After eight long months, our middle child is home from Afghanistan.
Brent arrived very late Tuesday night, March 4. He was tired and a little loopy from a long overseas journey that started at Bagram Airfield in Afghanistan and ended two days later at Ft. Polk, LA. In between were connections in Romania, Ireland, New Hampshire, Kentucky and Alexandria, LA.
Originally, we were going to hit the road by 9:00 Tuesday morning in order to make the five hour drive in time for the redeployment ceremony scheduled for 4:00 that afternoon. However, a longer than anticipated layover in Romania pushed the ceremony start back to 9:30 PM. With that news, we decided to sleep in and mosey out in the afternoon; we had all day, no sense in hurrying. Except we didn't count on Old Man Winter throwing a wrench into the works.
Early Tuesday morning the phone rang. My mother was calling in a panic because her attached garage was flooded. She thought we were still on our 9:00 AM schedule and was trying to reach us before we left. So much for sleeping in.
It turns out the apartment above my mother's is vacant and without anyone there to make sure the faucets were dripping and cabinet doors open to allow warmer room air to circulate, a pipe burst in the extreme --- for Dallas, anyway --- low temperatures. Thankfully, my mom's actual living quarters stayed dry, but the garage got a thorough soaking and it was a huge mess. All the junk she couldn't bear to part with when we moved her to Dallas eight years ago was stored in the garage. I won't go so far as to say my mother is a hoarder, but she is definitely a packrat. Fortunately, the furniture that had been stored out there was long gone, thanks to my daughter needing it for her house in Lubbock.
We spent three hours in the freezing cold trying to salvage the junk. Richard fell down twice on ice that had accumulated at the mouth of the garage and banged up his right hand pretty good. Finally, we had to call it a day and get moving if we were going to get to Ft. Polk in time for Brent's homecoming.
As it turned out, there were more flight delays and 9:30 became 11:45 PM. This was good because it allowed us to catch our breath a little. The downside was having to drive in the dark on unfamiliar roads. There's this one little two-lane country road, 117, that meanders through several small towns between Natchitoches and our destination of Leesville. Natchitoches is pronounced Nackatish, for crying out loud, and is where the movie Steel Magnolias, one of my favorites, was filmed. But I digress. 117 is a scary place to be at night. The road curves --- a lot --- there are no street lights, no median between you and oncoming cars and worst of all, DEER! They were everywhere, grazing unconcernedly alongside the road. Now, if you read my blog at all, you will know that I had a very unfortunate encounter with a deer a year ago. As the saying goes, once burned, twice shy, and this was almost more than I could bear. I kept expecting one of the creatures to bolt directly into the path of our car, but maybe Louisiana deer are smarter than their Texas cousins. As it turned out, it wasn't deer I had to worry about but birds. On the return trip the next day, in broad daylight, we hit a hawk. The bird was feasting on some roadkill and our approach spooked it. Being a large, heavy bird, its take-off was slow and it smacked into our windshield. Oh, the irony...from eating roadkill to becoming one two seconds later.
Anyway, we arrived in Leesville without mishap, checked into a motel, and made our way to the base. The redeployment ceremony was held in a hangar and was jammed with families waiting on their soldiers:
Eight months in a Muslim country had built up in Brent an intense thirst for a beer, and he wasn't about to wait another minute. Lemme tell ya, trying to find beer in a small town after midnight is nearly impossible; everything closes up tighter than a clam at 9:00 PM. We drove up and down the main drag of Leesville before finally spotting a Circle K store that was open and selling the precious fluid. Next time --- hopefully, there won't be a next time --- Richard and I will bring along a cooler, just in case. I'd post a picture of Brent hoisting that first beer, but he was still in uniform and I don't want to get him in trouble with the brass.
It's good to have my boy home, and now my little family isn't so flung-outer. Everybody is within a five hour drive of Dallas...including lots and lots of deer.
I recently posted a blog about inappropriate birdie nesting sites. Now we have another one situated in the arbor above our deck, and Mama's bottom is perfectly positioned to drop bombs on anyone passing below.
