Self-reliance and sustainability in the 21st century.
This is the blog Michelle didn’t want me to write. It’s too personal. It exposes some of the negative details of life here at Sunflower Farm. Some dark corners of the human psyche are just left best left unexplored publicly.
But explore and expose it I must, because it’s part of rural life. In fact, the way things are going, this is becoming more and more a part of city life too. I speak, of course, of dealing with the animals that want to live with you that you don’t want to live with. These can be raccoons or squirrels or mice or rats or bats or possums, the list seems to get longer all the time and urban dwellers are not sheltered from this reality. In fact Toronto, the largest city in Canada, has become the raccoon capital of the world.
While we’ve had bears in the backyard and raccoons in the corn, the big critters seem to leave us alone most of the time. We’ve battled bats in both buildings and have come to accept them as inevitable in a farmhouse that was built in 1888. But flying squirrels have proven to be quite a challenge in the guesthouse. It’s less than 20 years old and has far fewer gaps and crevices than our old farmhouse, but these little creatures are able to contort their bodies into some amazingly small spaces to get in.
My first experience with a flying squirrel took place one night at dusk. I was standing on the driveway and heard a commotion at the top of our 40-foot metal phone tower. Once my eyes had adjusted to the low light and I could finally make it out, I was surprised to see a squirrel at the top of the tower. They don’t usually like climbing metal stuff. I was even more “surprised” when it jumped from the tower into space, and came hurtling towards me at light speed like something fired from a killer drone. It came within a few feet of me before it veered off to a tree branch nearby. This is the now famous incident where I admit to uttering a manly expletive at my surprise of the unexpectedness of it all, while Michelle contends that inside the house she heard me “scream like a girl.” Perhaps the truth lives somewhere in the middle.
The next thing I knew, the flying squirrels had decided to set up camp in the guesthouse. Several of our friends who stayed over had quite exciting nocturnal experiences with them. Ellen likes to regale people with the story of Jerry trapping one in the “Canopy Room” and using a badminton racquet to humanely direct it to the open window as it leaped from wall to ceiling to wall. It was a warm night and Jerry had chosen to sleep without pajamas, and frankly when I think of the unpredictable nature of a trapped and panicked flying squirrel I have an instinctive tendency to want to cover up certain exposed parts of my anatomy.
Which brings us back to why Michelle didn’t want me to write this blog. We have begun hosting paid guests for renewable energy retreats. We offer these as a way for anyone interested in renewable energy to get a real sense of what living off grid and within your means is like. Michelle didn’t want anything out there that would give people pause when it came to booking a visit.
I can now confidently say that the flying squirrel menace has been defeated, but it was not an easy fight. In fact I spent the better part of 6 months trying everything I could think of. There was the standard attempt to use humane elimination through traps. I believe that if I were a mouse or small rodent-like creature who faced an untimely death, I would choose for it to be instantaneous and to not know it was coming. This is how a mousetrap works. One minute you’re eating a tasty treat and then it’s lights out. The treat is the tough part. We keep a small pantry of staples in the guesthouse and the flying squirrels seemed to like to get into just about anything that was wasn’t in an heavy plastic container. Pasta, rice, tetrapaks of almond milk … no problem, the flying squirrels were all over them. Cheese or peanut butter on a trap though - no way. They wanted no part of it. Smart little devils.
I went to Plan “B” which was to plug up all the holes that they seemed to be getting in, but as fast as I could stuff pink insulation in the holes they were tossing it out at night.
I’ve got it admit, it was pretty frustrating. Michelle wouldn’t let me use poison and I agreed. Even though a significant portion of the human population in North America uses Warfarin to help avoid heart attacks, it didn’t seem fair to feed it without prescription to rodents in lethal doses.
That’s when I decided to get into a flying squirrel’s brain to figure out how to get rid of them. If I was a flying squirrel having the time of my life every night in Cam’s guesthouse, what would I find most offensive? What would detract from my quality of life to the highest degree?
It finally hit me. Do what some urban authorities have been doing to discourage loitering… use music! In some cities, they have begun playing classical music to get youth to move on from their hangouts. In this case though, I had a feeling that classical music wouldn’t be discouraging enough.
So I went through all my CDs to try and analyze what would be most offensive to a flying squirrel. Sure Celine Dion might drive them crazy, but if they’d seen Titanic it might have the opposite effect. (OK, I made that up, I don’t even own a Celine Dion CD) My worst fear is that since these are country squirrels, someone like Tim McGraw would draw critters from a huge area around the building. No, it was a gift from my cousin Dave that I finally settled on. It was Velvet Revolver and one of the greatest rock and roll songs of all time called “Slither.” (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BKz2U4fvA4U&ob=av2e)
Those heroin-induced lyrics from Stone Temple Pilot’s Scott Weilands and Guns & Roses caliber guitar licks from Slash and other GNR refugees would be too much for anyone but the hardest core metal head banger. I thought it just might do the trick.
So every night at dusk for the next few weeks I went into the guesthouse and set up an old laptop. I cranked up the external speakers to “11” and put iTunes on replay, so this song would play in a infinite loop all night long until I shut if off. And every morning at dawn I went back out and put on ear protection to turn it off. I could handle the blaring music at night but first thing in the morning, compared to the usual peace and quiet of our place in the woods, it was too much even for me. It was jarring to my system, which is the effect I hoped it would have on the squirrels. And since this was during the spring, with our new batteries our off-grid power system hardly noticed the power use. Quite amazing what you can get out of a little set of speakers these days.
Now I can confidently say that our guesthouse is flying-squirrel-free. I don’t hear them in the walls near my office and there’s no sign of them in the pantry. That’s right flying squirrels; I kicked your ass with superior intelligence and strategy! Led Zeppelin might have done it, Green Day may have been enough, but Velvet Revolver was just too much for any rodent to handle! You want to live in my guesthouse? You can’t handle living in my guesthouse, cause I’ve got “Slither” on my side. Take that you furry little pests!
Now get back to living in the trees in the woods where you belong. I’ve got 150 acres you’re welcome to hang out in. But if you try hanging out in the guesthouse again I’ll call out the heavy artillery. And when PETA contacts me to complain about the cruel and inhumane treatment I will point out that I subjected the critters to nothing more than I’d be prepared to submit to myself. Well, maybe not all night.
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For more stories about dealing with the wildlife, be sure to read our new book "Little House Off the Grid." For more information about Cam or his books please visit www.aztext.com or www.cammather.com