critter haven in the wasatch mountains

From the little biddies we raised in big cardboard boxes by the fireplace in our kitchen ’til they were big enough to transfer to the chicken pen–to the injured baby pig I named Buster and hand-raised as when I was a bit older, ever since I was a very small child I’ve always had a soft spot for animals and fowl of all kinds. I had a succession of dogs from the time I was around four. I wanted to marry my dog Trixie when I grew up–that’s how much I loved her! Though I wasn’t allowed to have cats then, I did sneak food to and pet the strays that showed up from time to time, and when Daddy ordered my brother to shoot them next time he saw them sleeping on the ledge outside the kitchen window I mustered all the intestinal fortitude I could and chased them away to save their lives. When I was older, I bought a green parakeet I named Pete from the dime store in town, and trained him to sit on my shoulder. Whenever I was home, he rarely spent any time at all in his cage. That was to sleep in at night! So you can say I’ve always had a soft spot for animals.

So, is it any wonder that Hubby and I great difficulty knowing how to handle the critter problem that comes with living in a mountainous area? I mean, the animals WERE here first, weren’t they? My neighbors announce they have RATS but have no problem calling the exterminator. I saw an enormous rat beneath the bird feeder on the backyard hill and wondered about his family, especially the babies back in the nest with mama rat. I watch the gambel quail families trot by in a perfect queue nearly every afternoon and worry about the occasional hawk I note perching nearby. . . or the cats some of the neighbors allow to roam the hills in spite of the possibly hungry coyotes still around, and my heart hurts a little each time the trailing kiddies are fewer in number. By the end of the summer, there are usually only four or five from their original number of dozens.

While this has little to do with animals, a few days ago when I answered the doorbell, the grandchildren thrust these little goodies in my hand. They were so adorable I had to take a picture. My daughter–and the kids–made them and knowing how much I like pigs, wanted to share them with us. Next morning I had one for breakfast, and felt like a murderess as I bit into the ear. Somehow I got it all down, and it was delicious!

This little guy or girl, or members of his/her family who live, I’m pretty sure in burrows below our backyard deck, spent an entire morning outside our bedroom window, barking. There was a dried squirrel carcass under the apricot tree, and I wondered if it was a baby crying for mama. Actually, squirrels bark! Anyway, it was perfectly apparent that he was calling somebody. Squirrels, rabbits too–as there’s a fat one of those in the yard too, prefer to live where there’s an abundance of food, usually an area with nut- and seed-producing plants. And why not? Bingo! We have cherry, almond, pear, plum, and apricot trees in the back. I also try to plant flowers for bloom and a few tomato plants around the end of May. The first summer I planted tomatoes with a row of marigolds all around them to discourage the animals and guess what? Squirrels and rabbits in our part of the Wasatch love marigolds! They’re apparently very tasty. My flower garden this year is very sparse but there are some very fat squirrels and rabbits there. If that’s not enough, we harbor animals inside the house. This year, my patience as been sorely tested as I watch my pretty little flowers disappear one by one. I am making notes, however, of what they don’t seem to like. Next year, we’ll have lots of geraniums and zinnias.

The kids (daughters 1 & 2) and Hubby gave me this Mickey Mouse telephone one Christmas when we lived in Ohio, twenty or more years ago. I’ve never grown tired of him, and several years later–about the time I began to wear glasses full time, I bought Mickey a pair too. He was probably around 52 at the time since Walt Disney created him in 1928.

Now for an update on the mice we have in our home. Since we moved here nearly five years ago, we’ve found three drowned mice floating in the guest room toilet, not quite at the rate of one per year. The other two bathrooms have for some reason always been spared. If you’ve never experienced walking bleary eyed into the bathroom in early morning and finding a dead mouse in the toilet, you haven’t missed a thing! It can be quite startling! The dried black-eyed pea bag in the pantry continues to dwindle pea by pea, but still our mice (or mouses?) continue their polite habit of not pooping in the pantry. As far as I can tell, their toilet is under the kitchen sink with the detergents and comet. I’ve shoved everything else into plastic containers but left the peas there as a humane gesture. We’ve acquired a “humane” mouse trap, but so far the peanut butter and nuts have not enticed sufficiently–or else we have college educated mice!

This morning, the man who has been renovating our house showed up and at this very moment is ripping out the tile in the guest bathroom, the last project in our fix-up program. Remember, that’s the bathroom with the toilet our mice seem to prefer to drown in. In a couple of weeks if all goes well, we’ll go from having turquoise bathtub and sink I have to bend down to wash my hands, what I consider a kiddie’s bath from years gone by, to more sophisticated (hopefully) white sink and a deep soaker bathtub. I made sure to take before photos to remind myself why we decided to spend the money. Art (the contractor’s name, not the mouse) is an expert at making messes and noise, and I’m thinking he’s outdoing himself today! I’m thinking also that if said mouse or mice are holed up in the wall in there, who knows where they’ll run to trying to escape the devastation.

