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Monday, October 19, 2020

Bird in the House

The cats told me there was something in the ductwork. The three of them were sitting on top of the boxed Christmas decorations in the basement, meowing and leaping, knocking garlands and ornaments to the floor in an attempt to reach the ceiling. Junior, feeling agile, managed to launch himself up and onto the ductwork. I don’t know how much weight that stuff can hold so I shooed him back down. The object of their interest was making a fair amount of noise in the tin and causing a great deal of feline excitement.

I told my husband I suspected something was trapped in the ductwork, again. It has happened at least three times before. Following the noise, I pulled the end off the pipe and the bird flew out to sit on a pair of cross country skis braced over the rafters. As usual the Farmer was no help whatsoever. He came downstairs, grabbed a broom and started waving it at her.

“What exactly is that supposed to accomplish??” I asked, exasperated. I directed him to stand back, as I turned out the lights and climbed up onto the shelving to reach the basement window. As the only source of light it was an obvious exit, if she could reach it before the cats did. She did.

“Now will you get someone to climb the roof and fix the screen on that chimney?” My husband doesn’t do roof climbing. He is not fond of heights. So we have a few spots that need attention before winter, if we don’t want to welcome other wild houseguests.

Some people say it is good luck to have a bird in the house. Others say it means a change is going to come. Still others believe it is a bad omen, or a sign that death is coming. It certainly has been a sign of death coming to the birds, anyway. This one was lucky that I was home to hear her in the inner workings of the ducts. Others have not been so lucky. I’m just glad it was a bird and not a squirrel. Those things freak me out.

But wait – I looked it up and apparently a squirrel in the house OR ON YOUR BED is a sign that you should let go of useless thoughts and forge ahead with your plans. A squirrel ATTACK is a sign that you will soon be blessed with luxury and a special relationship.

I don’t know about you but I don’t think having wild rodents in your home is an attractive quality in a person. Occasionally I hear a squirrel or some other little beast in the attic. We tried putting a live trap up there but they didn’t bite. We had better get a handle on this situation before winter. The last thing I need is some animal giving birth to an entire litter of critters between the walls of our house.

-30-??” I asked, exasperated. I directed him to stand back, as I turned out the lights and climbed up onto the shelving to reach the basement window. As the only source of light it was an obvious exit, if she could reach it before the cats did. She did.

“Now will you get someone to climb the roof and fix the screen on that chimney?” My husband doesn’t do roof climbing. He is not fond of heights. So we have a few spots that need attention before winter, if we don’t want to welcome other wild houseguests.

Some people say it is good luck to have a bird in the house. Others say it means a change is going to come. Still others believe it is a bad omen, or a sign that death is coming. It certainly has been a sign of death coming to the birds, anyway. This one was lucky that I was home to hear her in the inner workings of the ducts. Others have not been so lucky. I’m just glad it was a bird and not a squirrel. Those things freak me out.

But wait – I looked it up and apparently a squirrel in the house OR ON YOUR BED is a sign that you should let go of useless thoughts and forge ahead with your plans. A squirrel ATTACK is a sign that you will soon be blessed with luxury and a special relationship.

I don’t know about you but I don’t think having wild rodents in your home is an attractive quality in a person. Occasionally I hear a squirrel or some other little beast in the attic. We tried putting a live trap up there but they didn’t bite. We had better get a handle on this situation before winter. The last thing I need is some animal giving birth to an entire litter of critters between the walls of our house.

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Thursday, September 17, 2020

I've become an agoraphobe

 

I once met a woman who had to rent out an entire restaurant just so she could go out for dinner. She was agoraphobic. Basically she only left home when forced / encouraged. She had all of her daily needs delivered to her, after ordering them online or over the phone. The UPS man, the grocery delivery person, the mailman and the Purolator courier knew her well. They left her purchases inside the covered porch, where they would not be damaged by wind, snow or rain. As per her instructions, they rang the doorbell and left, without saying hello.

