The three words that best describe you are Stink, Stank, Stunk

Conventional wisdom says wildlife is the innocent victim when people move into the swamps. The animals in our neck of the swamp couldn’t be happier that such a generous species came and built houses for them to live under.

Here comes trouble

Doesn’t matter the season, these guys are always ready to drop in.

The deer love our gardens. Our bird feeders save the squirrels untold time and effort finding 18 square meals per day. The “Little Man who lives under the porch” (probably a woodchuck, though ethnic origins shouldn’t matter) burrows himself into our hospitality often. Field Mice have bunked with our accommodating cat.

life in the suburbs

Then there was this guy, who took a four-hour nap in our back yard last fall.

In February, a skunk set up housekeeping under our deck. We’ve entertained skunks before, but this one was special. Every night it would light up our house with the tangiest batch of squeezin’s we’d ever breathed.

Having repelled its kind before with ammonia-soaked rags, this was our first defense. But when it is 0°F (-18°C) outside, ammonia does more freezing than stinking. Skunks stink grandly at any temperature.

It got so bad it kept us up all night, and some of us puked. My wife claimed it was making her uterus contract, which seemed a stretch, but maybe not.

Animal Control would attempt to trap the skunk for many bags of gold, but for some reason they didn’t feel confident of success. They said it was probably a female, attracting a mate.

That tore it.

It’s one thing to be smoked out of your home by some poor creature protecting herself, but we run a respectable household. She could do her whorin’ elsewhere. We weren’t about to stand idle while Pepina Le Pew advertised booty calls with her Love Potion Number Noxious.

le pew

Get your girl, Pepe, or you’re gonna find your brood a little larger than you bargained for. (Warner Bros.)

My wife had the first whack. “I went out with a baseball bat, but she wasn’t there,” she said.

“You realize you could have got sprayed?” I asked.

Her voice was monotone, the cold, murderous voice of exhaustion. “Yeah, but she’d be dead. It’d be so worth it.”

I bought stuff skunks dislike and air freshener. Lots of air freshener. All the different brands.

I tied dryer bags of Stank Skank’s least favorite things all around the deck. (The air freshener was for us.) My fingers were good and numb by the end, but that was a small price. We put as much noise and light on the area as we could.

It seemed to get her out from under the deck, but lonely boys with time on their hands still came looking for a little stinking tenderness at night. Periodic whiffs of her jilted lovers’ agonies sent us spiraling into Post Traumatic Skunk Disorder.

We built a snow berm around the deck to make it harder to use as a kiosk for their scented love notes. With the help of used kitty litter we seem to be making progress. The attacks are fewer, but I won’t declare victory until we can invite company into our house again.

snow fortress

The arrival of March means our snow fortress is melting. I hope this doesn’t mean a pick up in business for the brothel.

And my wife’s uterus? Someone explained it this way: She was smelling the pheromones of the dominant female in heat. Her body was syncing itself to that lead.

I was a little surprised at how easily my wife rolled over for a skunk. But I felt better when I recalled that she was about to go get her Alpha crown back with a baseball bat. Now that’s my girl.


Mice Capades: Part 2

Killer mice

Vicious beasts like this should not be frightening the cat and disrupting our family life. They should be outside fighting bears or something. (Image: USFWS)

As everyone sooner or later learns, the key to removing a mouse from your house is having enough kitchenware on hand. What we needed was a lip-less cookie sheet and a pitcher with a snug lid.

Having assembled the proper tools, it was time for man and wife to argue about how to proceed while children threatened the success of every step with meddling curiosity.

I slid the cover enclosing the mouse onto the cookie sheet. Now the rodent dungeon was mobile. My wife was in favor of just throwing the prisoner outside and being done with it, but I was not taking such chances with a trespasser who already knew his way in. We were going to put some distance between him and us.

Since nobody volunteered to ride in the car with Mad Mouse Beyond Thunderdome on their lap, I had to make the prisoner more secure. I made my wife come outside with me to transact the transfer.

If you and your spouse ever need to partner in moving a mouse from under a dish cover on a cookie sheet into a juice pitcher, be prepared for the ultimate test of your marriage. It should be one of the challenges on The Amazing Race, because it’s that full of drama.

A trapped mouse is a ferocious animal who will use any available part of your body to facilitate his escape, sending you into paroxysms of terror. Should this psychologically scarring event come to pass, it will be your spouse’s fault. This is a given. Your relationship may never be the same.

Mouse Thunderdome

Welcome to Thunderdome: One mouse enters; two humans bicker.*

My wife chose to be the slider, leaving me the catching duties. She was skeptical of the plan from the first, predicting that the mouse would avoid the pitcher as the cover slid clear of the cookie sheet.

“If you do it quickly, he’ll have no place else to go,” I reassured her.

She was not reassured. “He’ll climb around the edge,” she insisted as she began her methodical sliding of the cover.

“Not if you do it quickly,” I repeated, attempting to prod her to swifter movement.

She shot back something about losing track of the mouse if she went too fast.

She was giving him too much time to think. “If you do it quickly!” I demanded.

A spouse who doubts your plan is unlikely to execute it quickly. She continued sliding the cover at her deliberate pace – to better identify the exact moment of failure.

“If you do it quickly!” No doubt, the vein was bulging in my neck. Dangerous animals have that effect upon me.

She gave me the famous “Say that one more time!” look.

The mouse, disoriented by my frantic bellowing, allowed himself to drop into the pitcher. I covered it with a sigh of relief.

My wife was back inside the house, having closed the door on both pests left outside.

