Wednesday, October 3, 2012


A few nights ago, while we watched a British mystery on television, we heard a loud thud against the French doors in the living room, a sound that reminded us of the children’s book about those “things that go bump in the night.” The noise preceded an expulsion of pieces of insulation through one of the floor vents, followed by violent scratching sounds beneath the vent. We searched out a hammer and beat on the metal vent for a few minutes, and the noise subsided. A big rat? A possum? A skunk? Who knew? We live in the woods of Sewanee, Tennessee, and wildlife strolls through our yard weekly – skunks, rabbits, deer, even a fox or two at times. Also, our cottage is situated on what I call a corduroy lawn, an uneven surface beneath which live millions of moles. Yes, we enjoy a regular cast of Beatrix Potter characters that may have enchanted Beatrix, but don’t fascinate me, particularly skunks and moles.
I didn’t harbor any loving thoughts about the invader, and the following morning we called the heating/air conditioning experts who donned hazard suits and went into the crawl space, returning with the news that some critter had chewed up insulation and destroyed part of the duct work, both of which had been replaced two years ago.
“Can’t do no work until you catch the animal,” Josh said. “You need to call somebody that traps critters.” He gave us the name and number of “the wild man,” as he’s called -- a man reputed to have a recording of the music from the “Batman” movie on his answering machine. Batman wasn’t available, so we searched the telephone directory for wildlife control technicians in Winchester, Tennessee and turned up an ad about a man who claims “if it walks or crawls/ give me some calls!” He also touted that he could get rid of animals dead or alive – rats, skunks, bats, coons, even honey bees. His field of expertise is called Nuisance Wildlife Control, and technicians have to be insured, licensed, and bonded before they can trap wildlife.
The technician arrived in early afternoon wearing a t-shirt and blue jeans – no protective armor of any kind – and began inspecting the site of the air conditioner. “Yep, gets through these holes in the front of the AC,” he announced. Mind you, the holes look small enough to accommodate a baby mouse, but he insisted that critters are mostly long and skinny. “If you take off their hair, they ain’t nothing, and they can slip right through a little crack,” he said. “I think it’s a skunk, but it could be a possum or a coon. You know it ain’t a squirrel because they stay up high and get in your attic. Got any of them?” I assured him that openings under the eaves of the roof had been boarded up. “Well, I know it ain’t a bird. Now if you get some of them, they carry these mites that can get in your house and make you itch and cause all kinds of diseases.”
After leaving that bit of assurance for me to chew on, he opened the trunk of his car and brought out a large cage and a small sack. The sack held a can of sardines, a bag of marshmallows, and a can of scent. The sardines went into the cage, along with the marshmallows, and he smeared the oil from the can of sardines on the ground in front of the air conditioner. “This ought to get ‘em,” he said. “If nothing’s in the cage by Thursday, call me. If something gets in the cage, don’t go near it.  Call me. And if I don’t catch nothing, you still owe me $175.”
Last night, we did a lot of peering through a bedroom window to see if a critter had been attracted to the can of sardines, but no wildlife appeared.
Meanwhile, readers are probably asking, as I did, how do you prevent the skunk, if it is a skunk, from spraying its odorous musk when it’s caught?
It seems that the trapper approaches the trapped, blind skunk and covers the trap with a tarp or piece of burlap. In the dark trap, the skunk is less likely to target and spray the trapper. The trapper gently transports the cage to his car, and as far as I know, takes the critter to a new location or releases it alive, but, in most cases, it’s humanely destroyed because it could be carrying rabies.
Last night I heard two bumps in the night and figured that whatever is underneath the cottage is hibernating or it would have gone out for dinner; namely, the smelly sardines. I know it isn’t skunk mating season or skunk birthing season, so what’s this critter doing in the “den” beneath my house, bumping around, eating insulation, and trying to make an appearance through the floor vents? I read somewhere that skunks actually like to be close to humans, but I’m not ready for such a cozy relationship.
This morning, first thing, I ran to the window and looked down at an empty trap. I was dismayed to see the smelly sardines still nestled in the trap and no critters looking out at me. I decided to give this experiment two more days, and then we'll search for another skunk chaser. As much as I believe in peaceful co-existence, I refuse to live side by side, or floor to crawl space, with a skunk! Bring in the swat team!
Meanwhile, bears have been sighted near the student cafeteria, a block away from us. It’s time to return to Cajun Country for the winter. Down there, we just have mosquitoes, snakes, alligators, and nutria. It’ll be interesting (or devastating) to see what takes up residence in our cottage while we're away from The Mountain this winter! 


melanie jean juneau said...

You are a writer after my own heart- love your articles!

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