Since the middle of March, many of us have been pretty much confined to our homes. I don’t know about you, but I think I am developing agoraphobia, to an extent. The only time I leave home (or the cottage), is to buy groceries. I don the mask, the hand sanitizer and I check off the items on my list, quickly and efficiently. Following the arrows on the aisles. Keeping my 6-foot distance from the other shoppers. I see someone I recognize, but I don’t call out their name or start a conversation. Why? I don’t know. I just keep moving. Trying not to touch things that I will not buy. Thinking about all of the hands that have touched, and all of the mouths that have potentially coughed on the things that I have put in my cart.

I know that it is entirely possible that I have become a bit paranoid. It’s amazing what the brain will do when you restrict its interaction with other human beings. I see the Farmer, of course, and other members of our “10”; our 5 daughters and their mates, pretty much. My mother. My sister. But when I’m out in public, I tend to be a bit freaked out, lately.

This isn’t the first time I have noticed a strange reaction to interacting with the general public following a period of self-isolation. In the winter of 2017 I worked on a compilation of columns, publishing a book. In April, after basically being home since December, I went to a networking event. I remember feeling slightly offended by the first person who made eye contact and asked me a question. I felt my privacy had been invaded. Weird? Yes. Normal? Probably. This was my first exposure to people outside my family group, in about 5 months.

I am nearing 5 months now of just family contact. I suspect the next time you see me out in public, I might be acting a little strange. It’s ok – we are all adjusting to the new normal. And we might be a little “weird” until we get used to each other again.

 


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Tuesday, September 1, 2020

Just call me Batwoman

 The scritch-scritch-scritching between the walls was waking me in the middle of the night. At first, I was quite convinced that it was a squirrel, climbing the back wall of the cottage, entering through the last remaining unfinished section of the house and burrowing between the walls under the gabled roof. When I heard the noise, I made a fist and pounded the wall until, like a rowdy neighbour, it finally stopped. But I was wrong. It wasn’t a squirrel. It was a bat.

One night, I heard the noise coming from the closet. I opened the huge barn doors and out flew my little noisy friend. S/he soared awkwardly around the room, confused by the cabinets in its centre and the mosquito nets hanging over the beds. Finally she found a comfortable roost on the rafter, where she sat and stared at me. My heart pounding from the adrenalin, I remembered my father’s advice. I turned all the lights off inside, turned the patio light on, and slid the door open. Immediately a swarm of mosquitos and other bugs formed a cloud under the porch light. The bat flapped out the door and into the night to enjoy an easy meal. I slid the door closed and went back to bed, my heart rate returning to normal.

Two hours later I was awakened by the soft BOP of something against my forehead. The bat was back. And this time she was IN THE MOSQUITO NET WITH ME, flapping around aimlessly. She had been using me for bait! She must have been as alarmed as I was because when I opened the net she flew straight to the patio door as if asking to be let out. She didn’t return that night.

I shared my bat invasion story online and a friend offered me a spare bat house. Yes! That’s exactly what I needed, I thought. Four of us sat on the balcony that night and watched the bat swooping overhead, consuming her 1,000 mosquitoes per hour. I definitely want her to stay. Just not in my cottage. I can do without the toxic bat droppings turning to guano dust and polluting my environment.

The tiny little bat shack (about the size of a Kleenex box, open at the bottom), came with instructions. It said we should install the house about 4 metres off the ground on a structure that is 20 feet away from anything else, facing South-East. I hauled the ladder out and had the Farmer climb up and nail the house to a tree that had no low branches to confuse the blind bats. I took a picture (as you do), and posted it online.

Immediately I was scorned for my bat house placement. Apparently it cannot be on a tree, not because of branches, but predators. It needs to be painted with flat black non-toxic paint to gather heat or the 24 bats that can fit inside (24?!) will freeze to death. Ok. Back up the ladder we go.

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Thursday, August 13, 2020

This dog has a purpose

When my first granddaughter was born, her mother’s yellow Lab, Rupert, was about 5 years old (or 35 in human years). Rupert had witnessed the births (and ensuing drama) of his housemate Beretta, a black Lab. He may have started to develop a protective instinct then – when puppies began to crawl out of the toddler pool-turned-whelping bed and wander through the house while the humans were away. He followed them and kept them out of trouble. Perhaps he even ushered them back to their mother, who no doubt appreciated the extra set of paws. But those were someone else’s babies. When my granddaughter was born, Rupert seemed to claim her as his own.

