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Mt. Adams from Trout Lake · Trout Lake · Washington · USA

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Morning light sets a kaleidoscope of interesting cloud formations afire above Mt. Adams, while autumn foliage gilds the trees and reeds lining picturesque Trout Lake.

I'd like to explain the title a bit, but if you're a little on the squeamish side, you might prefer to stop reading now. My day began interestingly enough, running into a very nice pro photographer based out of Seattle by the name of Tom Kirkendall, who had spent the night in his vehicle on Trout Lake's shores in anticipation of this sunrise. He set up both his DSLR and his massive 8x10 camera side-by-side, and we talked shop while the morning fireworks slowly unfolded. Tom stayed behind after the light show ended to shoot some black and white 'scapes, and I suspect he got a few keepers what with all the crazy cloud action going on. I on the other hand had to get going to pick up my mom--90 minutes away in Vancouver, Washington--for a 'normal' day hike we had planned at Lost Lake in Oregon.

Along the way, I was steadily growing weary of listening to the six CDs in the disc changer for what felt like the umpteenth time in a row. Don't get me wrong--I love me some U2, Michael Jackson, Bruce Hornsby, and Def Leppard, but there's only so many times one can request having sugar poured on oneself before going a bit looney. But even more maddening was trying to figure out why three days earlier the wire of my cassette tape adapter that allowed me to channel music from my iPhone through the car speakers had mysteriously broken. When I inspected the two ends of the wire, it looked for all the world like there were little nicks in the wire insulation as if something had been gnawing on it.

In any event, I picked up Mom and we arrived at Lost Lake uneventfully. I typically tote along a reusable fabric grocery bag stuffed with my hiking trail guide books and various field guides for reference, and on this occasion I'd stashed a couple of peanut butter and huckleberry jam sandwiches and some beef jerky in there as well. When I went to grab the sandwiches to load them into my pack, I noticed that both plastic layers of the double-bagged goodies appeared to have been torn through, and a neat nickel-sized divot had been carved out of one side of one of the sandwiches. I told my mom, that's it: There must be some critter living in my car, but how the heck had it managed to stay silent and undetected all this time?

In an uncharacteristically bold move, my mom--who can barely maintain her continence at the sight of a measly little caterpillar, for chrissakes--took it upon herself to investigate further and unpack the books and snacks from the grocery bag while I strapped on my backpack. All of a sudden, she let out a blood-curdling scream and dropped the bag: there was a mouse inside the bag, she said! I peered in for a closer look, and sure enough, a mouse lay motionless at the bottom of the bag. But not only that, there was the most hideous-looking creature I'd ever seen also lying inside the bag...squirming. Imagine a fat and sassy inch-long brown gherkin pickle in a slow-motion writhe, and you'll get a sense of what I saw. Ah, heck--why not take a look for yourself? ;)

I suspect at some point the mouse was crushed or suffocated by the books shifting around inside the bag during traffic, but what's interesting is that Mom had been rummaging through the bag during our drive to Lost Lake and hadn't notice anything out of the ordinary. I count my lucky stars that the mouse didn't scuttle up her arm (perhaps it was dead by then) and spook her into one of her trademark B-horror-movie yelps that could've dangerously startled me while I was driving at freeway speeds. Mom's skin didn't stop crawling the rest of the day contemplating the what if's, and she didn't feel comfortable riding in the car until later that evening, back at Trout Lake for sunset, when she gave the interior a good once-over and found plenty of other evidence of the mouse's handiwork--but no other creepy-crawlies.

But I'm still at a loss to explain how either of these varmints found their way into the bag in the first place. It was clear that the mouse had been responsible for severely limiting my mobile music library by chewing through the cassette adapter wire three days earlier, and I can only speculate that at some point one of us had set the bag on the ground at some trailhead and the mouse saw opportunity before it. But where in the world did the presumed grub come from? That thing looked to have the squishy-gooshy consistency of an overripe grape, so how did it manage to survive the shifting bag of books? And if it's not a grub, what the hell is it??

Any thoughts or theories welcomed!

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