This is the third nest to be built in as many years. In addition to this one and the one I wrote about earlier, we had a sparrow take up residence in a metal watering can we kept on a shelving unit. Those babies were lucky they weren't accidentally drowned; it would have been so easy to stick the hose in and fill the can with water, completely unaware of the little ones inside.
I have even seen birds nesting in traffic lights strung out in the middle of busy intersections. What an awful place for the babies when it is time for them to learn to fly. This is the avian version of the Darwin Award at its bird-brained finest:
Our deck has also attracted the attention of a couple of mockingbirds. They must be nesting somewhere nearby because every time we let our cats out in the backyard --- Phoebe loves to bask in the sun and channel her interior tiger --- the mockers dive bomb them, chase them, cuss them out, and just generally make their life hell. Phoebe will stand her ground, but Penny is deathly afraid of the birds --- as she is of most things that move --- and will run back to the house. I've even had mockingbirds dive at me while I mow the lawn; they are very aggressive and territorial for songbirds.
As soon as the current maternity ward closes, we plan to get one of those plastic owls and place it where it will --- hopefully --- scare off other birds thinking of raising their families in and around our deck. It might also give our poor cats relief from the aerial assault.
Traffic light nest: http://www.funnyjunk.com/funny_pictures/72205/Traffic/
A friend, someone I knew in college, found a nest with two newborn bunnies in his yard. They were just days old, eyes still squinched shut against the world. Here's a photo Percival (not his real handle) uploaded on Facebook for all to see:
Naturally, Percival's 1,200-plus FB friends were in raptures over the photo, with lots of comments about how precious/sweet/adorable/cute the little guy is, along with suggestions for names, and a few jokes about rabbit stew.
I'm conjecturing here, but I believe Percival, buoyed by the comments his photo generated, decided it was his duty to keep the Sheeple informed of the bunnies' progress with a pictorial diary. This, of course, meant repeatedly uncovering the nest, handling the little creatures, and just being, in general, the worst kind of neighbor possible.
Again, the photos generated a barrage of positive comments, with some folks calling Percival a rabbit whisperer. Percival was on a roll and not to be stopped. With the weather forecast calling for first, rain, and then, freezing temperatures, Percival set about building an enclosure to protect his charges from the elements, never mind that wild rabbits have evolved to survive harsh weather:
Mama bunnies don't stay with their babies. This keeps predators away from the little family. But mama hangs nearby, and visits a couple of times each day to feed her babies. Can you imagine what this particular mother rabbit must have thought when she encountered the new, but not necessarily improved, nest?
Despite my friend's best intentions, the poor bunnies were found dead on January 24. Percival announced the deaths on FB, saying the little things had not survived the cold. (My daughter's text to me after she read the blog, "The babies DIED?!") Percival lives in Austin, which ain't exactly Buffalo, NY when it comes to frigid weather. I Googled the overnight low temperature for Austin for January 23 - 24, and it was 26 degrees.
Now, I don't claim to be any kind of expert on wildlife, but in my opinion, these babies didn't expire from the cold, but from starvation. Mama got scared away from the constant interference or, being just a dumb bunny used to simple nests of hair, grass and dirt --- materials that have served her kind for untold eons --- she couldn't figure out how to get past the fortifications. Either way, the babies didn't get the nourishment they needed to accommodate their rapid growth and maintain their body heat in the cold. So much for being a rabbit whisperer.
A couple of springs ago, a sparrow laid her eggs in an empty flower basket we had hanging in our backyard. The basket had hung out there all winter long --- for some reason, no one could be bothered to take it down and store it --- and it was nothing but packed down dirt, with a sort of depression in the middle where the flowers had been rudely yanked out. I can't imagine why this mama sparrow thought a basket of dirt would make a good nest; perhaps she was lazy. Firstly, the basket was completely, and I mean COMPLETELY, open to the elements. Secondly, it hung on a chain and it didn't take much of a breeze to blow the thing around. If there's such a thing as avian Section 8 housing, this was it.
