Sunday, June 6, 2010

Revenge of the forest

Over 41 years ago we bought this house. Actually it was a lot, which we planned to build on. I was pregnant with my first child and this was a big deal. We would have a new baby, new house and we had a new car.

The house was to be built in Suburbia. I didn't want to raise my baby in the city. It didn't matter to me that Larry would have to drive 45 minutes every day to work. I wanted to live in the country where the air was clean and the baby, when it arrived, would get to see nature right outside our window.

It was a great idea and one that has continued to be a great idea. We were smart, not on purpose mind you, we lucked out. We bought in an area that is still holding it's own in this financial market. The baby grew up. We had another baby. We were living the American dream. We were happy.

What we didn't give a thought to was what was happening to the other living things who lived here before we, and all our neighbors, moved in. This place was teeming with all kinds of wild life. It was nothing to see the deer in the back yard along with the foxes and myriad other little living things.

Most of us didn't give much thought to what we were doing to their "homes" as we built our homes. If they didn't get out of the way...too bad...they were gone. Honest, I don't think any of us around here thought about the other living things except maybe to swear at them when something got into the garbage cans, or ate out of our carefully landscaped yards. Rabbits got a short shift if they were caught in our new gardens. It was us or them, and we were bigger.

Life went on, we took over. The little animals fled from the area to be seen on occasion, but usually splatted on the road. No one cared. We just went on our merry way.

We thought we were the strong ones, we would prevail, and for the most part we did. Then slowly, ever so slowly, we started seeing things happen in our little area we cultivated to be our homes. The trees got bigger, and the animals found new homes. Our homes were being invaded by things from outside. Some of us got cats...that helped for a time, but the little living things got smarter.

Here we are 43 years later and I find myself embroiled in a war. "War", you say. I say, "Yes, all out war". My enemies are cute little brown chipmunks. You know, "Chip and Dale", except they aren't Chip and Dale. They're more like, "The rodents that ate the world" or at least they're trying to eat the world.

The first thing they tried to eat was a tarp in our shed. Apparently "tarp" is not one of their dietary needs, so the little thing died in the shed. We knew that in the Spring when opening the shed for the first time we were almost decked by the smell of death pouring out of the shed. It was not pleasant. Larry thought he could camouflage the smell with mothballs....not. Then he tried cedar shavings....not. Then he called in the big guns, me.

I opened the shed doors and told him something was definitely dead within the confines of the shed. I told him it smelled like all the dead mice which were in my old office. No amount of camouflage smell would take care of this stench. We had to remove everything (no small task) from the shed and find the offending "thing".

I was elected to go up the ladder and clear out the loft. The minute I went up one step I thought, "Man, this has got to be a big "thing" the smell was really putrid. Larry, the brave one, was standing far away from the shed yelling advice from his lofty position. Why in God's name I was the one elected for this was beyond me, but I was on the ladder, like a fool, pulling and pushing things out of the way to grab what I could, and get it out into the light of day. Larry's job was to search all the stuff as it came out.

He stood over all the scraps of material with a big stick. Slowly he would pick up a piece and use his foot to open up the material checking for vermin. Each time the material fell back down he'd jump back with a squeal... For a minute there, I thought he morphed into a little girl, listening to the noises he was making.

I finally got the loft cleared out, finding nothing when I heard an unearthly howl. Larry had found the "thing" tangled in the middle of a tarp. We saw where the little thing (we weren't sure what kind of "thing" it was at this point) had eaten part of the tarp and obviously it hadn't agreed with him/her.

He pushed the critter out of it's unholy coffin and determined it was a chipmunk. Good, now we knew what was causing the smell, life was good again, or so we thought.

A couple of weeks later Larry noticed some leaves under his car. We have a Mini Cooper. We've had it for years. He loves his Mini. He couldn't figure out where the leaves came from. He opened the hood of the car to investigate. There were more leaves. As he searched in the little engine he kept finding more leaves and straw like stuff. He cleared it out and closed the hood.

The next day he looked outside and saw a chipmunk coming out from under his car. He didn't think much of it at the time because we seemed to have an inordinate number of chipmunks all over the yard, up in the gutters, running from the roof, down the gutters, into the car port. We figured they were having a great time enjoying life like cute little Chip and Dale.

Hmm...what we didn't realize that these chipmunks were probably the progeny of the ones we displaced 43 years ago and they were back to avenge their ancestors. Sure, they were cute and little. They would run over my feet when I stood at my gardeners bench in the carport. How much could little chipmunks do for heavens sake? Hah!

Larry decided to change the air cleaner in the Mini because the air conditioner seemed to be struggling. When he opened the area of the cleaner, it was packed tight with straw, grass and leaves. There seemed to be a little indentation, like a Papasan chair in the middle of the leaves. Obviously someones house...

It took half of a garbage can to clear out the engine area and air cleaner area of leaves and other debris. Larry decided he better put some sort of covering over the hole something was getting into. He had some nylon screening that seemed to be the ticket. He measured and taped the mesh to the hole. Ahh...for sure it would be good now.

The next day he looked under the hood. Lo, and behold, the mesh was chewed completely through, and the little house of leaves and debris was back intact. This was serious. Twice Larry had to clear out some sort of nest. He was getting pissed. This wasn't an easy task, to remove this stuff, it was packed into the smallest areas (the poor little thing probably didn't want to get a draft in his house).

I decided to get involved. I made a mixture of hot peppers, hot sauce vinegar and salt and poured it around the area where Larry had seen the chipmunks walk.

The next day the chipmunks chewed through the asphalt near the garage. They didn't liek my concoction I guess. They had tunnels all over. We found chipmunk holes all around the garage and carport.

Inside the Mini the nest was back, only worse. Now there were gnaw marks on the area where they entered. They were clearly pissed at us. This was getting serious. We needed to bring in heavy artillery.

We did our research. We checked with Environmental folks who suggested some kinds of traps, you know, the "humane" way to rid yourself of Mother Nature's little friends (they're sure not MY friends by this time).

We spent time trying all the humane things. The chipmunks watched us and laughed. Finally, when the chipmunks started to throw things at us (ok, ok I'm exaggerating.. but I swear if they could have they'd have flung something at us when we went outside) we had enough.

I went to the hardware store and bought the dreaded, "Rodent Trap", no odor, no blood, it said. I bought some organic peanut butter, figuring if this was to be their last meal I'd give them something nutritious. I set the trap, the way the instructions said to do it and placed it against the wall. All the time thinking, "I don't' want to do this but you've left me no choice".

Two days went by and there was nothing trapped. I was kind of glad about that. I didn't care that I spent $10 on this plastic trap that didn't work. It was almost like giving them a fighting chance.

The next day, I slowly walked out to the carport. I peeked around the potting bench, hoping the trap was still set...The trap was closed on top of the head of a chipmunk...dead. As I was standing there wondering what to do with the thing, feeling all kinds of remorse for doing this awful deed, a chipmunk ran over my foot. I screamed and said, "THAT'S IT, YOU ALL DIE!!"

That's how it happened. I became a murderer. I still think they're taking out revenge against us for displacing them so many years ago... So the war rages on and I'm on the front lines. If they would move away I'd leave them alone, but until they's "The Jaws of Death" for them....