Friday, December 6, 2013
Running a bit late for a selectmen’s meeting a few years ago, I didn’t turn on the light as I headed toward the garage. I felt our cat move across my feet in front of me and reached down to pet him. Bad mistake.
The skunk blasted me right in the face, and I staggered and started running back upstairs, shedding my stinking clothing along the way before jumping into the shower. Linda later collected the clothing and threw it away.
I eventually got to the selectmen’s meeting. No one sat near me.
Last week, I wrote about Jim Sterba’s book, “Nature Wars,” which offers a fascinating look at out-of-control populations of wildlife, explains why this has happened, and relates many backyard battles with a variety of critters from deer to beaver.
Sterba, however, neglected one crucial aspect of this problem, when the battles move into the home.
And I’m not just talking about mice, although we’ve done battle with plenty of them. One winter, I caught 38, an even dozen of them trapped in a kitchen drawer. And this didn’t count the mice our cat killed. Often we wake in the middle of the night to a commotion in the dining room outside our bedroom door, as the cat and his quarry careen around the room.
Bats are a particular challenge. In the early years, I’d try to kill them with a fireplace poker. For years, there was a hole in our kitchen ceiling where I missed a bat once.
Since learning about the benefits bats bring to the neighborhood, and worried about their diminishing populations, I now catch them in a long-handled fishing net, gently releasing them outside.
Then there is the snake episode. Linda hates snakes. One day as she was washing the kitchen floor, she moved a wicker basket that I’d left outside for some time the day before, and a large snake slithered out of the bottom of the basket.
She grabbed the fireplace shovel and jumped up on a kitchen chair, gradually bludgeoning the harmless thing to death. At one point in this fierce battle, she called me. All I could do was encourage her to keep at it. She was still shaken up when I got home, and even now she shudders when I bring up the incident.
Every wild critter that can get into the house does so. Red squirrels are particularly nettlesome. I watch for them at the bird feeder, and if they turn toward the house after dining, I shoot them. If they head for the woods, they get a reprieve. A chipmunk currently resides in my workshop and the garage, darting into a tunnel under the cement floor when he sees me.
One sunny Saturday morning, I opened the bulkhead door to air out the cellar. A bit later, heading out of the cellar up the bulkhead’s steps, I met a huge raccoon coming down the steps. We had a staredown, and he eventually reversed course. I’m not sure what would have happened if he’d continued down the steps.
And then there was the night I woke to a terrible ruckus directly below my pillow, under the floor. Turned out to be mating raccoons.
One morning, Lin was getting ready for school and there was a chickadee on her computer, apparently brought into the house by the cat. Another time, the cat brought in a sparrow. Lin yelled at the cat, and he dropped the bird. It promptly lifted off and flew into my office. Lin put on a pair of gloves and chased the bird around the room, finally catching and setting it outside. Not all wildlife-in-the-home stories have a bad ending.
Some of these encounters are frightening, however, especially the rabid fox that entered our garage while I was out of town. Lin called the local game warden, and he came and shot it. Our dog, chained in the front yard, had to be quarantined for a while, even though we didn’t know whether it got near the fox. All was well that ended well.
And I guess that’s the message here. Choosing to live in and around their homes, we must expect, occasionally, that these wild critters will like our homes. Some, we can live with. Some, not so much.
George Smith is a writer and TV talk show host. He can be reached at 34 Blake Hill Road, Mount Vernon 04352, or email@example.com. Read more of Smith’s writings at www.georgesmithmaine.com.