Anyway, that damn mother bird made my life hell until her babies finally flew away. It was early spring and the nights were chilly, so I worried about hypothermia. I worried about direct heat from the sun. When the wind blew the basket, I worried the eggs would get tossed out like miniature hand grenades, or the babies would get seasick. When it rained, I worried. I worried about predators. I wouldn't let anyone out on the deck because I didn't want to disturb the babies and their idiot mother. Phoebe, who loves to prowl around our backyard, wasn't allowed out, either, and I had one very pissed-off cat on my hands. I wouldn't allow Richard to grill outdoors or mow too closely, which led to marital strife. Honestly, I worried and fretted more over those baby birdies, than I ever did over my own kids. In the end, we learned a very valuable lesson: put hanging baskets away for the winter.
Because of this, I understand only too well Percival's concern for the wee wabbits. The difference was that I kept my distance and didn't interfere, despite the mother bird's poor choice of suitable housing, and my strong desire to help make things a little more homey for the babies. Just little things. Like a roof, curtains and maybe a throw rug.
There's a book the Percivals of the world should read. It's called:
There's a Hair in My Dirt! tells the tale (from a lowly worm's perspective) of fair Harriet, a nature lover, whose dim understanding of the very thing she professes to love so much wreaks havoc wherever she goes. The amusing drawings and sly humor aside ("Father Worm sat back, stretching himself out to his full, glorious three and a half inches"), the story reminds us that we humans are very much a part of the natural world, not just interested observers in a cute and cuddly zoo. Nature is a complex, fragile and violent system where every creature plays a vital role. As wise Father Worm tells us, "...loving Nature is not the same as understanding it."
Rest in peace, little baby bunnies,
Rabbit pictures: from Percival's FB page (no links provided to protect Percival from PETA and bunnies bent on revenge)
Ugh. Starting late last Thursday afternoon, just before the icecalypse hit, I noticed flies in the house. Big ones. Like the house variety on steroids. Unlike the house variety, these guys are slow and dozy, so they are easy to suck into the bowels of the vacuum cleaner with the vacuum hose. They are called blowflies.
Owing to the sheets of ice and below freezing temps, Richard and I didn't go anywhere for two solid days. Reading books. Watching DVD's. Playing Scrabble. Finishing the Christmas decorating. Doing laundry. Watching football. Killing flies. Lots and lots of flies.
By Sunday morning, cabin fever had set in. We skidded out to breakfast, then slid to Target to pick up a few items. Here's a photo Richard took of the cold foods section. It was completely cleaned out due to a power outage. It was the same with the freezers. Fortunately, we weren't at Target for food as I had had the foresight to stock up on Thursday afternoon.
Sunday night, the flies were really bad. Richard was already in bed. I was trying to follow him there, but the little buggers kept materializing out of thin air, and I couldn't go to sleep knowing they were zooming around. They considerately kept themselves to the "public" areas: the den, living and dining rooms, and the kitchen. The cats had a great time helping me catch them. Just by watching the cats' body language, I could tell when a fly was near. And I saw several that turned out to be floaters; you know, those bitty specks that you see swooping around in your vision. I'd think, Whoa! That one was close! and then realize it was a floater. Anyways, as each little winged beast was sucked into the vacuum nozzle, it would hit the side once --- kind of a SCHWIZIP! --- that is immensely gratifying, so help me. Like popping a pimple --- SPLOOSH! (Not that I do that.) Richard, always helpful, pointed out that perhaps I was catching the same fly over and over, that as soon as I sucked it in (SCHWIZIP!), it escaped, only to get sucked in again. I immediately pooh-poohed this (THBBBPPT!), but later secretly tested his theory by putting duct tape over the nozzle end when the vacuum wasn't in use. It didn't stop the winged onslaught, unfortunately.
Monday morning, Richard called our exterminator and that's when we were told that most likely, something had crawled into the attic and died. Hopefully, not Santa. It made perfect sense, but at the same time, URGH-BLECH! Of course, they couldn't send anyone out that day, so we --- what am I saying? Richard was at work --- I spent another fine day in combat mode.