I drove the mouse to a spot that looked ripe for colonization and set him free.

Then I went home to tell the cat he could come out of hiding and practice talking nice to my wife.


*My wife insists I mention that these items have been thoroughly cleaned. Just in case you happen to stop by for some rodent-free baked goods.

Lessons from the great heifer attack of 1974

It was probably 1974, that day when my little brother and I were playing in the pasture behind the barn. I was skipping pebbles across the creek (pronounced: crick, in this story). My little brother was shooting pebbles at the backside of a Holstein heifer.

I wasn’t paying attention to my brother. I considered neither he nor the heifer to be any of my concern. It was a childish presumption.

The heifer bellowed at him, but that wasn’t any of my business. I had stones to skip. They could work out their disagreements on their own.

I didn’t notice my brother go under the barbed wire fence and up into the barn. I was alone with the heifer, and she was still nursing a grudge against human children and their pebbles.

In a better world

One day, we might have been friends, if not for the pebble incident.

Somehow, the heifer imagined that pebbles were still hitting her. And since there was a nearby human child with pebbles in hand, she concluded that I was the culprit and should be chastised.

When I looked up from my experiments, I discovered her bearing down upon me.

A heifer is not large for a cow, but she is plenty large for a little boy. I ran toward the fence. If I could slide beneath the bottom row of wire before she caught me, I’d be safe.

I almost made it.

Dairyland thugs

A gang of young toughs, on the lookout for a fresh victim. (Image: Marion Post Wolcott/US Farm Security Administration)

I was within arm’s reach of the fence when she knocked me on my back. Before I could shimmy under the wire, she pinned me, her head planted firmly upon my chest.

I still don’t know if she intended to kill me or merely teach me a lesson. She was still a young’un too, so maybe she hadn’t figured that out for herself yet. At the time, I felt doomed.

I tried to scream my fool head off, but it wasn’t easy with her squishing me like a bug. It was hard to breath, let alone scream. My whole life passed before my eyes. I was seven; it was a short film.

I remember seeing the sky, which was where I supposed Heaven was, so at least I’d get a good look at where I was headed. My little brother would get to stay here and play in the creek. Life was so unfair.

Just when it seemed like Heaven was the only exit, I slid beneath the fence. I didn’t do this under my own power, as I was completely powerless. I was dragged under the fence by an arm or leg and carried away by my father. I don’t know how he got there, but I am older and wiser because he did.

The heifer was, no doubt, disappointed at being robbed of her kill. I probably got spanked for antagonizing the livestock, but when you’ve cheated death, a spanking is practically a treat.

"Ladies and gentlemen of the jury, I submit to you that my client could not be guilty of the attempted murder of that boy as she is neither a Holstein nor a heifer."

“Ladies and gentlemen of the jury, I submit to you that my client could not be guilty of the attempted murder of that boy as she is neither a Holstein nor a heifer.”

One day I will tell my boys this story. They don’t live on a farm, but they can still take a valuable lesson from it: Whether it’s with bovines or the girls at school, you can always count on a brother to leave you in an awkward situation.

You’re an extremely lucky lad if your dad can get you out of it.

If the frog’s happy, I’m happy

If you secretly resent those crafty parents who can effortlessly sew together adorable Halloween costumes for all their kids, then you have no reason to resent my wife and me. All of our skill at producing cute costumes comes at a bargain price from a discount store.

I have created many of my own costumes for Halloween parties over the years, but my creations have been more conceptual. One year, I was a window. Another time, I did Halloween as part of this complete breakfast. I got a lot of hungry looks from squirrels that night.

Angry owl

The Angry Owl. If I were an animal who regularly coughed up balls of mouse hair and bones, I’d be angry too.

Kids’ costumes are supposed to be cute and, more or less, easily identifiable. If this weren’t enough of a stake in my creative heart, they are not supposed to be even slightly dangerous. I was never able to guarantee that the costumes I’d made for myself wouldn’t accidentally poke somebody in the eye. That’s not really a selling point at a kids’ party.

My wife and I aren’t very artistically talented, if you take away the part of art that is left to the beholder’s imagination. Consequently, my wife spends part of October shopping for boys’ Halloween costumes.

The big boy decides what he wants to be on his own. Last year, Halloween coincided with his skunk phase. All boys go through a skunk phase, right? This year, he’ll be a soldier. He’s known this for at least six months. Easy.

A frog's OK I guess

The Ambivalent Frog. The good news is he isn’t an owl. The bad news: Do owls eat frogs?

The little boy is another story. Finding an appropriate costume for a toddler can be an adventure. Of course, it must be cute. But it also must not make him topple over at every step. Most importantly, it must not induce him into a screaming fit every time it comes near him. Nobody is cute wearing a screaming fit.

After much browsing, Mommy and Toddler narrowed down the candidates to three. The pumpkin costume had the advantage of being inexpensive, but it didn’t quite ring the bell on the cuteness scale. The owl had the potential to be very cute, but sometimes a little boy just doesn’t want to be an owl. The owl was presented to him on two separate occasions, resulting in two separate screaming fits. With regret, Mommy crossed the owl off the list.

The frog is definitely cute. The boy let himself be clothed in frog with only a mild look of reservation. Whether or not the frog will make him topple over at every step remains to be seen. But after the owl experience, we’ll find a way to live with that.

This Halloween, if you see a tired, prematurely aged man carrying an adorable frog on his shoulders, you’ll know who they are. Yes, the man may appear to be wilting under the weight, but rest assured, so long as the frog is not screaming and crying, that little old man is perfectly content.