July 2011 -- On Tuesday morning this week, I opened the side door of the garage/barn/shed and found most of my natural history museum scattered around the floor. The rabbit skull, the petrified lichen, a big pine cone, the mourning dove nest were strewn along with gardening tools and materials. The weed killer concentrate was on its side leaking a little next to gardening gloves. The yellow plastic bucket in which I keep the weed killer sprayer was broken, a piece of it lay on the floor. Across the door was the handle for the window washer. Pink packing peanuts were strewn about.
I looked behind the door and more stuff from shelves there was scattered around. Old spray paint cans, brass oil cans small and large. One was still on the shelf above the windows, but only just. I pushed it back. On the floor at the back of the room were the parts of the patio table that was in storage and the container with its fasteners was on the ground metal screws and nuts spread out around it.
Something or someone had been in here. I’m not that messy.
I put the things back and cleaned up the potting table, while looking around for an entry point. That wasn't difficult. A hole in the wall near the sill. The little bugger had been busy, too, chewing the wood away from around the electrical conduit pipe. I cleaned that up and wondered how I could block it. I put the bucket back in front of it, hoping that would do the trick and went about my business.
The next morning. Same thing. Less of a mess because I had moved “my” stuff away from the critter’s run, which was apparently in through the hole, up the window washer pole and onto the potting counter. Then under the potting counter. Then up the wall on the other side of the door and across the room on the shelves over the window and on the windowsill. It knocked the orange hula hoop off its hook at the back of the garage so it must have been traveling through the big ceiling shelf where rolls of chicken wire and plastic grass and black plastic ground cover are stored. Nothing knocked down there. Thence to the back window sill and across the boxes and bales lined up beneath the window knocking over flower pots and anything else in the way and finally into the little wood pile—a neat stack of wood remnants that I use for one project or another. Not bothering anybody back there in the corner, except the critter.
These disturbances looked so violent. Like something was having way too much fun. What could make it that destructive? After two visits, wasn’t it assured that there was no food here? What made it so ornery?
And what species was “it?” The thought crossed my mind that it was Sammi, the stray cat I had adopted for nine days during the winter of 2009-10. I always figured she’d get back here somehow even though I had given her to a shelter fifteen miles away. So, maybe she had come back and was announcing herself.
My friend Ann, came for a day-long visit on Wednesday and I told her what I had discovered two mornings running. She said, "Maybe it’s a mouse. Or a rat! Set a trap!"
“Set a trap!?” I replied with an eek in my voice. “Set a trap? And then have to pick the thing up!?” Immediate visions crossed my mind of the time I found a drowned squirrel in the rain barrel behind the garage. That time I had, indeed, picked the thing up with a shovel and buried it. I will never forget the weight of that dead, wet animal in my hands. I shivered.
“Yes,” she said, thinking fast. “Set the trap on newspapers. Then all you have to do is pick up the newspapers and throw the bundle in the garbage can. Throw the trap away, too. People try to save the traps. Buy a bunch of traps at the dollar store.”
I just stared at her. “A rat?” I kept thinking. “A rat? We don’t have rats around here. Do we?”
That morning, I had decided to fight back because the thing had got in again. (I kind of knew that bucket would be no defense.) So, I rummaged around and found not one, but two unopened boxes of moth balls. They had worked very well to discourage a cat from the front porch many years ago. I thought, well, if this is a cat, then it should do the trick. If it’s not, maybe it will do the trick anyway.
So, I tidied up the hole again and laid a layer of moth balls in it. The fumes were so strong I couldn’t bear to be in the garage with the door wide open!
The next morning, Thursday, I opened up and there was the window washer pole across the floor and the broken glass of a former thermos bottle interior which I had saved for garden art. And among the shards were moth balls, the remains of the bird’s nest and under the potting counter a strew of pink packing peanuts.
“What is it with those packing peanuts?” I wondered.
