Mithrandir (12,002 - 12,004 H.E.)

On October 10, 12,002 H.E., a friend came into our lives.

At the pet store, we selected a bright-eyed grey hamster. Given his color, "Gandalf" was entirely too obvious a name; Sylvia suggested "Mithrandir," and that fit perfectly. We called him "Mith" for short. Like his namesake, Mith was exceptional: he was intelligent, somewhat independent, very friendly, and more than a bit magical.

Mith grew up in a complex environment with lots of mental stimulation. As a result, he was easily the smartest hamster we've ever had. Now, you may find it strange to describe a little ball of fluff as "smart," but that's the only word (unless you like "clever" better).

Mith learned to respond to his name (both "Mithrandir" and "Mith"). Lots of hamsters can do that. But he also learned the word "No!" And he learned the names of several parts of the Castle. If you said "Skyhouse" several times, he would go to his Skyhouse. Likewise, he knew "Jungle Gym" and "Out in the Lounge." (For the latter, he would scurry down to the House on the Floor, as described below.) From his Skyhouse, he responded to "Out on a Hand" by climbing up onto a proffered hand.

The first time we gave Mith a peanut (in the shell), he grasped it crossways in his mouth and headed for a tube. But this peanut, like most, was too big to fit in a tube widthwise. Our other hamsters, faced with this dilemma, had always approached it with stubborn trail-and-error, until eventually they hit on holding the peanut by the small end, so it went down the tube lengthwise.

Mith hit the tube and the peanut wouldn't go. He backed up and dropped the peanut. He looked from peanut to tube, then deliberately lifted the peanut by the small end and successfully carried it through the tube to his nest on the first try. This was a level of abstract thought we had never seen in a hamster.

In later life, Mith learned to communicate selected wants and desires to his Uncles. By position and stance, he was able to tell us whether he wanted a treat, ripped up toilet paper for his nest, or to come out and play. Eventually, he was able to refine the "I want a treat" behavior to ask for either lettuce or a strawberry drop.

As you'll see below, he displayed his intelligence a lot of other ways.

We never knew exactly how Mith thought about us, but he was definitely conscious of us as entities with wills of our own, separate from him. He was always aware of when we were watching him. He always acknowledged us, but interaction was almost always on his timetable, not ours. (Mith did like to be admired, and would always show himself when we had guests.) Otherwise, he would wake up in the evening, do his cleaning and have a snack and other important hamster stuff, and only then visit with his Uncles. When he wanted to be affectionate, he would -- often he would come up to the Skyhouse just to sniff a finger and say hello, then go back to his own business.

Mith had a very independent sense of pride. He never wanted help for something he could do himself. If you tried to help him, he would move away and go on to something else. But with things that he knew were too hard for him (like getting down from the big TV), he never had a problem accepting help.

For two years, Mithrandir was our friend and our constant delight. More than content, he was an obviously happy hamster. He had a large, interesting, and challenging world...and he had the capacity to enjoy that world on a far deeper level than any hamster we've ever had. We truly believe that Mith was the happiest hamster in the known universe. His life was full and joyous.

Mortality is the curse of us all, and in the fullness of time Mith began to slow down, spending more and more time asleep and stirring from his nest only occasionally. He was in no apparent pain or discomfort. Until the end, he continued to take his favorite treats happily. We even played The Nummy Game (see below) a few times.

Mith never wanted our help for things he could do himself, and so it was. On the weekend of November 26-28, 12,004 H.E., while we were away, our Grey Pilgrim departed this world. We found him on the afternoon of the 28th, curled up peacefully; he had gone to sleep and never awakened. No doubt he was dreaming of climbing his bars, running around in his Lounge, and playing with his Uncles.

Our hamsters are precious, and each is a delight. But Mithrandir was special. He was the most remarkable hamster ever. And he was a dear friend. We will never stop missing him.

Here are some pictures, along with narration describing a typical evening's fun as Mith came out of the Castle to run around in the Lounge.

CAUTION: Mithrandir was a well-trained and very experienced hamster. Some of the following pictures show him doing very dangerous things. DO NOT let your hamster do the dangerous things you see Mithrandir doing below. Always supervise your hamster when it is out of its habitat. Some of the things below could KILL a hamster. YOU HAVE BEEN WARNED!