On Tuesday (yesterday), what I had come to think of as V-F Day (Victory Over Flies), and despite sucking another couple dozen into the black hole of the vacuum cleaner nozzle, the exterminator couldn't find any sign of something rotting in our attic; no smell, either. And dang it, he couldn't treat for the flies if he couldn't get to the source. He hung a strip-looking thing that releases a vapor into the attic, which was better than nothing, but it appears we are going to have to sit this one out, and let nature take its course with whatever is festering (Blurgle-gloop-gloop-gloop) up there.
Naturally, I had to Google 'blowflies'. I'm glad I did, because the articles I read reinforced our exterminator's claim that he couldn't do anything without removing the source. At the same time, I was kind of nauseated; no one likes to think there is something foul and squishy (SQUOOSH!) up in their attic.
If you were a Mad Magazine fan back in the day, you'll understand the reference to Don Martin.
Not in a holiday mood,
"Fun" Facts About Deer Vehicle Collisions
Per State Farm Insurance and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration:
1. If you live in West Virginia, you have about a 1 in 40 chance of having a close encounter of the unfortunate kind with a deer over a 12 month period.
2. Hawaii is the safest state to avoid a DVC. Your risk over a 12 month period is roughly the same as getting hit by lightning over your lifetime.
3. In Texas, where I live, the odds are 1 in 334.
4. Between July, 2011 and June, 2012, 1.23 MILLION collisions in the U. S. involved the presence of deer.
5. The average property damage cost was $3,305.
6. Approximately 200 Americans are killed in DVCs annually, and more than 10,000 are injured.
7. Thankfully, I am not one of the statistics listed in #6 above.
Yep, boys and girls, that is deer fur you see embedded in the driver's side running board of my SUV. The only proof I have of my encounter with Bambi yesterday morning. Prior to this the largest animal I've ever hit was a squirrel who lost playing Chicken.
I was on my way to Lawton, OK to help my son with phase 1 of his move to Louisiana. About 30 miles or so south of Wichita Falls on Hwy 287 (northbound lanes), I was attempting to gauge when it was safe to merge back into the driving lane after passing an 18-wheeler, when there was a tremendous jolt on the left side. My first split-second thought was that I had run over something in the road, something I had failed to see due to my preoccupation with the semi-truck. I looked in my side view mirror just in time to see that "something" go flying back and out to the left and, more ominously, a spray of chunky stuff. I knew it had to be a deer. The reason I knew this was because I had passed a deer crossing sign not five minutes previously.
I have passed many of these ubiquitous signs and have never seen anything resembling a deer by the highway. So no surprise when I gave this particular sign with its "next 10 miles" scant attention. Call me crazy, but I'm a lot more concerned with people in cars than deer on the hoof.
I pulled over onto the shoulder and the trucker I had just passed pulled up behind me. He had witnessed the collision and wanted to make sure I was okay, so here's a shout-out to this Knight of the Road for his caring gesture. He certainly affirmed my faith in the basic goodness of people. We both looked at my SUV and except for the hair on the running board, there was no visible damage. I still find it hard to believe the impact didn't leave a dent.
Thinking it over, I'm very glad I never saw Bambi bearing down on me. The deer presumably charged from clear across the other side of the highway and then across a wide grassy median before plowing into my vehicle (see the picture above). If I had seen the animal, I don't know how I would have reacted and what chain of events might have been set in motion in the wake of that --- especially at 75 mph and with an 18-wheeler to my right. I was lucky. Bambi, not so much. I feel badly that I killed the poor thing, and I hope it was instantaneous. I would hate to think it suffered, even for just a few seconds.
On the return trip that afternoon, you can bet I had a lot more respect for that simple sign and what it represents.
Deer Crossing Sign: http://littlewhitelion.com/hilarious-signs-that-prove-people-have-a-sense-of-humor-13-pics-34183/
Highway 287: http://www.aaroads.com/texas/us-287nn_tx.html
There's a nature trail very close to our house, Spring Creek Nature Trail in Richardson. The hubby and I often walk there on weekends. This particular trip, we were accompanied by our daughter, who is home from college and bored out of her mind.
