Creatures stirring

So, if there was a creature stirring all through the house, how would you know?

Living in the Maine woods on cold, pre-winter’s nights gives me ample opportunity to ponder that age-old question. The challenging part comes in never knowing the precise moment I’ll go from idle speculation to launching an in-depth investigation.

Flump…flump…flump…kaffitt….ffitt…ffitt…kaflump!

“What IS that and where in the hell is it coming from?” It’s midnight and I’m interrogating Tom about the frantic stirring in our bedroom wall. Moments earlier, I’d laid my weary head on my pillow, grateful for my quiet serenity, my flannel sheets and my double layer of fleece blankets. As I snuggled in, I thought about the nighttime sounds we’d left behind in favor of our new blissful stillness. We weren’t victims of big city noise pollution by any stretch, but the incessant thumping of road traffic slamming through the potholes in front of our old house made our current address a more restful retreat.

Flump…flump…flump…kaffitt….ffitt…ffitt…kaflump!

“That’s really loud and it’s right next to your head!” I declared to my husband and official noise patrol officer who, by now, was bolt upright in bed, blinking furiously into the darkness. Moments earlier, he’d been sound asleep with visions of big Rangeley deer dancing in his head. Thanks to years of training, though, he quickly answered his call to duty and began assessing the situation.

“Whaaat? What noise are you talking about? I can’t tell where it’s….” Flump…flump…flump…kaffitt….ffitt…ffitt…kaflump!

“It’s right there, in the wall, next to your head! You didn’t hear that?”

“Sssshhh! Of course I hear now! Will you be quiet and let me figure out what it is and how it got in there?”

Typically, it takes a minute for Tom to fine-tune his hearing to my ultra-sensitive Mom- ears wavelength, and for me to throttle back the intensity of my verbal inquisition to match his calm style of methodical examination. But once we sync up, we are Team Invincible. Having a long history of shared critter invasions to draw from, we wasted no time zeroing in on our little trespasser(s).

“Bats should have migrated or be hibernating by now,” Tom stated. “It could be a mouse, I suppose but I just can’t imagine how that’s possible. There’s no droppings anywhere. And there’s no way he could have gotten into that wall.” Flump…flump…flump…kaffitt….ffitt…ffitt…kaflump! Jeez, I hope it’s not a friggin’ flying squirrel! They do live around here, you know.” Standing in his underwear with one ear plastered against the wall, I could sense the intensity of his concentration. Cautiously, I waited for breaks in the scratching and snuffling to offer up suggestions.

“Bats would squeak, remember…like that chirping noise we heard at the old Moosehead camp before we poked a couple dozen out of hiding. But it sure does sound like it has wings. Can you hear that sort of flapping noise? How could it do that without wings? And if it is a mouse, we sure can’t just leave it in there! Remember the time in our other house the mouse died in the wall, or at least it smelled like a mouse died in the wall? We’d have that dead mouse smell right behind our bed for months! Ewwww! And remember the mouse that died on top of the water heater and you didn’t find it till……”Flump…flump…flump…kaffitt….ffitt…ffitt…kaflump!

WHAM! WHAM! WHAM! Attempting to shut me up, to scare the critter back outside, or both, Tom slammed on the bedroom wall so loud that the beagles started barking out in their pen. I crossed my fingers, calmed the nerves that had just levitated me a couple inches off the mattress, and hoped a noise that forceful would send whatever it was scampering away. Wasn’t it just the other day we were congratulating ourselves on being mouse proof—getting all smug about the new cabin being tight as a little drum with just us and the beagles allowed inside? As I drifted off to sleep again, I reminded myself to never get over-confident with Mother Nature. And never argue with your mother-in-law when she insists that, no matter how hard you try, you’re just borrowing living space from the forest animals. “You were right.” I admitted. “Good thing our visitors have left us in peace again, for now….”

Flump…flump…flump…kaffitt….ffitt…ffitt…kaflump!  WHAM! WHAM! WHAM!

Finally we decided to call off our investigation until morning. We screwed ear plugs in so tight our ear canals must have looked like the inside of a rifle barrel, and hunkered under the covers, waiting till we could add daylight and the power of Google to our plan of attack. Thanks to the Internet and a fresh outlook, Tom clarified our options to take back our territory. It was definitely a stirring noise, he figured. Possible sources, in this order, were: 1) a mouse who fell down inside the wall and was trying to leap and scramble his way out; 2) bats with no sense of seasonal timing; or 3) a friggin’ flying squirrel. No matter what rodent—winged or otherwise—needed relocating, his strategy would be the same. Like most home improvements, it would be a do-it-himself project, since rodents are not in my contract. Plus, he didn’t need an expensive exterminator to come out and charge big money for stating the obvious problem and taking care of it with the very same tools he had right in his own workshop.