 Mith's adventure starts in the Jungle Gym.

He was very good at climbing the bars, especially to get a treat. Mith invented something we called The Nummy Game. He would climb up the side of the Jungle Gym and demand a treat (a "nummy"). He'd put the nummy in his puch, then move to a new position and get another nummy. This went on until both cheeks were bulging. Then he would call "time out" and run back to his nest to empty his cheeks. Then he'd be back, ready for another round. A good Nummy Game would last four or five rounds. (Yes, he invented this game. We said he was smart.)

(At first we used hamster treats to play The Nummy Game, but that started to get expensive. After a while we settled on generic Cheerios. He could hold a good three or four dozen Cheerios in his cheeks at once.)

Another game he invented was The Peanut Game. In this game, he came to his skyhouse to get a peanut (in the shell). He took the peanut in his mouth, carried it to the opposite end of his labyrinth, and then returned for another peanut. When he'd had enough fun, he stopped. We once played The Peanut Game for seventeen consecutive peanuts.

But Mith's favorite thing was to come out and run around in the Lounge. When he wanted to do this, he would scurry down to the House on the Floor and look hopefully up at us. When we opened the door, he was out in a flash, off on an adventure that could easily last for hours.

When Mith came out in the Lounge, we always put a Hamster Barrier across the door. The room was secure, so a hamster could not escape from the room while the Hamster Barrier was in place.

Or course, there were still many places a hamster could hide...especially one as smart as Mith. When he was out of sight too long, we started to worry. But nine times out of ten, if we called his name enough times, he would show himself -- often coming out to crawl onto a foot or stand directly before us until we acknowledged him. Then, back to his important hamster business.


In the course of his travels, Mith almost always found food. Peanuts, trail mix, seeds, strawberry drops, lettuce, and cheese were among his favorites (he particularly liked Gouda). Sometimes he would re-enter the Castle several times during the evening to empty his cheeks.

Sometimes he would leave peanuts or other treats lie -- only to return to them several hours (or even days) later. At some point he would decide that he'd had enough of the Lounge, and he would go around collecting all the treats he had left, making a beeline from one to another until he had them all in his cheeks. Then he'd go back in the Castle.

(We said he was smart.)

 Mith loved to climb. He practiced a lot, with his Uncles standing by to catch him when he fell. By the time these pictures were taken, Mith was a very experienced climber.

DO NOT let your hamster climb like this without supervision. A hamster could die from a fall.

Here Mith is on his way up to the top of the bigscreen TV, about four feet above the floor. The first part is easy: up a stairstep series of videocassettes, then up the copier paper box...


Warning: Professional Hamster on Closed Course. Do Not Attempt.


Warning: Professional Hamster on Closed Course. Do Not Attempt.

...This next part is a little tricky. There's a piece of coarse fabric hanging behind the electrical cords, and Mith pulls himself up by his nimble hamster claws.

DO NOT let your hamster climb like this without supervision. A hamster could die from a fall.

DO NOT let your hamster play near electrical cords. A hamster could chew on the cords and electrocute itself.

We taught Mith that the electrical cords were dangerous. He learned not to even think about chewing on them. (Well, maybe he thought about it. But he knew that he was not to make any motions in that direction.)

After a year or so, Mith got tired of pulling himself up the coarse fabric. So he invented something new. He stopped on top of the copier paper box and stared at his Uncle Thomas. (An Uncle was always within reach when Mith climbed.) After a while, Uncle Thomas held out his hand -- and Mith scrambled up his arm to the top of the TV. From that day on, Mith never climbed that last foot. He always waited for an Uncle's arm.

(We said he was smart. We trained him, and he trained us.)

 Up on the TV at last. Mith almost always found some food up there.

He liked to climb on the electronics and bric-a-brac. After a while, Uncle Thomas built him a cardboard box with several holes cut in it.

There was also a Cleaning Spot up there. Mith would sit and clean for ten minutes or more at a time, occasionally looking out to survey his vast domain.

When he was done, Mith came to the Staging Point and waited for one of his Uncles to put out a hand. Then he climbed onto the hand and waited to be ferried down to lower regions.

