The mouse in the freezer

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When my beloved cat, George, died unexpectedly, I put his body in the freezer until I could give him a proper burial. We were renting a house at the time and I didn’t feel it would be right to lay him to rest on land that didn’t belong to us. We buried him on my home farm the next time we went up north.
When a group of late-gestation heifers mysteriously started aborting, I kept a pair of bovine fetuses in the basement fridge until they could be sent off to the veterinary diagnostic lab.
On the surface it feels odd, but I guess it’s not terribly unusual to have dead animals in the fridge or freezer. I know hunters keep heads and capes and hides frozen until they can be mounted or tanned. And, technically, all of the packages of beef, pork, and chicken in the freezer are parts of dead animals, but, I digress.
So, when Monika found a perfectly preserved frozen mouse in the snow this winter, we put him in the freezer. Here’s why:
First, because I have never seen a dead mouse look so alive. For that matter, I’ve never seen any dead creature look so alive. Perfectly preserved is an understatement. This mouse literally looks like he was flash frozen. He’s sitting upright, head alert. His tail is curled around to one side of his rump and suspended in mid-air like he’s twitching it. The scientist in me would love to know his actual cause of death.
Second, the kids wanted to keep the mouse for a practical joke on their grandma. Mice terrify my mother, which, unfortunately for her, has resulted in decades of jokes involving real and fake mice. Being that I love a good laugh, I allowed the frozen mouse a spot in the freezer.
Third, I wanted to applaud Monika’s discovery of the mouse. Observation – paying attention to everything around us – is a practice I try to cultivate in our kids. Observation is essential to our success as dairy farmers (“See how that cow looks a little off?”). Observation also adds great joy to our lives (“See the agate? See the caterpillar?”).
When my mom called to say she was coming to visit, the anticipation in our house reached palpable levels. The mouse was positioned in the freezer on the middle shelf just in front of the ice bin. When you opened the freezer, it legitimately looked like a real, live mouse was sitting there looking back at you.
Much to our chagrin, Grandma didn’t make herself a glass of ice water right away like we expected. So none of us were in the kitchen when she first opened the freezer. We didn’t see the moment, but we definitely heard about it. And we laughed.
I figured the mouse would move out after the joke, but he’s still sitting there – and I think he’ll stay. I’ve decided that keeping a mouse in the freezer is good for my heart.
Every once in a while, I forget that the mouse is there, open the freezer, my heart startles, and I jump involuntarily. I figure it’s good to give your heart a shot of adrenaline every once in a while.
I recently went mountain scrambling for the first time. Scrambling being more than hiking, but less than full-on mountain climbing. Much of the path to the summit involved scrambling over rocks on all fours. There were a few narrow ledges and vertical passes that did more than startle my heart – they sent it into near panic. I realized that my current life is pretty calm in comparison. It’s not that I avoid adrenaline-rush activities; I just don’t seek them out like I did in my youth. Cliff jumping and motorcycling do as much to remind me of my mortality as they do to make me feel alive. Perhaps recognizing that tradeoff is what comes with maturity. But that doesn’t mean life should be adrenaline-free. Jumping at the sight of the mouse in the freezer is a micro-dose of feeling alive.
And then, after I jump, I laugh, because I know the mouse is there and it’s silly to be startled by a tiny rodent. Laughter is equally good for the heart. As a family, we laugh together a lot. I’m incredibly grateful that I married a man with a great sense of humor and that our kids inherited his humor. Their humor and penchants for practical jokes keep me laughing.
Finally, the mouse in the freezer is a good reminder to be observant. Pay attention. Look up and look around. Notice the little things. Our world is full of wonders. Observation leads to appreciation and gratitude. Gratitude is good for our hearts.
If the mouse in the freezer had a motto to share, it’d be this: Do things that make you feel alive. Laugh often. Be observant.
    Sadie and her husband, Glen, milk 100 cows near Melrose, Minnesota. They have three children – Dan, Monika, and Daphne. Sadie also writes a blog at www.dairygoodlife.com. She can be reached at sadiefrericks@gmail.com

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