Self-reliance and sustainability in the 21st century.
When you live in a house that was built in 1888, it’s best to lower your expectations in terms of anything being perfect. A cat toy ball left anywhere in our living room will roll quickly down to the middle of the floor in front of the fireplace. When I sit on the couch in the living room I can see through to the back door and I’m in awe that it can open at all when I see the angle it’s on relative to the frame. Not surprisingly our house is not exactly airtight and so small creatures can get it. Every fall there is a mass migration of mice into the house. Sometimes the cats are able to hunt them down, but it’s mostly traps and me. Even though Michelle is an animal lover she allows me to take out the mice. As long as I use traps that kill them instantly, they are open territory when they come into the house and attempt to get into our food.
Right now, in January, we have a few mosquitoes in the house. It’s very weird. I always thought mosquito larvae needed water to hatch in. We have no standing water in the house so I don’t know where they come from. I used to think maybe they were breeding in the septic tank then flying back up the drains into the bathroom, where they are most prevalent, but they’d have to get through the trap in the drain that is filled with water. So what, are my polar mosquitoes also amphibious? I’ve given up worrying about it. They seem sort of dozy and don’t bite in the winter, so I ignore them.
For years we had bats living in our roof. We’d hear them scurrying around between the metal roof shingles and the wooden roof. They moved out when we had the siding on our house redone. Luckily the new siding plugged up the holes in the soffit, which is where they used to get through. If I had a dollar for every time I’ve had to lie in bed listening to bats scratching the drywall just above my head, I’d be a rich man.
Our guesthouse built by the previous owners of this house is “board and batten.” This is a building style that should be called “Board and (let the) Bats In” because small animals are drawn to it. The board and batten technique uses wide boards spaced about an inch apart with a smaller board screwed over the spaces. It looks very rustic but it’s not very practical. Wood isn’t perfect and the wood used in our guesthouse is rough-cut pine with lots of knotholes and other imperfections. Also, as the wood has aged it has shrunk in spots, creating large gaps. There are an infinite number of small spaces for creatures to squish themselves through. One wildlife expert told us that if you can fit a butter knife into a slot, then a bat could get in to it too.
When we first moved in, the guesthouse was like a Holiday Inn Express for bats. There were tons of them in there. Usually I have a “live and let live” attitude, but bat “guano” can be hazardous so they had to leave. We had a wildlife expert come out and Michelle made it very clear that she wanted them to be removed humanely. He told me how to do it, and it was an insane amount of work. Basically I had to seal up every hole they were using to get in and out. This took weeks and I was sure to leave one main exit hole for them. Then I had to use an “excluder” as the wildlife expert called it. This was basically a heavy plastic bag (the size of a sandwich bag) with both ends cut out. I attached it around the remaining hole. The bats could get out through the bag but couldn’t get back in.
Just to be sure I made sure to seal up the hole that night at dusk after they had all left. I stood and watched them all leaving. After watching about 60 bats leave I stopped counting because it was getting too dark. The cats really enjoyed the show. They sat beside me and leapt at every bat as it became airborne. It was a low-tech solution but it worked. With the number of mosquitoes we have we definitely wanted to keep the bats around, not just in our building. Some moved into the “Bat House” that we installed on the side of the guesthouse and others moved into the roof of the doghouse. Morgan the Wonder Dog doesn’t seem to mind.
Bats weren’t the only creatures getting in to our guesthouse. We have also had to deal with a family of flying squirrels. I don’t know whether you’ve seen a flying squirrel but they are a crazy-looking creature. They have huge eyes since they’re nocturnal (at least mine seem to be) and have big fluffy tails and tiny bodies.
My first encounter with a flying squirrel came one summer night at dusk. I was out in the driveway putting something in the car and I thought I heard a squirrel scampering up the 40’ radiophone antenna. I thought it was weird because squirrels usually like to climb wood (trees) and this was an aluminum tower. But up it scampered. So I stood there watching it climb and when it got to the top it sat there for a minute. I’m pretty sure it saw me. Then it leapt into the air and sailed right at me at about 400 miles an hour. I was dumbfounded. I’d never seen a squirrel leap before and this was leap into space and it was coming right at me at a high rate of speed. Seconds before impact it veered off into a tree just over the car. It scared the crap out of me. I believe I said a loud, manly four-letter expletive, but in a most dignified and tough guy way. Michelle was in the house and said I screamed like a girl. The truth perhaps lies somewhere in between.
The squirrels have never shown themselves to me but have entertained our guests on occasion. Our friends Ellen and Jerry spotted one, as they got ready for bed one night. Jerry managed to corner the squirrel in the other bedroom and he found a badminton racquet to swing at it. That room has a glass door and Ellen was able to witness the whole event. The squirrel jumped and flew from wall to roof to wall as Jerry tried to convince it to escape out of a window. It was summer. It was warm. And so Jerry wasn’t wearing any pajamas. I’m sure you can picture the scenario. Jerry is a very intelligent guy but I had to wonder who in their right mind would take on an erratic, leaping, unpredictable sharp-clawed creature without wearing any protective gear, especially in critical locations. I would have donned my chainsaw pants, winter coat, protective headgear, ski goggles, and even my leather woodstove gloves.
One morning a family member (lets call him ‘Dave’) regaled us with his tale of the exploits of the previous night’s activities. He too had cornered a squirrel in the other bedroom, but then decided to leave that door open and go back into his own bedroom. I asked why he would allow it back into the building when he had it cornered in one room. He suggested that he felt it had managed to get into the building, so it would probably realize that this was a hostile environment and happily retrace its steps and exit as it entered. I’m not so sure that a flying squirrel would have the where-with-all to remember how it got in.
When I’m out walking in the woods I often see large rocks turned over where a black bear has been looking for grubs and insects to eat. I have often seen other sign that bears have been nearby recently, but somehow bears seem sort of cute and tame and predictable. You raise your hands and act big and they lumber off. I have never seen a bear leap from a tree, spread itself into a flying pattern and veer off seconds before it hits me. Flying squirrels on the other hand have earned my lifelong respect.
Photos by Cam Mather and wikicommons.