I didn’t bother cleaning up until I got home from work late in the afternoon. As I was sweeping up the glass, I thought, “Hmmm. Why not put this stuff in the hole? They put that sharp rock stuff where the snails go. Maybe an ouchie from this stuff will deter the varmint.”
I also went to the far corner of the garage and plugged up a hole I had seen there. And while I was at it, disposed of some boxes that I knew I wouldn’t ever use. Tidied up here and there and found another hole on the other side of the door. The critter had been chewing or scratching on that wood sill, too. So, I blocked it with a piece of something flat—ceiling tile I think—then replaced the iron anvil that had somehow been moved. Behind that I rolled up the dolley. And behind that set a heavy can of paint.
“Hah, hah. That’ll slow ‘em up!” I said to myself. As I closed up for the night, the room still reeked from mothballs.
What puzzled me is that even though most of the destruction involved knocking things off shelves, on Friday morning when I opened up, the smaller of the two caps on the lawnmower gasoline container was on the floor. The “something” had to have unscrewed it!
That was too creepy. It reminded me of other objects I had found displaced around the yard over the years. Things like a gourd or the top of a carved pumpkin which had been set aside carefully or placed seemingly with thought between two rocks. It was as though people—little people?--had been at work out there during the night. Now, here was this careful placement happening inside of a building. Not too far from the gas container cap was one of the big pieces of the thermos bottle glass, out of the hole and on the floor. On the outside of the building, one, just one, of the four rocks that I had used to block the hole had been moved to the side. That’s all the space the varmint had needed to get in.
This morning, the plastic container with motor oil in it, which I had left on some paper on the floor, had finally been knocked over. As far as I could tell, the wall shelves hadn’t been disturbed. So, I went about my yardwork, watering I the patio plants and the vegetable garden. When I was done, I went back into the garage and checked the second hole. It l looked like it hadn't been used. So, I decided to go to Plan C which was to place a piece of hard, clear plastic on the sill in front of hole number 1 and back it up with something heavy.
I walked over to my stash of plastic pieces and started rifling through the bag when something alive caught my eye. I shrieked and jumped and there on the floor was a hairy, gray animal lying in a semi-circle looking at me with one shiny, shoe-buttony black eye! I shrieked again and moved away as fast as I could. What the h--- was it?!
From the other side of the garage I looked back. It was moving. Trying to get up. The long tail. Well, my first thought was opossum. It wouldn’t be the first time I’d encountered one. But this one wasn’t hissing.
“Oh, my god!” I kept saying to myself as I mentally hopped around from one foot to the other. (I have this irrational fear of rodents biting my toes.) I went into the house. “ Oh, my god! Gotta call animal control! No! Just open the big door, maybe it’ll leave!” So, I went for the phone book. Too shook up to find the right page. Found the garage door opener. Pushed the button. Surely, it’ll just walk away or run for hills.
Nothing happened. It got up. Just barely. Very weak-in-the-knees. Do opossum have knees? I could see that its face was pointy with dark stripes. It wobbled to the wall and tried to burrow behind something standing there. Then it came back to behind the wheel of the car. Lay down. Then it got up. Now tried to hide in another place. It was weak and shakey. Pathetic.
By now I had found the animal control phone number and was talking with the man. I explained that the animal was in the garage and either dying or about to give birth. He said he’d be right over.
So, a opossum can climb. Of course they can. Why didn’t I remember or think of that? There were one or two in a tree near my bedroom window one night. And twenty years ago when I used to park my Chevette in the driveway, one morning I came out and saw an animal under the car. When I opened the hood, there was the pink snout and beady eyes of a pale, whitish mother opossum and she hissed at me! She had nested on the wheel well. I remember thinking, as the animal control man took her and the children away, that she was an awfully caring mother as she had thoughtfully made her nest partially with coupons.