Hopefully, it won’t be here in our office in our printer like the one in this picture a friend in Pittsburgh sent in an email attachment. An internet search for the source shows it to have been around since at least 2005, so I’m unable to acknowledge a source, but apparently lots of folks thought it rigged or photo-shopped. Knowing what I know about mice, I could well imagine this happening. I mean, toilet? printer? your choice. Which would you choose? And with all that banging and bashing going on in the bathroom today, I feel a little sorry for Mrs. Mouse if she’s trying to get the kiddies to nap, ’cause it ain’t gonna happen! Meantime, I’m going downstairs and spend the rest of the day doing laundry and ironing.

northern elephant seals along the california coast

I was looking through old Wintersong posts today looking for a post I thought I’d written about elephant seals along the California coast. I cannot imagine why I didn’t, but apparently I forgot–and that was even before the chemo brain I blame everything on now!

In our quest to view northern elephant seals two years ago at this time of year, Hubby and I found ourselves at California’s Año Neuvo State Park, which is the site of the largest mainland breeding colony in the world for the northern elephant seal. I was there several years prior while visiting my daughter, then a graduate student at Stanford University in Palo Alto. It was during the winter breeding season and I remember being immensely impressed with the rituals and lengths to which the male elephant seals go in order to attract a willing female. Seeing as how much larger than the females they were I can understand why the females did not seem altogether interested. While the females grow to 9-12 feet and weigh between 900-1800 pounds, males grow to 14-16 feet long and weigh in at 3000-5000 pounds or more. I remember watching and being very thankful I had not come into this world as a female elephant seal!

By early March most of the adult seals are gone, leaving the weaned pups behind until around the end of April when they all return to Año Nuevo’s beaches to molt and grow new skins.  So, while it might not be as exciting watching elephant seals shed their skins rather than witnessing their mating rituals, I felt certain Hubby would enjoy seeing them interact.

If you’d like to go see for yourself sometime if or when you’re in California, be advised that in order to reach the rookery site, you should be in fairly good shape for hiking, as you’ll have to walk a long distance over fairly flat ground that varies from this nice rock path near the beginning . . .

and slug through sand that makes you remember those quicksand scenes you saw when you were a kid in jungle and desert movies. At that point you just focus and think how strong your ankles are getting and put one foot ahead of the other . . . !

Finally, if you can stop lollygagging–as I always do taking pictures of all the flowers and stuff yards behind Hubby–you’ll see glimpses of the shoreline. And the seals’ napping area. Interacting, they are definitely not!

While they’re in the ocean, seals spend most of their time alone. Naturally, when they come ashore they seem to need a little contact with others of their kind . . . and you’ll nearly always see young pups looking for a warm body to lie on and being rebuffed. Apparently molting and making new skin takes a lot out of you and you don’t need some kid to come along looking for cuddle time.  Actually I felt downright sorry for them, but couldn’t do anything because visitors of the human ilk are not allowed to get close enough to touch them, much less cuddle. But how would one accomplish such if such were possible?

Probably you’ll never need to know. But should you ever find yourself on a beach in south Georgia, (that’s the state that Russia still thinks it owns, not the one in the U.S. southeast) where apparently you are allowed to be up close and personal, here’s an instructive video you should watch. Even if you never plan to cuddle a seal, but love animals–especially baby versions–as much as I do, then you’ll want to watch this. I think it might make it to the top of your list of favorites as it has mine.

Happy a great weekend, everyone! 😀

critter trouble right here in salt lake city

I began to suspect last winter that we might have a mice problem when I noticed a plastic bag of dried beans, about a quarter of its original content, slowly dwindling, so I looked around for the telltale evidence of poop pellets and found none. So I figured I was mistaken and wondered at my folly for not cooking all the beans at the same time. Pre-cooked beans last quite well in the refrigerator for later use the same week, and in the freezer they last quite long. It seemed silly to use only three-quarters of the bag, but apparently I had. So I lay the bag aside on the same pantry shelf and waited for the day I might need a quarter of a bag. A few weeks later, I picked up the bag again and it was empty. Then I noticed the teeny tiny torn space and thought, uh huh! We have apparently been hosting a mouse for quite a while, one with good manners–since he didn’t poop on the shelf–but a mouse nonetheless. There simply couldn’t be another explanation.

Immediately I announced my discovery to Hubby who, being an engineer and all, simply wouldn’t accept my findings. If there wasn’t poop on the shelves then there had to be another explanation. We’d have to wait and watch, and meantime he wouldn’t have to worry about it. Then came a more sinister and urgent enemy, as I was diagnosed with non-Hodgkins lymphoma in early February, and almost everything else was forgotten after that.

Now that the cancer treatments if not the worries are behind us, to say we were caught off guard by what happened on a recent evening when we were sitting in the family room would be somewhat understated. In fact I was quite shocked when I noted the tiniest little movement from the wall-recessed shelving where my photograph boxes sit. It happened so fast I’m not sure my brain processed it properly but I saw a thin furry thing slide from the top of a box down the side to the shelf floor, then down the shelf wall to the carpet where he practically disappeared, as he was so tiny! Our daughter’s dog was lying there dozing, completely unaware and unperturbed at all while I watched the tiny slice of fur swim across the carpet, which was so much taller than he, it indeed looked as if he were adrift in an ocean.

