The Critter Chronicles

When a skunk comes a-knocking . . .

A few years ago, while I was reading in the living room one early morning, I heard a small knocking sound. I opened the front door, but no one was there. I heard it again – and then again. It seemed to be progressing around the house toward the kitchen. But my book was exciting, and my interest wasn’t sufficiently aroused until I noticed a movement in the yard. It was a skunk, and he was moving slowly along because he couldn’t see where he was going. He had a mayonnaise bottle over his head.

I went outside and approached him. But not too closely. I considered my options. The best one seemed to be to call Walter Wlodyka, who advertises skunk and raccoon removal in the phone book. I called him, but there was no answer, so I left a message.

Meanwhile, the little skunk was progressing slowly across the lawn, shaking his head from side to side, and I knew I had to stop him, or he might disappear into the underbrush before Walter came. I found an old bushel basket near the tool shed and approached the skunk – from the front. Gently I dropped the basket over him and returned to my reading.

It was the right thing to have done. In his fury at being trapped, he swung his head against the basket and loosened the jar, which fell off his head. Then he crawled out from under the basket and went back to wherever skunks call home. I looked out later, and only saw the basket and the empty jar. It was a happy ending.

That wasn’t my only run-in with a skunk. One night before I fell asleep, I thought I heard a small noise outside my bedroom window. I listened for a bit, but then fell asleep, wondering what it was. The next morning, still curious, I went outside to look for clues. I found a baby skunk had fallen into the window well outside my bedroom and couldn’t get out.

When I had a hip replacement, the hospital gave me a device to pick up things I could not reach. I went and got it. I was afraid to squeeze it too tightly around the tiny skunk’s body, as I didn’t want to kill him. As I tried to rescue him, he took offense, snarled, and fought the contraption. But I finally grabbed him by the tail and lifted him onto the patio, where he shook himself and strolled off with as much dignity as he could muster. When it happened again the next year, perhaps to an offspring of the first foolish skunk, I hired somebody to put screens over my window wells, and I have been skunk-free ever since.
– shirley w. mayhew

Penne in your purse; where to store all those carbs

A couple winters ago, we left our home in West Tisbury for a four-month stay in London. When we returned in the spring, we found the house and garage as secure and weather tight as we had left them. After we turned on the water and heat, swept, mopped, and dusted, I turned my attention to the storage areas: the crawl space and the adjacent cedar closet.

In addition to out-of-season clothes and accessories, and too many unused-but-can’t-get-rid-of items, this is where we had stored dried food, such as spaghetti, rice, crackers – the result of overbuying at BJ’s.

As I started going through the handbags hanging in the cedar closet, my hands closed on broken lengths of linguini. Another tote contained lengths of spaghetti. On examining shoes and boots, I found rice filling the toe of one boot. Nothing was chewed; there were no holes in the bags or the shoes.
I examined the boxes of pasta in the crawl space and discovered some of them were open and there was pasta on the floor, but not much. I found more linguini in luggage. It seemed unlikely that mice could carry that much dried pasta. Some droppings indicated it was clearly a small rodent. I decided it must have been chipmunks.

But why no sign of chewing? There was no damage to anything except the boxes. How did they transport lengths of pasta six to eight inches long? Had they worked together, each taking an end?

They had apparently never returned to eat their stores. Perhaps they filled their little cheeks with all the broken pasta they could carry and left the rest. Once we returned to occupy the house, I suppose they were frightened away, or perhaps they simply forgot.

I no longer keep dried foods in the crawl space, although I have stored some winter vegetables. But nothing has been touched. Sometimes I think I hear a faint sound of movement in the ceiling of the crawl space. I don’t really mind harboring some small neighbors during the cold winter.

However, last winter I discovered the birdseed I had brought into the house from the garage – where the squirrels had gotten to it – had been transported into the toes of shoes. Part of a bag of rice was in a rolled-up rug.

With some sadness I called pest control. The diagnosis came back “mice, not chipmunks,” and traps were set. The first night produced eight small bodies, the next four, and then one. There must have been a family living in our crawl space. This taught me that we cannot sentimentalize our wild neighbors. We each need to respect the boundaries: They live outside; we live inside. You intrude at your own risk.
– sally bennett

A stern defense of a garden

We live in quasi-bucolic bliss in the more rural outlands of Oak Bluffs. And we are generally good neighbors, who love most things natural, but not all the critters that rob us.   
There will always be wildlife visiting gardens, ours included, and we had accepted that. We had considered it just another part of living within and among nature . . . but all that changed when the booty went from a few sprigs of parsley to whole tomato plants.

The harvest of 2005 was, perhaps, where we tasted the greatest defeat. We were suddenly caught in a battle of finely tuned wits. Though meek at a glance, our foe had us cold. We were, at once, at the wiles, hands, and tiny feet of the one we call Genius Squirrel.

A rascal of indeterminate age and hazy background, with an almost kleptomaniacal enthusiasm for what was ours, Genius Squirrel beat us at every turn. Cleverly attuned to our schedule, he struck the moment we weren’t looking. When he tired of our corn and beans, he went for the cherished tomatoes.

We initially admired his voracity and saw his only crime as an attempt to feed his family, really just an act of survival. While not pleased, we understood.

Then, his hunger – or tastes – ran bold beyond discretion. Genius Squirrel, having run through our ripe red plums, picked our green tomatoes, in broad daylight, with the manifest destiny of his pioneer ancestors, and carried them off to the family aerie.

We chuckled, at first, thinking the foolish creature had mistaken immature preserves for acorns, and we tolerated this again, with growing disdain. Then it became clear that he was socking away the fruits for future indulgences, id est, putting up our tomatoes for his winter. He knew they weren’t nuts but apparently thought we were.    

So, we set about to capture and dissuade him from his banditry, a feat that soon cost us all of our tomatoes and much of our self-respect. That whiskered and scurrying Stephen Hawking repeatedly outsmarted Havahart traps, fleeing with the bait after leveling our parsley crop, assaulting a squash, and ravaging our tomatoes.     

It wasn’t until we returned to our Florida abode that we recognized our boat as safe haven. Tomatoes need full sun and a singular degree of isolation from theft. The boat had already served a double purpose as my office, and now it would serve as a floating family farm.
– jib ellis