We were more than half-way into our walk, when we came upon three little armadillos. They were busily rooting through the soil, and completely oblivious of the three scary humans watching them, even when my husband nudged one of them with his shoe. I always thought the reason 'dillos wound up as roadkill was because they are slow, and also because they have a peculiar habit of jumping straight up in the air when startled. I can't figure this jumping up bit from an evolutionary standpoint; what, exactly, does this accomplish? Because it sure as heck is not a good thing to do when a car is bearing down on you. Now I know there's another reason for the prevalence of squashed armadillos on Texas highways: it's because they are stupid. A three minute encounter will convince you of that.
We see a lot of wildlife where we live. Rabbits, possums, raccoons, snakes, lizards, toads and even the occasional coyote, but this was our first armadillo sighting. My eight-year-old self would have raced home for the old bat cage, but Prunella version 6.0, is more cautious. For one thing, armadillos can transmit leprosy to humans.
Speaking of possums, I'll never forget driving down our alley one night, kind of late --- I'd been out carousing with friends --- when a possum, a big one, trundles out and stops right in front of my car. My garage was three driveways behind him. I would have goosed the horn at the critter, but it was late and I didn't want to disturb my neighbors. So he stood there and I sat there and it was a regular Mexican stand-off. Finally, I backed up into the nearest driveway, hung a turn and drove away thinking I'd come up the other end of the alley (BEHIND the possum), so I could pull into my garage. In the time it took me to swing up the other way, my marsupial friend had waddled its way down, and was now blocking me from the other direction. We eyeballed each other for a time before I gave up and parked in front of the house that night, which was a mistake because my husband gave me grief about coming home too drunk to park in the garage. I told him about my nocturnal encounter with the possum, but he didn't believe me.
This is quite possumly the world's stupidest blog post.
Emily and Alvin were escape artists, little hairy Houdinis, who made cage cleaning a much bigger chore than it had to be. The dogs, all three of them (we also had an Irish terrier), LOVED cage cleaning time, because that usually meant a wild romp through the house in hot pursuit of one or both chipmunks; that is, until we learned to put the dogs outside. Why is it so many things are learned in hindsight?
Cleaning day meant transferring the chippies from their cage to temporary quarters, and then back again, and we couldn't just pick them up bare-handed. They were wild animals, not the sanitized versions sold in pet stores, and while they looked perfectly hale and hearty, there was a chance, remote probably, but a chance, that they might harbor rabies.
Several months after I became a chippie buckaroo, I did get bit. As I recall, it was Emily; she was the more aggressive of the two. This posed a major problem: I was not keen on getting shots in my stomach, nor did I want Emily getting her head chopped off, so I said nothing to my parents about the bite. I figured I was pretty safe. The bite did not break the skin, so far as I could tell, and Emily seemed to be in perfect health; she was not slobbering, snarling, snapping, and staggering in circles, which might have been a tip-off. I did worry about it, and on a couple of occasions, I almost broke down and told my parents, but my greater fear of needles and decapitated pets kept me quiet. All these years later, and my parents still don't know. I Googled "rabies in chipmunks", and according to several sources, small rodents are rarely infected. It's usually raccoons, skunks, bats and foxes that are responsible for rabies' transmission to humans, especially bats. Hold that thought. We'll come back to it later.
Since the Internet and its wisdom was not widely available in the 60's (probably because Al Gore was hogging it all to himself), it was a challenge to keep body parts from coming into contact with the chipmunks. Heavy gloves were out of the question. They were difficult to fit through the small cage door, and the gloves made it hard to "feel" what kind of hold you had on the slippery, agile little varmints. So we brought a small cage up as close as we could to the larger one, doors facing each other, slid them up, and then herded Alvin and Emily into the small cage. Initially, herding involved a lot of banging and shaking to simulate an earthquake, but eventually they got the idea, and would dash for the other cage as soon as the doors opened. Ditto on the return trip. They say take-off and landing are the two most dangerous parts of air travel, and so it was with our chippie transfer process. THIS was when they were liable to escape.