Hubby jumped up to grab a newspaper. He thought he might be able to scoop it up inside the paper so we could toss him outside, but my squeals and his movement alerted little mousey to the fact that we’d seen him, so he hid–first under the couch and then, as I lifted the couch so Hubby could trap him in the newspaper–he scurried across the room disappear behind the bookcases lining the wall. What in the world would do we do now? There was no more refuting the evidence we’d both seen plainly as the nose on our face. We had trouble! We had mice right here in Salt Lake City.

It happens that we live at the base of an area of the Wasatch referred to as Rattlesnake Gulch, thus we were aware that we were prone to critter troubles right from the beginning of our moving here. In fact, the day I arrived for my first walk through before the moving van arrived from Las Vegas where we were living at the time, you can imagine how startled I was to lift the seat of the toilet in the main bathroom to find a drowned mouse floating. Out of instinctual revulsion, I involuntarily flushed it. It was quite dead. For weeks I was unable to use the toilet without seeing–in my mind–that mouse floating in the water.

After we moved in and I was papering the pantry shelves, it became quite clear from the droppings that the house was infested with mice (and other larvae under the sink that metamorphosed into tiny flies who lay more eggs to become larvae, etc), so our first major fix was to call a pest control. They came and sprayed and set mouse traps outside. While we knew it couldn’t be sugar they were spraying and setting traps with, either Hubby nor me labored long to think what it really meant. Personally, I could only focus on the fact that the law of supply and demand in nature meant that the more mice we had, the more likely the rattlesnakes in the gulch were to visit. Thus began my summer pattern of not setting a foot outside the porch in the back yard in rattlesnake season. If I couldn’t get the weeds or anything else controlled before the snakes started down the mountain, then they got a free pass the rest of the summer.

Long story short, the mice disappeared, the larvae did too after a couple of years. and for most of the past three years we have been relatively pest free as long as you don’t count the hornets and the spiders. While we saw a rattlesnake going after the squirrel family under the neighbor’s deck next door, we never saw one in our yard–yet. No mice = no snakes, and that was good enough for me. End of problem! Until now.

Only a few weeks ago, we were walking around the neighborhood when we met a couple of women also out for a walk. They were practically wringing their hands watching something on the side of the street near a gutter. Turned out it was a huge rat obviously in the agonizing throes of dying. No matter how much you don’t want rodents around your house it hurts to watch them die. Poison. I knew because the way it works to rid a house of them is that when ingested, the pest immediately leaves the house in pursuit of water, usually outside. Knowing it intellectually and actually observing a real death by poison are two completely different things. I felt like Scarlet O’Hara as I walked away from a horrible scene I knew I wouldn’t be able to shake from memory for weeks, all the time silently reciting, with God as my witness I will never (knowingly) poison an animal again!

So here we were with a mice problem without the heart to do much about it. Again. Neither of us wants to use professional pest control because we don’t want to contribute to pesticide runoff, and for the more obvious humane reasons. But we don’t relish being unwitting hosts to possibly disease-carrying vermin (the Hanta virus is a real concern here in the west) in our house either. We discussed a mouse trap–the kind that snaps across the spine when a mouse goes to nibble the cheese you entice him with, but couldn’t bear to think of the mouse suffering if he was trapped but didn’t die right away. Neither of us were up to that. And besides, who would retrieve the mouse and reset the trap? Both of us agreed. Not me! So we did all we knew to do at the time. We went to bed.

The following week Hubby went shopping and came home with a humane mouse trap. It’s a little black plastic box with an opening that allows a small animal to enter in order to nibble on the peanut butter treat the instruction page suggests you use to tempt it. Then when it finishes the treat, it can’t get out again. Next day, voila, you lift the little plastic contraption with mousey inside, open the back door and dump him someplace outside. Where doesn’t matter–maybe in the yard of that crudmugeon neighbor down the street. I don’t know if the scare from a night trapped in a bed of peanut butter is supposed to serve as a life lesson for said mouse, or if this becomes a ritual you’ll have to repeat every few days. Before we got the trap set up in our usual lackadaisical way, Hubby greeted me at the breakfast table recently with a little critter news.

Seems he found a floating mouse in that same toilet I saw the drowned mouse on my first walk-through. He flushed it down, even though it wasn’t dead yet. He tells me, little mousey won’t drown, he’ll just be flushed out into whatever critter heaven the sewer empties out into, whereupon he can find himself a new home to take him in. Wherever that particularly little mousey wound up, and I’m pretty sure he died a watery death despite Hubby’s protestations, I must say he was a thoughtful little critter. Not once did I find mousey poop anywhere in the pantry. But one day not longer after, I did find out where he’d been making his “toilet” all this time. Inside the cabinet under the sink. And no doubt the rest of his family is still using it. I expect any day now we’ll get that humane trap set up somewhere in the house, probably near the bag of beans I left out on the pantry shelf to see if any beans would disappear. Yes, I checked it today. The bag is going down slowly but steadily, and this time I found a fairly large hole. If I procrastinate long enough, maybe Hubby will come to the rescue.