Rupert was introduced to the baby with a sniff of the receiving blanket she had been wrapped in at the hospital. When the snuffling, rooting creature was carried into the house and placed gently in the bassinet, Rupert took a good, long inhale of her scent. Then he wriggled beneath her bed and stayed there until his owner forced him to go outside for a pee. Rather than staying outside to romp and play with the other family dogs, Rupert returned quickly to the baby’s bed, where he stayed until she woke.

The dog followed that baby from room to room as she was carried around for feedings and diaper changes. As she grew, he sat under her feeding chair and cleaned up the scraps. When she crawled, he nudged her away from furniture toward the middle of the room. When she stood to walk, he was her escort, and her cushion when she stumbled and fell.

The first time she was snapped into a life jacket and placed between her mother’s knees in a canoe, Rupert stood on the dock, vigilant. He whined and paced while they set out without him. Then, over the next hour as the canoe travelled farther away along the shoreline and became a tiny speck in the distance, Rupert sat on that dock and never once took his eyes off his floating family. When they returned and the toddler was placed back up on the shore, he inspected her from head to toe to ensure that nothing had happened to her in his absence.

As his little girl grew and went off first to daycare and then to kindergarten, Rupert had to content himself with evenings and weekends, where he would once again follow the child from room to room, allowing her to dress him in costumes, sitting patiently on her picnic blanket as she served him pots of imaginary tea, supervising her baths and running to catch every ball that she threw in his direction.

Rupert is now almost 70 in human years. He conserves his energy, napping while the child is away. And now there is a new baby in the house. It will be interesting to see if he takes on the role of her protector as well.

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Friday, July 24, 2020

Put your hands on those critters



One of the best pieces of advice I have ever been given concerning the care of animals, is this: “put your hands on those critters.” This is what the Farmer suggested during my first week as a Farmwife, when I pulled on boots and gloves and ventured out to the barnyard to see what trouble I could get into.

The Farmer has always been a solitary creature, preferring to do most things on his own. He does occasionally need an extra pair of hands, however, and that’s where I come in. And he has learned that if the animals are comfortable with my hands, they are far more likely to agree with whatever sort of treatment we are trying to administer.

Take Ginger the cow, for example. She was so excited to see the Farmer approaching with a round bale of hay one winter morning soon after we bought her that she ran in front of the tractor and got herself impaled on one of the forks. For the next few weeks Ginger found herself penned up, receiving medical treatment on her wound. New to the farm, she didn’t trust us and kicked at any approach. I watched as the Farmer put the salve on the end of a pole and wiped it on her cut from a distance. Imagine how much easier that would have been if Ginger was used to being touched. Things were much easier with cattle that were born on the farm, because they were used to us being in their space, brushing them, checking their feet and moving them around.

The donkey, sheep and even the chickens got fairly used to having me in their living spaces, brushing them, handling them and feeding them treats. Some of them became quite tame. Others remained wild but not as mistrusting as they would have been if I had kept my distance.

Even dog training books recommend you get the animal used to you handling their sensitive ears and feet and checking their teeth. It’s much easier for a vet to treat a dog that trusts human touch.

One day I had a feral barn cat show up on the back porch with a huge swollen abscess on her cheek. I knew it would be difficult if not impossible to examine and treat her, as she was never one to allow human touch, even as a kitten. In the end we had to lure her into the house, corner her in the basement and catch her with a fishing net. Once trapped, she was resigned to her fate and lay quietly while the Farmer administered a shot of penicillin and I wiped antibiotic cream over her face.

If you have a barn full of animals, I highly recommend you get in there and put your hands on them, regularly. I have found visitors are also typically willing to assist in this exercise, especially where puddles of new kittens are concerned.
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love, generations, tolerance, people, hands, animals, happy ...

Monday, July 13, 2020

Has anyone seen the dog?



In recent days we have experienced a cacophony of loud noises at the cottage. The Farmer has been hammering to finish trim and the gabled end of the roof. Occasionally the air compressor lets out a large belch as it gears up for its next expenditure of power. These noises are startling to humans. To dogs, they are next-level disturbances.