I don't know how many times they got loose, but it was a lot. After much trial and error, the bathroom became the place to make the cage transfers. It was small, and so long as the toilet lid was down, the bathtub drain stoppered, and the space under the door blocked with a towel (this last was one of those hindsight things), they couldn't get very far.
After one such jail break and a long and thorough search, we gave up. I consoled myself that I still had the other, and life went on. About three days later, Daddy and I were in the den trying to watch Gomer Pyle. I say trying, because Biddy, our Irish terrier, had suddenly gone all OCD on the closet door. She'd scratch, whine and sniff all around the thing and just wouldn't leave it alone. My father told her sharply to knock it off, or he'd tear off her ears and stuff them down her throat. This threat didn't faze Biddy in the least; she'd been hearing it since she was a puppy, and so far, her ears were still attached to her head. Next thing I know, my dad has thrown the dog out of the room, shut the door, opened the closet, and is gingerly taking random items out. I couldn't imagine what had prompted the sudden urge to spring clean, and just as I was about to sidle out the door to join the dog, ZIP! a furry little cannonball shot out of the closet, caroming off the baseboards and furniture. Daddy grabbed a sweater off a hanger, threw it at the chippie and missed. He grabbed a jacket, tried again and missed. Eventually, he was able to trap the little blighter under one of my mother's sweaters, which later had to be pitched in the trash because it got peed on. This leads me to another story, one my father told many times over the years. The cage had been cleaned and pressed. I slid open the doors and both chipmunks lunged forward, promptly wedging themselves in the opening. Such a thing had never happened before, but there they were, stuck like a cork, and it didn't look like either was going to give quarter. ("After you." "No, after you.") Thinking I'd help things along, I gently (I swear!) pinched Alvin's tail in my fingers. My thought was that by holding him by the tail, he'd back off so Emily could go through. Alvin gave a little start, and the tail in all its bushy glory came off, just as neatly as stripping a glove off your hand. The tail twitched and jerked in my palm, and as bad as that was, it was nothing compared to the BONES sticking out of Alvin's rear end.
One of my favorite movie parts is the scene in The Sandlot, when James Earl Jones' character tells Tom Guiry's, "You're not in trouble. You're dead where you stand." This was me, and not just dead where I stood, but quite possibly earless as well, because my dad would have finally made good on that threat he was always yelling at the dogs. I dumbly walked into the kitchen where my parents were; I remember Mom was cleaning up from dinner. I had my hands behind my back, and I must have had a really stricken look on my face, because Daddy immediately asked me what was wrong. I didn't say a word, just held out my hand for my parents to see how I had mutilated poor Alvin. The damn tail was still twitching and jerking, although it had lost a lot of its pizzazz at this point. My mother took one look and went back to washing the dishes, rather forcefully, I thought. Daddy looked at the tail as it did its can-can across my palm. His mouth kept twitching, kind of in time with the tail. He asked me how it happened, and then we both went to see how Alvin was fairing.
Honestly, Alvin seemed totally unperturbed by his tailess state. He did look macabre with the bones sticking out of his rear, but they eventually fell off, and he was left with the tiniest of stumps. I knew the tail-losing gimmick was a defense mechanism, but until I skinned my pet, I had thought that talent was unique to lizards.*
I kept Emily and Alvin until we had to move to Texas, and I was forced to give them up. A friend, Jane, who had a poodle, several cats, a guinea pig, a duck, and a mynah bird offered to take in my chippies. I saw them installed in their new home. I don't know what became of them after that, and was afraid to ask, because one of the cats acted like Christmas had come several months early.
Back to bats, I caught one once. There was a creek that ran about four houses down from mine and one day, while my friends and I were splashing in the water, terrorizing the crayfish and frogs, I happened to spy a funny kind of fruit hanging from a low branch. On further inspection, the fruit turned out to be a sleeping bat, wings neatly folded around its little body. Hoping it was a vampire bat, because how cool would that be? I immediately ran home, got an old bird cage, and transferred the animal inside. It was easier than you'd think; I just brought the cage up around the bat, and gently slid the door shut, forcing it to let go of the branch. I brought it home anxious to add it to my motley, but ever-growing, menagerie that consisted of the aforementioned chipmunks, a couple of red-eared turtles (you could buy them by the score in pet stores back then, nobody cared about salmonella), a box turtle I found in my neighbor's front yard, some comatose crawdads I'd caught in the creek, the dogs (that were really my mother's), and a feral cat that skulked around each afternoon waiting to be fed.
