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Crime & Punishment In The Garden

The mouse sniffed its way through the dark. Rejecting the wild pea vines, it scurried past the oak barrels full of strawberry plants. Been there, snipped that, tucked away in its nest. The mouse knew that Uncle Ben hadn't come home night before last from his raiding party on the cucumber plants. The mouse was keenly aware that Old Macdonald was putting out more and more traps. The mouse even suspected that a writer was anthropomorphizing it in his weekly column.

There they were: pot after box of cukes, the stems and leaves a perfect compliment to any rodent's living quarters. The mouse clambered over the top of the redwood box. It tapped a foot on the still damp soil. Then… What's this? The smell of dairy products… Cheese! Yum… Sniff, sniff… Snap!

Mousetraps may be nearly as old as cultivated gardens. Ancient Greeks referred to them. In Shakespeare's Hamlet (1602), the young Danish prince tells the usurper King Claudius that the play within the play they will watch is entitled, “The Mousetrap.” A half century earlier a mousetrap appeared in the Spanish novel The Life of Lazarillo de Tormes and of His Fortunes and Adversities. The hero swiped cheese from a ratonera (mousetrap) to quell his hunger pangs.

There are electric mousetraps, wooden ones, plastic ones. There are bucket style mousetraps, jaw-like devices, and the traditional spring-loaded trap, patented in the 1890s in the US by William Hooker and in Great Britain soon thereafter by James Henry Atkinson. Twenty or more years before, in 1870, a South Carolinian named W.K. Bachman patented a live-capture mousetrap. The advantage is obvious: for those disinclined to any sort of killing, the mouse can be transferred far away and released. These live-capture traps must be checked regularly, though, because mice can die relatively quickly from dehydration.

Going back to the 1800s my Macdonald ancestors employed another kind of mousetrap: barn cats, unofficial family pets who worked for their dinner. Those barn cats served as bounty hunters who meted out swift justice to mice and rats not only in barns but in the expansive gardens on this part of the Albion River Valley.

* * *

In the realm of local crime and punishment, law and order, a Fort Bragg source called a week ago, saying simply, “Check the agenda for next week's Fort Bragg City Council meeting.”

I promptly plopped myself down in front of the computer, successfully navigated the new City of Fort Bragg website to find a “Consent Calendar” resolution authorizing the hiring of Stephen Willis of Sausalito as an interim police chief for the City of Fort Bragg Police Department. To see the full resolution go to the AVA's Mendocino County Today online section from July 12th. The opening of the resolution says a bunch: “Whereas, Fort Bragg Police Chief Scott Mayberry and Lieutenant John Naulty are both on medical leave and it is uncertain when they will return to work…”

Naulty has apparently been on leave since March 19th when he shot and killed Ricardo Chaney, assailant of Mendocino County Sheriff's Deputy Ricky Del Fiorentino. Even a three and a half month absence might be understandable under those circumstances. I last saw Chief Mayberry in the Ten Mile Courthouse in mid to late June. He seemed to be his usual affable self, laughing while recalling his days as a Fort Bragg High School basketball star in the early 1980s. He provided not a hint of going out on medical leave.

Stephen Willis will be paid $64.33 per hour for his work, not to exceed 80 hours for any two week period beginning July 15, 2014. The contract between Willis and the City of Fort Bragg contains provisions for Willis' total annual salary (not to exceed $61,756.80) and another provision governing his possible employment through the end of April, 2015. All of which makes Chief Mayberry's absence/leave appear more permanent.

On the other hand, Willis is an old hand at the interim business of chiefing. He has filled the same position at the Fort Bragg PD more than once before. Willis served in a similar capacity in Seaside, Monterey County, in 2009.

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