Thunderstorms are another source of concern for the dog, and he knows when they are coming before we do. One slightly overcast afternoon we were just floating around on our inflatable unicorns, commenting on how the sky appeared rather ominous at the distant end of the lake. Suddenly we realized Fergus, who had most recently been barking at us from the dock, was missing. We thought he was protesting the fact that he couldn’t join us on our floaties. Perhaps he was trying to alert us to the coming storm. In any case, he was gone.

We had just enough time to gather our things and head up the hill when the skies opened and the wind started blowing sideways. The thunder boomed as we entered the cottage. We found Fergus upstairs, wedged in the dark space between the wall and bed.

The situation reminded me of my sister’s dog, Mandy. The Rottweiler-mix was not a small dog, but she was terrified of thunderstorms. As soon as the barometric pressure began to change, she would blast through the screen patio door to safety. Upon hearing the weather report on the radio at work or in her car, Mom would call home: “Open the screen door! Mandy’s going to bust through it!!” 
Sometimes we caught it on time. Mostly we didn’t. I think Mom replaced that screen door half a dozen times during Mandy’s lifetime.

On Canada Day, I got the great idea to buy some fireworks to send up over the lake. We started with the smaller ones, watching the dog to see how he would react. Fergus appeared to be doing ok with the explosions – he just kept running out onto the dock to where the Farmer was setting them off. Maybe he was trying to protect his master. In any case, we thought he was fine. Certainly he didn’t react the way he does in a thunderstorm. My daughter’s dog Vitor, however, was another story. While his mum and dad were lakeside, Vitor took off.

We searched every corner of the cottage and took a flashlight to peer under every parked car. Finally we found him (another Rottweiler mix, by the way), trotting down the road. I don’t know where he thought he was going. Maybe next year we will lock the dogs up with a movie and a snack before the fireworks begin.
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Fireworks - Wikipedia


Wednesday, June 10, 2020

It's hot. Find your spot.




I love this time of year when the leaves are popping out on the Virginia Creeper that I transplanted to the back porch. The Farmer built a trellis roof, much like they have in wine country. Soon we will have a living roof to shade and cool us.

A robin built her nest on the top of a post at the edge of our porch. The leaves of the vine have now sprung up to completely shield her brood from view. Two barn swallows sit on the knobby bits of the vine, watching for June bugs. They eat mosquitoes, too. They may be building a muddy nest atop the porch light but, as far as I’m concerned, they can stay as long as they like. They are earning their keep.

The vine also grows thick around, over and through the old log barn at the edge of the property. When you step inside the structure, the thickness of the logs and the vine insulation drop the internal temperature by at least ten degrees as compared to what is happening outside. Maybe this is what made one of our cows (Ginger) decide to force her way in through the single door one hot June day.
I was doing my morning rounds when I noticed a rather large cinnamon-coloured behind wedged in the entrance to the tiny building. Upon inspection, I could tell the cow had gotten herself firmly stuck.

“Oh, Ginger. What have you done?”

She just turned her head slowly round to peer at me, completely nonplussed over her situation. I put my shoulder against her rump and gave her a hearty shove. The logs gave an inch and in she went. She happily took up the tiny pen, rearranged herself and continued to chew her cud, looking at me.

“I suppose you want to stay in here? I’m going to tell the Farmer what you have done to his barn.”

The tiny feeding trough between the two little pens had been shattered by the cow’s bulk as she forced her way inside. My husband started the tractor and brought a big, fermented hay bale outside where the cow could smell it, and waited until Ginger squeezed her way back out of the building. The walls strained under her effort. Once she was out, he nailed a big board across the door.

The next day, which was even hotter and muggier, Ginger was back inside the log barn. She watched us through the tiny window as we approached.

“Well, it looks like she has found a place to get away from the bugs,” the Farmer decided.

Ginger was allowed to stay in the log barn. Like some sort of bovine fairytale princess, she had found her own little cabin in the woods to escape from the blackflies, mosquitoes, wasps and June bugs. I guess I’m lucky she didn’t try to get up on my shaded back porch.

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