Enter, the wilderness

The other night I looked up from my reading and spotted an ant walking around my living room.  This event is not completely unusual, as we’ve been finding these ants wandering around the house for the last month or so.  They’re not the red kind that bite—they are sort of red and black mixed and about twice as large as the red ones.  They seem to have an affinity for my bathroom for some reason.  It always makes me kind of sad, though, knowing that they will wander aimlessly in their little DNA programmed search for food and, not finding anything interesting, die of old age lost in the carpeted wilderness.  Unless they meet THE SHOE, natch…

And since we couldn’t figure out how they were making it in to the house in the first place, it was kind of hard to plug up the hole.  Of course, there was always the danger that one of the little buggers would actually find his/(hers/its?) way back out to the nest with a stray grain of rice and announce to the whole world that there is FOOD TO BE HAD! in this direction, but the chances were pretty slim.  However, ants also leave trails so that others can follow, so I knew that my little Lewis and Clarks were merely the tip of the exploration iceberg and that, sooner or later, the inevitable “westward migration” would occur.  So I figured I should probably get around to putting out some ant bait.  You know—when I got around to it.  Pretty sure I spotted it in the horse trailer a month or so back…  Ummm… what was I saying?

Now I realize that there are some of you who are perfectly happy to live with the “wilderness” when the wilderness chooses to live with you.  I am not of that opinion.  I do not like to share my little domain with critters that:

a.  eat my food

b.  don’t clean up their own messes

c.  carry diseases that could possibly kill me

d.  might bite me

e.  refuse to curl up on my lap and purr while watching TV or chase tennis balls and worship me

And while I know my friend, Carly, would probably gladly die of Hantavirus rather than kill a mouse, I would not.  I think of it this way:  David and I own approximately 100 acres here.  Our house takes up approximately one twentieth of an acre.  This leaves 99 19/20 of an acre for the critters!  That’s 99.95 acres for the fractionally challenged among you who are still reading even after encountering a fraction (bravo for you!).  The others, of course, ran screaming from the room at the first hint of fractionage and are hiding in a darkened closet right now, shivering in terror.

I still hate to poison the ants, so I put this event off as long as possible in the hopes that they would magically just go away.  But they were bad ants.  They told their friends who told their friends and suddenly it was PAR-TAY!!!  I, of course, was oblivious.  I spotted the one ant and ignored it.  Then I spotted a second and a third ant a few minutes later and ignored them.  After the fourth or fifth ant, I got wise and started turning on lights and really looking.  They were everywhere!  This explains why, if my neighbors were nosy enough, and if they had a night spotting scope, they would have seen me hightailing it down to the horse trailer at 10 o’clock at night in my pajamas to dig out the ant poison.

Interestingly enough, when I went outside, they were swarming all over the ground out there also.  Must have been The Night of the Ants.  I was very disappointed, though.  I listened really close, but I couldn’t hear them singing.  You know?  “The ants go marching two by two.  Hurrah! Hurrah!” Apparently, that is merely a myth perpetrated by summer camps and scout troops.  My childhood unravels…

The one plus is that I was able to follow the trail back and find their access hole—under the front door.  So I stuffed a rag in the corner of the door.  Someday, I will probably strategically locate some weather stripping to block this hole.  Someday.  In reality, 20 years from now, there will still probably be a rag shut in the corner of the front door.  If you ever visit me, look for it there.

But the ants haven’t been our only invaders lately.  A couple of weeks ago, we were driving to town and stopped at the Lodge for some reason.  As we sat there, we both noticed that we could smell barbecue.  Yum!  It never occurred to us to wonder why the Lodge might be barbecuing at 6:30 AM.  We noticed it again when we stopped at a stoplight in town.  Wow!  One of these restaurants must be barbecuing also—must be national barbecue week or something.  And it STILL did not occur to us that 7 AM might be a wee bit early in the morning for pork ribs.  It did at the third stoplight.  It finally penetrated our fuzzy brains that WE were the barbecue!

So we stopped and opened the hood and found a veritable beaver dam in the front of our engine—a smoldering beaver dam!

We disassembled half the engine and cleared out the beaver dam and figured it must have been a pack rat since some of the sticks would have challenged your average mouse.  (Or maybe the mice have gotten a hold of a stash of steroids.)  And in our usual fashion, we ignored it after that.  Until David noticed the lovely barbecue smell again the next day on the way to work.  He figured we had missed a few sticks only to find a new and freshly built beaver dam under the hood.  This went on three days running.  And so it was war!  Again, I absolutely despise killing critters if I can possibly avoid it, but I have to draw the line somewhere.  I’d like to think that line is somewhere this side of my car bursting into flames as I drive into town!

We didn’t have any traps big enough to catch a pack rat, so we decided to use bait.  I popped the hood on the 4runner to find a lovely nest made out of insulation scavenged from under my hood sitting right on top of the engine.  So I cleared the nest out and replaced it with a bait tray.  Our new truck didn’t have any obvious nests, but the insulation had also been chewed on, so it got a bait tray also, as did the Camry.  This explains why there is a post-it note on the back door stating emphatically REMOVE MOUSE BAIT!  Look for that on your visit as well.