My mother took one look at my prize, flopping spastically around the bottom of the cage (apparently it's difficult to walk when you have wings for forelegs), blanched visibly, and demanded I return it where I'd found it. I argued and pleaded, tried to point out that the bat would make me a legend in Show and Tell circles, but Mom was adamant. She could tolerate escaped chipmunks, but the idea of a bat flying around loose was more than she was willing to handle. I was allowed to keep it to show my father when he got home from work, but then it had to be released. I wonder how many fathers, Ozzy Osbourne's excepted, have had a cage with a live bat thrust in their hands by their offspring? I was disappointed to learn that my bat was not vampiric; hell, it didn't even sparkle, but was most likely a little brown bat, or maybe a Mexican free-tailed bat that had taken a wrong turn out of Texas.
Poor Alvin. I hope he and Emily are enjoying the big exercise wheel in the sky.
*Just last week, we caught Penny playing with a gecko tail on the kitchen floor, the tail flopping around like a beheaded chicken. We found the rest of the poor gecko in Phoebe's mouth.
So, I promised a blog about my experience as a chipmunk curator. Here ya go...
Our backyard in Atlanta was home to a couple of chipmunks. They dug chipmunk-sized holes all over the place, and I, in my feverish quest to capture the little blighters, made the holes even worse by trying to dig them out. The holes became so big and so deep, that our Yorkshire terriers, Trinket and Ber Bear*, would fall into them, and they were either too small, or too stupid to get out. Too stupid, I should think; the breed has never struck me as being particularly intelligent. The first time one of the dogs fell down a chipmunk hole --- Trinket, I believe it was --- my mother panicked, convinced a hawk had taken her, and it wasn't until my father started calling Trinket's name that he got an answering bark from somewhere near the gates of Hell. After that, when a dog or dogs went missing, we searched the holes before blaming the local birds of prey.
Once I realized that digging to China wasn't going to snag me some new pets, I constructed a trap made out of a plastic washtub, a forked stick, a long length of twine, and a blob of what I considered to be the epitome of rodential delicacies: dog food and bologna, which are pretty much the same thing. The tub was propped up in the "Y" of the stick, with the twine tied around it, and waiting impatiently at the other end of the twine was me. The few times one of the chipmunks would get within smelling distance of my contraption, it would glance back at the house with a look that clearly said, "You think I'm gonna fall for this crap?"
One afternoon, I was met with success: one of the animals edged its way warily under the tub, sniffing at the revolting blob of food, and BANG! down came the tub, with the little sucker neatly trapped underneath**. Flushed with success, feeling like Marlin Perkins from Mutual of Omaha's Wild Kingdom, I ran out to the overturned tub. But how to get Alvin (duh!) out from under the tub and into his cage? My 8-year-old thought processes had not taken me that far. While I contemplated this conundrum, Alvin was banging around like a deranged pinball inside the tub, wild to get away from either 1) the human girl who was probably, at that very moment, plotting some weird Satanic ritual involving his head and liver, or 2) the aroma of the dog food/bologna mix that had gone over from too long in the sun. Or both. Every collision with the tub moved the thing an inch or two; it was only lightweight plastic, afterall, and even a little chipmunk, especially one fueled on terror and adrenaline, had the strength to move it. As I scratched my head and tried to think of a way to safely transfer my new pet to his cage without contracting rabies, Alvin, to my chagrin, managed to maneuver the tub over one of the many holes that dotted our backyard, and FLOOP! he was gone, down into the dark recesses to safety. If only I had placed something heavy on the tub to keep it from moving; if only the yard didn't have so many holes. If, if, if. Score: chipmunk - 1, human girl - 0.