I’ve been pestered by rabbits all summer. First there was one that seemed to live in the flower bed in the center of the yard. I kind of trained it not to eat the good stuff. It really seemed to understand. It would look at me with one eye and it knew, of course, that I wouldn’t hurt it. On a good day, I’d chase it around while talking to it. On a bad day, I’d just shrug my shoulders as I told it to go elsewhere.
Then, Benny—that’s what I called it—brought a pal. A baaaaaad influence. It was smaller, so I thought it was either “his” girlfriend or “her” baby. Either way, they started attacking the “good stuff,” i.e., the broccoli and sunflowers. One evening as I made the rounds of the garden I murmurred, “Wait a minute. Something’s missing here.” And sure enough, the runt of the broccoli plants had been nibbled to a nub of stem. Every leaf gone! And Benny had been lured back to the sunflower plants.
"Enough!" I rumbled.
The next morning, at 6 a.m., I used up the last of my dad’s chicken wire to make cages for the broccoli and encircled the sunflower with whatever I could find in the garage. So far that had worked. But Benny and Company are still around nibbling at the clover in the lawn and I think they like chives and onion tops, too.
Last summer, it was in August when I was working at about 11 p.m. in the dining room and heard footsteps on the roof. It’s a flat roof with no attic so it really scared me. It was like something out of a horror movie, except why, in real life, would the “monster” bother tapping on the roof when he/she could just break a window or a door? I listened and listened and finally decided it must—it MUST—be an animal. So, I decided to investigate. I went outside armed with a broom and down the driveway to a point at which I thought I could see the top of the diningroom roof. But I couldn’t. Whatever it was was had either hidden in the shadows up there or had run off.
A few days later, my friend Marilyn and I chatting away in the diningroom at about 2 a.m., when what do you know? The rooftop prowler came back. This time I was panicky. (How is it one can be brave alone, but become flummoxed when there’s company?)
We figured it was an animal and speculated as to how and why it was up there and then the noise stopped.
I hadn’t locked the garage for the night, yet, so we went outside together. The floodlight went on. I locked the garage door and turned back to the house when I saw the reflecting eyes of a raccoon in the driveway. It just stood there. I made a big noise with the closest lawn chair The animal jumped a little, then ambled into the bushes alongside the drive and into the neighbor’s yard.
Later that summer, about 11 p.m., I looked out my bedroom window before going to bed. I just knew “something” was out there. Once my eyes adjusted to the dark, there it was. A fat opossum rooting around in the flower bed. Totally oblivious.As I watched, another movement caught my eye. There was a pale cat wandering through the yard toward the flowers and the opossum. It came around behind the opossum and I was fascinated. What would happen next?
The cat surveyed the situation. It got up behind the opossum. Thought a little more. Then turned around and went back into the yard and crossed over to the patio. The opossum never knew.
I went to the kitchen windows to see what the cat would do next. As I watched, it went down the driveway a little—then turned around. It was waiting and watching, too, as a skunk waddled across the driveway and into the neighbor’s yard. The cat then turned and continued on its nightly rounds somewhere across the street from me.
This morning, as I continued to watch the death throes of the animal in the garage from the safety of the back door of the house, I heard a noise and thought it must be the “dog catcher.” I went out onto the patio and looked down the drive and sure enough, it was. He was pretty spiffy-looking with a uniform and the loop-on-a-stick that I have come to know and love.
We said good morning and I pointed out the perpetrator, which had by not tried to hide behind the bag of plastic pieces. "His" head was facing out, though, as if he knew the drill.The animal control officer got the loop around his middle and tightened it enough to lift him.
“Is it an opossum?” I asked as he passed me on the driveway.
“Yeah,” he said. Then took a brief look at the animal’s underside and shrugged. “Maybe got hit by a car. They live a rough life.”
“They sure do,” I agreed.
I watched him walk down the drive, the animal hanging limp from the loop--dying? Or just playing opossum? When they reached the van, I turned away.
"Who needs pets," I thought, "when you have a garden?"