(Early on, he tried climbing down from the top of the TV, but he could never manage to go down the coarse fabric. After enough tries, he realized that this was something he couldn't do himself.)



Warning: Professional Hamster on Closed Course. Do Not Attempt.

Another place Mith liked to climb was the back of the Wicker Chair. This took him to an altitude of perhaps five feet.

DO NOT let your hamster climb like this without supervision. A hamster could die from a fall.

Mith always had supervision when he climbed. In addition, there were lots of soft things under the wicker chair, so that when he fell, he landed safely.

Early on, Mith taught himself to climb up the inside of the radiator. He would just chimney up like a rock climber. (Of course, the radiator was turned off and cooled down. We never let him out when the radiator was hot.) DO NOT let your hamster play around a hot radiator. The heat would literally COOK a hamster, killing it. After a few months, Mith discovered how to climb down the inside of the radiator. He didn't do this the way a human would, backing down -- no, he went down head-first, one step at a time, in a completely-controlled fashion.

(We said he was smart.)

 After climbing up the radiator, Mith usually jumped over to the arm of the couch. From there it was a straight shot over the Kenny doll to the back of the couch...



...from the back of the couch, he could slide down to the Giant Hamster, and from there to the couch seat.

Sometimes he approached the couch from the other direction. He climbed up the Giant Hamster and then leaped from the Giant Hamster's head to the back of the couch.

Sometimes he climbed up the pile of pillows on the left, until he was at the very top. Then he'd slide down.

Mith was always very patient about letting us pick him up and pet him, although he made it clear that he was on Important Hamster Business and didn't care to be delayed too long. On occasion, that Important Hamster Business involved climbing up an Uncle's leg or up to a seated Uncle's shoulder. Mith could be quite affectionate to us when he was in the mood.

 Of course, he always investigated anything that was on the couch.

DO NOT let your hamster play with batteries. If a hamster chews on batteries, acid could burn the hamster and chemicals could poison it.

Mith always had supervision when he was on the couch. At first we had to push him away from dangerous things, but eventually he learned the word "No!" When one of us shouted "No!" he stopped what he was doing.

(We said he was smart.)


Warning: Professional Hamster on Closed Course. Do Not Attempt.


Warning: Professional Hamster on Closed Course. Do Not Attempt.

Often, Mith just ran around on the floor, seeing what he could find. He sniffed everything interesting.

DO NOT let your hamster play near wires. A hamster could chew on the wires and electrocute itself.

Mith knew where everything was, and he had his special places. One place was a cardboard box partially filled with books. He liked to climb into the box and clean for a while, then climb out and continue his explorations.

After a while, the cardboard flap started to come apart where he climbed on it. Soon, it wouldn't support him and he had no way to get out of the box. This was one place where he was willing to accept help. But he wouldn't climb up on a hand to get out of the box...the most he would accept was a little boost from behind as he climbed. I think we were supposed to pretend that we weren't really boosting him.

In this picture, you can see Mith investigating an electromagnet that he built.

(Oaky, he was smart, but he wasn't that smart. But we had you for a second, didn't we?)

 This is the House on the Floor, which was Mith's gateway to the Castle.

During an evening's adventures, he would sometimes return to the Castle to poop, take a drink, or drop off some food. In that case, he was soon back down, and heaven help you if the door wasn't still open. He had this guilt-inducing stare that was worse than my mother's.

Other times, he was done exploring. Those times, he went back in the Castle and went off to sleep, or to dig in his basement, or to sit peacefully in his little hamster hole amid the wood shavings. Then you could put the door back.

See the red piece by Mith's butt? Half of that used to be an intact door. One time, Mith chewed through it. (We said he was smart.) After that, he had the run of the Lounge (and the rest of the house) whenever he wanted it.

It probably took Uncle Don a few days to notice. Oh, a few things were out of place, as if they had fallen...but Uncle Don figured it was due to a mouse in the house or something. One day, Mith went down to his House on the Floor like usual. Uncle Don reached down and removed the red door...and Mith looked at Uncle Don as if Uncle Don had lost his little mind.

It wasn't until Mith went back in, and Uncle Don replaced the door, that Uncle Don noticed the door had been chewed through. No wonder Mith had given him that "you idiot" look!


Mithrandir was succeeded by Butters.


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