Ultimately, reclaiming quiet here required a drill, ammonia, hornet spray with a super long nozzle and foaming caulk. Also invaluable was Tom’s deduction to make the inside corner of the bedroom closet the point of attack. Whatever was stirring in the wall is gone, for now, leaving it so quiet we can hear sleet against our windows and the wind blowing all the way down the lake from Upper Dam.

Surprise visitors

“Yep, I seen it. Long about dusk, it come creepin’ alongside the woodshed, eyes shinin’ through the trees. Wasn’t actin’ like any racoon, no suh!”

Tales like this are the stuff of cabin folklore and, since staying at a tiny camp on Moosehead Lake as a little girl, part of my family history. The locations and casts of characters have changed a bit through the years, but the common story line runs the same. Some “thing” is in your woods, coming toward your cabin, getting closer. Once it’s in your driveway, if you have a driveway, it is officially a visitor or a trespasser. A common property boundary nearly everywhere, a driveway leading up to your lake place takes on heightened significance as a line of demarcation. When there is something in the driveway and it’s not your car, not the CMP guy, not your expected company, or not even approaching on two legs, the actual driving right down to your cabin luxury you were so proud of when you carved that dirt path through the trees turns into a mixed blessing. While whatever it is uses your access route to get closer, it blocks your escape route over dry land!

The best ever nail-biters are stories in which some critter has approached totally without warning, ambling up whatever path leads it toward you, on to your porch. It’s on the porch, snuffling and scratching, inches away from your last barrier between fleeing or fighting for your life — the door inside!

“I heard it come up on the porch, so I peered through the window in the front door and saw its neck fur in front of me! I figured it must have stood at least six feet tall. I looked around for what I could grab in case it tried to bust down the door and all I had was a fire extinguisher and a shovel!” (Infamous bear on the front porch story as told by my dad; Moosehead Lake; circa 1962).

With stories like this woven through my psyche, and buried memories of lying in a bed a couple feet away from the front door where the bear on the porch was showing his neck fur, I try to be vigilant about knowing who or what is approaching my space. Even so, poor vision, and slothlike reflexes usually render me defenseless, peering at any intruder with, as my dad put it, “a dull vacant stare.” Such was the case last Friday as I stood in my kitchen, cozy in my fuzzy pants, planning nothing more exciting with Tom than hanging up the picture I just bought at the blueberry festival. But suddenly, the beagles were bellowing and there was something on the porch, something that hadn’t even come down the driveway, something that was at the door and had already found a way inside!

When I saw who it was, I froze, helpless. BECKY?!! How did Becky, my Outward Bound instructor, world adventurer, based out of Moab, Utah (when she happens to be indoors) daughter get into my kitchen in Rangeley? Wasn’t I just talking to her on the phone last night about the hot weather “out there?” My expression lapsed to another one of my dad’s favorites: the “close your mouth you’ll catch black flies” face. One of those surprised people whose reaction didn’t quite measure up to what the surprise perpetrators had hoped, I didn’t shriek or flail, jump, or fall over. All I could muster was a few stammered half-questions. Thinking back on it now, I remember my mind racing wildly and my thought process going something like this:

  • I know I have a special maternal connection to Becky and her sister that transcends time and space. But try as I might, I don’t think my super powers can materialize her in my kitchen, even if tomorrow is her birthday.
  • Is she alright? She’s just come off leading a 23-day course hiking the LaSalles and rafting the Colorado and is on the verge of a 50-day course. She’s selected to proctor the fall semester, which is Outward Bound-speak for the person in charge who doesn’t come off the trail the entire season. Did she have second thoughts? Had she gone some sort of desert crazy?
  • When was my last trip to the IGA to get groceries and is it possible I have enough food for her?

Becky, knowing why her mother’s nickname has been Fidget since way before she was born, was quickly over the threshold and answering my questions during a hug with her dad. She wanted a sanity / R and R break before her next assignment. She had flown into Boston the day before, where her sister and brother-in-law, Helen and Jerry, picked her up. She was not in Moab during our last phone call, she was in Portsmouth, talking to me from a hot spot she wouldn’t get a chance to enjoy in Rangeley: a bowling alley. After spending the night at Helen’s, they drove up to the lake, abandoning their car by the road to encroach on foot. They combat-crept through the trees along the driveway, timing their porch landing just right until…..SURPRISE! And yes, she assured, pointing to Helen and Jerry coming through the door behind her laden with plastic shopping bags, they had enough groceries.

“Can I have a Mom hug?” she asked coming over to the sink where I stood, still slack as an empty feed sack. As I grabbed ahold of her for the first time in over three months, she said she also wanted food…..mass quantities of steak, chicken and other non-freeze dried proteins she could eat indoors on a plate. She wanted PBRs (college-speak for cheap beer) by the lake. And most of all, after spending most of her birthdays since she was a teenager out on the trail — missing her family from Grand Teton to the Kennebec River and many points in between — Becky wanted to be home for her birthday.