The next morning, all of the bait was gone and there were new nests in the vehicles.  Huh?  Apparently, (according to the label) this poison could take a few days to work, adding heavily to my already huge load of guilt over our terrible treatment of the wildlife.  This went on about three days running—bait gone—new nests.  Then David thought to disassemble the Camry’s air intake because we have found nests there in the past, and what did he find?  That’s right!  Most of the bait.  Apparently, the little blighters thought they’d stash a bunch of it in there for later—either that or they are hoping to kill us with the fumes from the mouse bait because they weren’t successful in their first attempt at catching the car on fire.  My friend Carly would be cheering for the mice and/or pack rats at this point if she wasn’t still shivering in the closet over the fraction.  However, tragically, for the mice or pack rats, they snacked a bit as they were stashing and in a few more days, we finally managed to claim the exclusive use of our vehicles once again.

I guess it’s one of those inevitable struggles of rural living.  After all, it was their home before it became ours.  On the other hand, I strongly suspect that the critter load on our 100 acres was not nearly as high as it is now that we’ve come along and provided food (hay) and water.  In fact, I would venture to guess that the critters are quite far ahead of the game here.  They even have their own water with a stick strategically placed so that they can climb out of it if they fall in.  I got tired of fishing dead rabbits, squirrels and mice out of my horse troughs and dog water dishes.  And if you examine the hay in my stack, you can see the places where the rabbits have chewed away at the bottom bales for the last year or so.   I’d love to hear them discussing this year’s crop.  “Do you think she’ll buy us any alfalfa this year?”  (Maybe they’d like some Trix.)

A few years ago, I declared war on the ground squirrels.  They have an exasperating habit of placing their holes right next to the foundations of my horse stalls.  They actually came up right in the middle of Dolly’s stall, but the mat was so heavy, they couldn’t work their way out from under it and gave up—and left a giant hole in the middle of the stall!  You don’t see it under the mat, but it is a booby trap awaiting the unsuspecting visitor.  We have this big juniper tree next to the arena and the squirrels spend all summer stripping it of berries and, presumably, storing them underground somewhere.  Either that, or somewhere on my property, there is a ground squirrel run gin factory that I have never stumbled upon.  Each time I walk by the tree no less than 8-10 squirrels bail out —another 8-10 of them don’t bother to bail—they just stay perched up there looking like live Christmas ornaments and laughing at me!

Anyway, my plan of combat was to get a couple of feral cats.  Their names were Romeo and Juliet.  I know—awwwww…  Romeo, apparently, had been handled as a kitten and was pretty friendly while Juliet was wild as a march hare.  They set up shop in the rafters of our tractor shed and I kept food and water for them in my little stack yard where they could be safe to eat.  They were cute and entertaining and I was even able to get Juliet to be near me, even if I couldn’t ever touch her.  And they did their job, which was to keep down the squirrel population.  They also kept down the lizard population, the rabbit population, the snake population, the mouse population, the bird population, and the pack rat population.  I wasn’t so thrilled about losing ALL of my critters, but figured the trade was worth it if I didn’t have to do combat with the packrats and mice for the vehicles or worry about breaking a leg in one of my stalls.  Unfortunately, the tale of Romeo and Juliet—cat version—also ended tragically.  I had had them a little over a year when the coyotes got them both.  I wasn’t entirely surprised that they got Romeo because he was a bit laid back.  I suspect that Juliet went off looking for her Romeo because she disappeared the day after he did—very Shakespeare!

Anyway, since then, the critter populations have all bounced back tremendously.  I currently frighten away no less than 4-6 rabbits almost every time I feed—and those are the ones hanging out in the stack yard.  They are all over the property.  You can see them hopping and bouncing and just generally frolicking about everywhere.  I feel a little like Lady Tottington in The Curse of the Were-Rabbit.  Where are Wallace and Gromit with a giant vacuum when I need them?  There are also birds nesting in the rafters of the tractor shed now, lizards skittering around the back porch and we even found a rather somnolent and angry snake in the tractor shed the other day with a mouse sized lump in its belly.  So it’s all good, except for the poor cats.  I don’t plan to get anymore any time soon—I have made my peace with the squirrels (for the most part).  They coyotes are still around also—naturally, they are pleased with the smorgasbord I have provided them.

I’ve been thinking about rigging up one of my barrels as the ultimate humane mouse trap.  Put one of those humane one way live traps through a hole and seal it up really well so mice could get in, but not back out.  If I used a large enough trap, I could probably even catch pack rats.  I’d set it up on the driveway where we park the cars.  I could give them food and water through the top of the barrel and when I had enough in there, I could transport them elsewhere and release them.  Perhaps my crazy neighbor Tom is feeling lonely…

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