23 June 2008

Now I understand why Elmer Fudd was obsessed with shooting that rabbit!

Living in the woods, surrounded by 32 types of native tress (as documented in a 4th grade science project 10 years ago), has more than its share of pastoral moments. Flora and fauna abound in my little oasis of woodland situated 5 miles north of downtown and just a few miles south of one of the most hectic of commercial areas in the most populous region of this state. What a magnificent piece of God's green earth! a friend said soon after I moved in. I think of that phrase often and am thankful for not only a safe, secure dwelling, but also for the blessing of being an owner, a steward, of a pleasant place to live, a place where we co-habit with nature as much as one can living in a city of a million human beings.

But, sometimes, when you live in the woods, you pay the price of such pastoral splendidness by occasionally being beset, albeit only on a microcosmic level, by something akin to one or two of the plagues of ancient Egypt. While we haven't experienced red tide in the creek or an onslaught of dying frogs, and recent hailstorms have not been accompanied by fire, all sorts of creatures at times seem on the verge of overtaking us. Organ pipe wasps build their mud-tube condo communities on the front porch faster than I can scrap their homes off the stone. Red ants, like the Orcs ready to slaughter Gondor, amass near the patio in preparation for another epic battle against the black ants. Carpenter bees bore perfect holes in the door frames. Spiders encase the outside window ledges with their silken threads, entrapping flies and other buzzing things with wings. All are reminders that we are temporary visitors -- or, more likely, intruders -- rather than co-inhabitants of this little patch of dirt.

I'm all for living in harmony with nature and try not to be too intrusive when I re-direct wildlife away from my dwelling. After all, I'm willing to share, but I can't have spiderwebs in the windowsills and doorways. Living in this little thicket of woods, an unexpected shelter from the city, has made me more aware of the cycles of nature, and, I'd like to think, more respectful. My property is mostly natural and native plantings and I try to be a good caretaker of it. But, while I love watching the deer or the occasional fox run through the woods, and I do my best to put out water, seed and feed for the woodland birds and critters, I will only go so far. Cohabitants of the property, yes. Cohabitants of the house: there I draw the line.

Yesterday, when B said Mom, come here. Quick! Be quiet! I made my way down the stairs. I assumed that there was some view of wildlife outside that could only be seen through the patio doors.

You scared him! Isn't he cute? B asked.

As I tried to make sense of what he was saying, looking at the blinds on the door gently swaying, I spied the creature. I'm not certain, but I think the sound that left my throat was a squeal. Mr. Alvin Monk, aka Chip. In my house!

What ensued would have been a great loop on some parallel universe's mashup of Home & Garden Network and YouTube, one with a theme of "Clueless Homeowner battles small, fast, and furry woodland rodent". I went left; B went right. Chipmunk went between us. I jumped on the sofa and screamed. B (of course) laughed. We changed positions, cornering him again. I opened the doors and grabbed a piece of plastic corner molding (Where did that come from?!) to shoo him out of the door. He ran towards the threshold but stopped short. Who can blame him? It has rained here for days and even furry rodents must be tired of the water and mud. Suddenly, he dashed towards me. I had my chance to catch him, but he veered at the last moment. No-o-o-o! I exclaimed as he flew up the stairs, not fazed by the fact that each step seemed twice his length.

That, you have to admit, was an impressive retreat, B deadpanned.

We scurried up the stairs too, into the laundry room. B jumped on top of the dryer, although I think that is where I should have been. With a broom handle he poked behind the washer. Finally, we decided that he must have retreated through the vent, the same place, most likely, where he had entered. I wasn't so sure, but I wanted to believe that he was gone.

A few hours later, after debating whether Mr Chipmunk or I was more afraid, we forgot about him and the unusual Sunday afternoon excitement. I was seated at the dining room table, reading my emails, when I felt like beady little eyes were looking at me. I heard a slight sound, a chirp. There he was, in the entry way.

I screamed again. Why do I do this? I thought. Like mice, chipmunks aren't exactly deadly attack animals. I outsize him by a ratio of like 600:1.

He ran back down the hallway: four rooms and three closets, all with doors ajar. I looked at my watch: 8:01. All the hardware and home supply stores had just closed. A quick call to WallyWorld to see if they carried traps was unsuccessful.

Called Sister #1. She had a trap but was using it. Haven't caught anything yet, she informed me.

Called Sister #2. Yeah, I used to have a trap. Caught that dead, rabid raccoon in it. Gave it to Sister (#3).

Sister #3's husband told me a raccoon trap was too big and wouldn't work. Sorry that it's in your house. Kinda gross!

Phoned Brother only to hear the answering machine. I called Sister #1 again and pleaded to borrow her trap. After all, my chipmunk was in the house, not the pool shed, I argued. It's on the driveway she replied, resignedly. B made a quick trip across the neighborhood to retrieve it.

I phoned her again. Don't you dare tell Mother!

My lips are sealed, she pledged.

Mr. Monk ventured into the dining room twice during the few minutes B was gone. He winked at me, held his little hands to his face, chirped, and then dashed back down the hallway swishing his tail high into the air.

Great! now not only was he in my house, he was mocking me, intimidating me with his guile and speed. I'll get you, wabbit! I shouted, channeling Elmer Fudd. Yes, Mr. Monk was in danger of becoming my Bugs; a big white whale to my Ishmael.

