Friday, February 6, 2015


When I moved out to the middle of the woods, I knew I would have to share my nearly eight acres of land with critters of all shapes and sizes. Thus far, I have done my best to get along with them, but there are a few that seem determined to force me, the intruder on their turf, to move back to the city.

The first resident I met was a deer. One minute, I was hanging a “no hunting” sign on a tree at the edge of my driveway, and the next, I was lying on the ground with my face in the dirt. A deer had come running out of the woods as if she were being chased by the devil himself…and I didn’t have time to jump out of her way. I was tempted to take down the “no hunting” sign and burn it. Since then, however, the deer (I named her “Deerdra”) and I have become good friends. She hangs around my yard all the time (if you are hunter who lives in my neighborhood, please ignore what I just wrote).

Then there was the coyote that fell in love with my dog, Raven. He started coming around when he was young, and would sit by the fence and stare with lovesick eyes at Raven. And at night, when Raven was in the house, he would sit by the fence and howl. I named him “Cody the Coyote.”  Well, Cody grew bigger and bigger – bigger than any coyote I’d ever seen. I finally took a photo of him and showed it to a wildlife expert.

“He’s part wolf,” the expert said. “That’s why he’s so large. But, believe it or not, that also makes him more docile.”

That probably would explain why several times when I went out to feed the birds, Cody was just sitting there watching me, not the least bit spooked by me (probably because he was picturing me smothered in gravy).

One critter I still feel bad about was a little red squirrel that had no tail. I called him “Piglet” because without his tail, he looked just like a guinea pig. Piglet came to my bird feeder every morning without fail, and I enjoyed watching his antics.

But then came the day when a big hawk also took interest in Piglet’s antics and swooped down on him. In a flash, Piglet was gone.  I still miss the little guy.

Over the years, I have seen turkeys, deer, a bear, foxes, a bobcat, porcupines, raccoons, fishers, squirrels, chipmunks and skunks on my land, and I’ve managed to get along well with all of them…well, with the exception of the bobcat.

But there are certain critters that have cost me a lot of money and given me plenty of headaches over the years.

There were the mice that built a nest in my central air-conditioning unit and then lined it with wires they’d chewed from its innards. It cost me a small fortune to get the unit rewired.

But the constant problem I’ve had every year involves my furnace. It has a low-to-the-ground vent at the back of the house. The vent is wide open, not protected in any way, which I’ve always thought was strange – and an invitation for trouble. But three different heating technicians have told me that putting screening over the vent would cause the flow of air to be affected.

So every year, my furnace has conked out and the cause has been (in order of appearance) a hornets’ nest, a wasps’ nest, a nest of mice, and another hornets’ nest inside the air vent, clogging up the works. And every year I’ve had to hire a repairman to come clean out the offending intruders.

The other night, a little after midnight, I started to feel chilly, so I turned up the heat. Nothing happened. Two hours later, the temperature indoors had dropped to 60 degrees. My first thought was, “Great. I wonder what’s living in the furnace vent this time?”

But something was different this time. I could smell a faint odor of propane. I grabbed the phone and called the gas company.

“Try not to light anything, like your kitchen stove, until we get there,” I was advised. “And don’t do anything that might cause a spark. Someone will be right over.”

I understood those words to mean, “Don’t even breathe!  Any move you make could cause you and your house to be blown into orbit!”

Well, “someone will be right over” turned out to be about five hours later. By then, I could see my breath in the living room. And I’d been so afraid to cause a static-electricity spark, I’d sat like a statue on the sofa for the five hours. I was pretty sure I’d never be able to move again, due to either hypothermia or atrophied muscles.

The technician immediately checked for gas leaks and carbon monoxide in the house. He said everything seemed fine. He then concentrated on my furnace.

“There doesn’t seem to be any air getting into it, so it’s not lighting,” he said, as if he were telling me something I hadn’t heard at least once a year for the past four years.

“Check the outside vent,” I told him “There’s probably a family of wolverines living in it.”

He gave me a puzzled look, then headed outside to the back of the house.

Within a few minutes, he was back. “There was something clogging it,” he informed me.

I rolled my eyes. “What was it this time?”

“A giant ball of spider webs.”

I hadn’t been prepared for that answer. Immediately, every hideous radiation-mutated giant spider from the horror movies I’d seen as a kid came to mind.

“Did you find the spider or spiders that built it?” I was afraid to ask.

He shook his head. “Nope. Just the webs.”

The good news was I immediately had heat in the house again. The bad news was whatever built that ball of spider webs still was lurking somewhere in my heating system.

“Can’t I put something over that vent that will prevent anything else from crawling in there?” I asked the guy, even though I already knew what he was going to say. “I feel as if I have a motel sign hanging out there for every creature within a 10-mile radius.”

“No, you can’t put anything over it,” he said. “But, if you want, you can install two PVC pipes in place of the vent and screen the ends on those. It won’t look too pretty, though.”

I envisioned my house looking like a giant hot rod, with two exhaust pipes sticking out of the rear of it.

So, once again I had to spend money to get rid of unwanted residents.

But on the bright side, maybe from now on, the giant mutant spider will eat anything else that tries to move in.
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