species is established, they often have a significant, even profound, impact on their new home.”

    “Amen to that,” said Lyford. “Had a helluva impact on my summer what with all the loads I had to run off and then the new stuff to haul back out.”

    “Of course, of course,” said John. “Take rodents now. Rodents make up nearly half of mammalian species worldwide and, on some islands, account for close to seventy percent of all species. It's all about reproduction. Consider the mouse in that regard."

    "Oh please, let's not." George laughed.

    John barely paused. "Female mice can have a litter a month and the next generation is ready to reproduce in thirty days.”

    “Hot dog or hamburg, Doc?” asked George.

    “Oh, ah, you know I’ll have a hot dog,” John announced. He pulled a stick from the fire and began scratching on the rock. “Here, I’ll work it out for you. If a pregnant mouse were to arrive on an island, at the end of thirty days there would be, hmmm, say half of each litter are female, OK? If we multiply the half that are girls in the first litter times six. OK? Still with me? Add back the boys, carry the one, there we go; at the end of month two we have added twenty-five mice. Nothing to get worried about. Month four and we are below three hundred, you might never run across one at that level. But, by the end of the first year…” he reburnt the end of his stick and went back to his work. The face of the ledge was covered in charcoal scrawls.

    “Jeez, John. Use this,” said George handing him his cellphone.

    John polished his glasses. Firelight winked off screens where several of them had their cells out. They peered at his scratchings then bent over their screens.

    “”Some peaceful out here,” said George. We listened to the crackle of the fire and the waves among the rocks and the soft tapping of data being entered.

    “A wonderful example of the sheer momentum of exponential growth,” said one.

    “Of course these figures would have to be adjusted to factor in mortality rates,” said another.

    “What have you got there Docs?” asked George.

    “Well, needing to adjust, as Bill pointed out, for mortality and other negative environmental factors but a straight run of the numbers with the algorithm yields upwards of 132 trillion and change.

    “Biblical,” said George and passed around the jug.

    In the pause, I looked across to the mainland. The gap between The Island and the mainland is not far if you measure from the end of Phil’s Ledge to the Lighthouse on Bass Harbor Head at dead low tide. But the island is not a soft target for invasive species. Exposed to prevailing winds, and the icy cold Gulf of Maine, and swept by strong tides, the island is much more isolated than it looks.

    “Mustard or ketchup Doc?” asked George.

    “Both,” said John.

    George added beans and slaw and slapped a row of pickles on for good measure. He eyed the potato salad.

    I nodded and he spooned a mound on as well.

    “Oh my,” said John. “Now that is a hot dog.”

    “It’ll keep you busy Doc,” said George.

    John aimed the hot dog at his mouth several times before attempting a bite. “No poison ivy, no poisonous snakes, not many black flies,” he said through the mouthful. A gob of potato salad escaped from the bun and rolled down his shirtfront. He looked around smiling, a pickle and a thread of mustard hung from his beard

    “I pass that jug around one more time,” George whispered to me. “We’ll really have a show. Don’t forget the mosquitos Doc,” he called out. We got the biggest mosquitos. God dammer, at least we got that. And now we got mice. We never had them before now did we Lyford.”

    “Not a goddam one,” said Lyford. “Not till some people started hauling out all kind of things.”

    “Well,” said George. “You have to admit, they had a helluva set up once they got here.”

    It was true. All you had to do was take a peek in the pantries to know that the islanders never figured on rodents. Boxes of vintage Jello. Potato flakes decades past their sell by dates. Layers of crusty marshmallows from long forgotten picnics. Ritz crackers for that maybe mock-apple pie. Opened bags of newer, but long past crisp, rice cakes. Bag ends of flour, sugar, and rice.

    A just-in-case larder in every house and eight months on their own, what’s a mouse to do besides multiply.

    “The greatest shortcoming of the human race is our inability to understand the exponential function,” said John.

    “That sounds terribly clever John,” said Old Lady Parker.

    “Didn’t that population mathematician say something like that at the conference, John?” said his wife dapping the mustard off his chin.

    “He might have,” said John.

    That’s the way of it. Multiplication sneaks up on you, I thought. No one noticed the first year. A scatter of droppings, a gnawed scrap of soap in the dish above the kitchen sink, a bag of flour left a white trail from a tear in the bottom corner. Could have been anything. “There’ve never been mice out on The Island,” the old timers said.

    The second year, three or four families did more than the average spring-cleaning. A mattress, a stash of ‘island’ clothes from the bottom drawer of the dresser, the more dubious non-perishables were all hauled to the dump. The physical evidence was inconclusive though the smell was persistent. Must have been a mink, people said. “The older houses just aren’t tight,” the owners of the untouched houses explained. They made a point to patch screens and closed doors and drawers more firmly at the end of the summer.

    By the third year it was too late. No one was spared. The mice nested in clothing, in bedding, in burrows under the carpet. They gnawed candles and soap, chewed their way through cardboard, paper and plastic. Their droppings lay in heaps and drifts in every drawer. And, as is the case in Biblically proportioned events, people began to ask.

    “All those animals,” said Lyford. “Hauling out hay and feed all times of the year like that Benjoy.”

    Yup, I thought, stands to reason.
    • Share

    Connected stories:


Collections let you gather your favorite stories into shareable groups.

To collect stories, please become a Citizen.

    Copy and paste this embed code into your web page:

    px wide
    px tall
    Send this story to a friend:
    Would you like to send another?

      To retell stories, please .

        Sprouting stories lets you respond with a story of your own — like telling stories ’round a campfire.

        To sprout stories, please .

            Better browser, please.

            To view Cowbird, please use the latest version of Chrome, Safari, Firefox, Opera, or Internet Explorer.