After this fiasco, my parents took pity on me and bought me a Havahart trap for my birthday. How many little girls can truthfully claim to be the recipient of a live animal trap for their birthday? The one pictured above looks very much like the one I had. You placed the bait on the small metal plate in the middle, rigged opened the doors, and set it outside. The unsuspecting animal would enter, and as soon as it put any weight on the plate the doors would crash down and trap the critter. I was thrilled with this present, and with my father's help, immediately booby-trapped it and set it out in the front yard just before nightfall. I can't remember why we elected to set the trap in the front yard, when it was the backyard that was slowly becoming one big sinkhole, but that's what we did. Maybe because it was a test run. Or maybe because my mother didn't want to add more trauma to the dogs' already fragile psyches.
Anyway, as the story goes, my parents awoke in the wee hours to an ungodly screeching coming from the front yard, and it must have been loud considering their bedroom was in the back of the house. (Mine was in the front, but being mostly stone deaf, I didn't hear it.) It turns out I had caught my first Havahart victim: the neighbor's cat. In quick succession, I also caught a squirrel and a crow. The squirrel, I vividly remember, had gone totally nucking futs from spending the night within the small confines of the trap. Until that moment, I never realized something as small and skittish and prone to car accidents as a squirrel could look and behave like a honey badger. This one, for sure, didn't give a s*** if it gnawed our faces off, if that was what it would take to escape to freedom. Daddy parked me at what he judged to be a safe distance away from the snarling grey dervish, put on some heavy gloves, and gingerly opened one of the doors, pointing it away from anything remotely human. The squirrel bolted for the trees, but not before I was sure it was going to turn and attack my father, and then me, leaving us both in bloody little pieces. Ever since, I have been extremely respectful of squirrels; they have a very dark side.
Eventually, the trap was reassigned to the backyard and in a matter of days, I became the proud owner of two chipmunks: Alvin and Emily. I have no clue what their real genders were; they could have been Alvin and Emilio, for all I knew, although a Mexican of any species in the 1960's deep south was a rarity. In fact, my grade school Spanish was taught by Senorita Rothstein, who later married and became Senora Zablonsky. Her lessons were often sprinkled with Yiddish, and those of us who weren't raised on matzoh and latkes, which was about half of the class, would get confused. Like the time Bobby Barr blurted out "Mazel Tov!" instead of felicidades. Senora called us her bubbelehs, was easily farklempt, and said oy vey! on days when we were being particularly dummkopf, which was most of the time. The upside to this weird bilingualism was that I knew what schlemiel and schlemazel meant when Laverne and Shirley hopscotched their way onto the boob tube.*** It wasn't until we moved to Texas, that I was taught Spanish by actual native Spanish speakers with actual Spanish surnames.
But I digress.
My new pets were installed in a wire cage placed on top of a TV tray that, in turn, was placed next to my bed. The cage had a water bottle, food bowls, and an exercise wheel. Later, we added a small wood house that was supposed to be for the both of them, but Emily had other ideas, and turned it into her personal clubhouse. Poor Alvin; he would sneak in when she was busy gorging on trail mix, only to be chased out a few minutes later. I felt so sorry for him, I convinced my dad to build another and stacked the two, one on top of the other, like a kind of rodent condo. They each had their own bungalows, and it was apparent there weren't going to be any babies, even to me, who didn't know diddly about such things at the time.
*Ber Bear's name came from Br'er Bear, a character from the Uncle Remus stories; this WAS Atlanta.
**I have since learned that this kind of trap is called a drop trap. They are used in TNR (trap, neuter and release) programs on feral cat colonies. They are manually-operated traps, requiring a human at the other end to yank on the cord. Obviously, I was waaaaaay ahead of my time.
***Some other Yiddish words I remember: schmuck, dreck, spiel, goy, nebbish, shmooz, shmeer, plotz, maven, mensch, kvetch, gelt, meshugge, chutzpah, nudnik, shlep, schmaltz, shnoz, klutz, and schlock. It really is a fun language!
Havahart trap: http://www.biconet.com/traps/xlLive.html
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