I set the trap, snapped it a few times trying to place it, and then waited. Alvin had, apparently, retired for the evening. Spouse, away at a conference, called. I wasn't going to tell him, but I caved. I know it's under the bed, I whined. I just know!

I think about a time 20 years ago, another house, another spouse. There was an opossum in the garage. The detached garage. I was certain it would come into the house and climb into the baby's crib. Husband stood on the hood of the car to scare him away. I jumped and hit the horn. Husband went flying off the car. I think I better not tell this husband that story. Besides, he's 800 miles away.

I awoke this morning, determined to capture my unwanted, hidden visitor. I was set on not leaving until I did. I called into work to take a vacation day. A home maintenance issue, I explained. Maybe, I'll be in this afternoon, I added.

Throughout the day I searched for the creature, moving furniture, looking behind stacks of books, behind doors, inside closets. The slightest noise startled me, but it was never Mr. Chipmonk.

Around 3 I decided that I had to return the trap as promised, so I went to the store to buy a trap. Maybe in some type of karmic occurrence, the furry creature would be in the trap when I returned. Two traps and $100 later I returned, more determined to catch the little bugger.

Hey, Mom. He just ran from your room to the office. With no time to unbox the new traps, I carried the borrowed one down the hallway. We tried to set it at the door. It snapped closed a few times. Finally we got it situated and B, standing on a chair, began to beat the wall behind the desk with my cane. Out darted Alvin, jumping the trap, and scurried across the hall, into my room and under my bed.

That was NOT impressive I said.

More of the same followed for the next 30 minutes. I found myself pleading with the creature: I promise. Go into the trap quietly and I'll free you. I'll even give you some of that good bird seed.

I'm eating vegetarian this week. You have nothing to fear. I'm not even a good cook, anyway.

I promise. Go into the trap quietly and I'll free you. I mean it, you little Motherfucker.

No amount of coaxing would move him from his hiding place.

I said to my son: I understand why Elmer Fudd was so vexed by Bugs. I give up for now. Set the trap at the door and let's leave him for a bit.

20 minutes later: Clank! Rattle! A sad, frightened chirp.

B! Come here! Quick! What do we do?. Wise man-child that he is, he knows what this means: Get him out of here. Now!

We took Mr. Monk out into the woods. I had read on the internets yesterday that chipumunks only have a memory of 50 yards. We released him from the trap and he scurried away.

Running away from the house, he did look sort of cute.

I have two unopened traps to return to Lowe's.

I think I'll go see if Bugs Bunny is on TVLand.


Kay said...

LOVEd that story - great entertainment for me on my birthday morn at home with a tummy bug. :) Chipmunks are so cute - compared to opossums - urgghh! (which we have them running across our roof at nights.)
For a more horrifying story of home invasion - go to my sister's partner's blog -

meander said...

what a delight you are to read! i have never heard a chipmunk make a sound before. good thing you caught him...i imagine he would have caused damage to your house in some way.

(un)relaxeddad said...

That was so funny! And so beautifully written. I remember a similar issue with mice and humane traps. Though we ended up getting a cat.

Ooh! Sounds like our own little chipmunk has woken up..

Dorothy W. said...

Oh, that's too funny! I mean, after the fact it's funny -- I know that during the ordeal it wasn't funny at all :)

Cam said...

Kay -- Happy Birthday! Glad I could cheer you up for a few minutes when you weren't feeling well.

Meander -- Welcome. I just found your blog yesterday & it is a delight too!

Relaxed -- for the first time in 30 years, I considered getting a cat, but I'm very allergic to them. And I've been stalked by a few. Why is it that cats always sense when you don't like them? I was even followed by one in Times Square last year. How did he pick me out?

Dorothy -- It was funnier afterwards, but I did try to laugh a few times. Still, falling asleep Sunday night wasn't easy fearing that I'd dream of rats and mice and chipmunks crawling on me.

sandi said...

Oh, Cam! This is such a great story!!
We used to have a cat who would catch gophers and chipmunks and bring them into the house and place them very carefully in her food dish, so that they'd wait for her to work up an appetite and come back and eat them. I've had many merry adventures chasing rodents through my house and cursing. Love the way you illustrated it you go from making promises for freedom to calling him the worst names you can think of! Glad you're free of him and that he has a memory only 500 years long. Priceless!

Ella said...

HA HA HA! We used to get all kinds of wildlife in our house when I was growing up - many happy memories of my parents chasing squirrels out of the kitchen with brooms and cursing - :). Glad you survived the experience.

Emily Barton said...

What a great story, and so well written! I was right there with you, chasing that little motherf***er. Glad it all came out okay in the end (no dead chipmunks or humans).

Cam said...

Sandi, my parents had a cat that would do the same thing, but the chipmunks -- and the bunnies -- were usually so stunned, if not dead, that they didn't run around! Eeewww!

Ella, a friend told me the other day that she used a broom before too, but the only thing that resulted in was her cat getting a black eye -- from the chipmunk. Poor kitty!

Em -- Not sure what I would have done with a dead chipmunk. And I don't think that I could have brought myself to kill him once I trapped him. I think I would have felt bad if I released him near the creek across the street, probably separating him forever from the rest of his chipmunk family. But, there are so many outside, that if more get inside, I may have to do that!