Thomas Urquhart has written an hilarious story about the wild critters that got into his Falmouth home. Just imagine, a skunk in the stove’s gas line, a raccoon with babies in the ceiling, a possum on the piano.
Well, you don’t have to imagine any of this, because it all happened at Thomas’ house, and a lot more.
Thomas’ story reminds me of a chapter in my first book, A Life Lived Outdoors, that tells about all the wild critters that got into our Mount Vernon home.
Thomas has given me permission to share his stories with you. Enjoy!
Gas company, electrician and appliance guy (an alignment as fleeting as a lunar eclipse) were there as promised. But when I got home from work, the new gas stove had yet to be installed. In the foreman’s words, “the largest male skunk I’ve ever seen” had holed up in the crawlspace through which the stove’s gas line was to have run, bringing our kitchen renovation to a standstill.
“Of course, you run the Audubon Society,” said the general contractor when I appeared unmoved by his predicament. “You only borrow your house from the animals.” I ignored the ironic tone. Live and let live has always been my motto where God’s creatures are concerned. But, of late, this goodwill has taken rather a beating.
Take our neighborhood’s booming woodchuck population. Inch by inch, row by row, my wife Amy has given up planting vegetables. We still grow a few tomatoes – because our woodchucks don’t know that some books say they should love them – and one or two hardy herbs.
It was after Chucky – a persistent presence demands to be personalized – developed a taste for pesto that my wife’s patience snapped. Swearing retribution over what was left of the basil, she marched on his den, nicely situated in a bank, strategically close to the garden.
The rascal was in the mouth of his burrow, “arms crossed, just watching me,” she sputtered on her return, “with this butter-wouldn’t-melt-in-my-mouth expression.” In the face of this shameless ‘charm offensive,’ Amy’s determination went the way of her earlier patience, and she gave up. Chucky took to sunbathing on the deck.
But the next spring, I resorted to a professional live trapper. With woodchucks safely deported, I was just beginning to enjoy the first warm evening outside when I found myself staring at a raccoon on our roof. As cool as a cucumber, she returned my stare as if to say, “Don’t even think about stopping me.”
That night, we heard her move in above the ceiling. I could picture her making her way down the eave, curling up, and going to sleep. Over the next few days, I set my watch by her exit at lunchtime and return in the evening. “Do you give them a key?” asked an incredulous friend.
When the eave started emitting a new noise, I knew it was time once again for an expert. The almost birdlike chirping could only be baby raccoons crying for mother’s milk. I didn’t like to think about the destruction an entire raccoon family’s bodily fluids was wreaking.
The expert was none too encouraging. “You can’t trap her, or the babies will die and smell something awful,” he said. “If you could get a light down there, keep it on all night; that might discourage them,” he mused. “Or loud music. That might work.”
The latter worked on Noriega when he took refuge with the papal nuncio in Panama. So I set up the radio as close to the nest as possible, selected a heavy metal station, and cranked the volume up as far as it would go.
That evening, I stepped outside and heard a noise that could be one thing only: a raccoon cub squealing, “Mama, I’m scared. It’s too high!” Sure enough, two masked faces – one very small – filled the louver under the roof-peak. She had gotten the message.
Then I made a strategic mistake: I ran inside for my camera. When I got back, the raccoon was on the roof with the cub in her mouth, ready to depart. What a shot! I pointed the telephoto, focused…. And the pair of them scuttled back inside. For good.
For days, the radio frayed our nerves to no avail. At night, we listened to the babies mewling. When he came home from school, my son asked why, if Dad wasn’t having a mid-life crisis, was ‘Guns ‘N’ Roses’ blaring out of the living room?
But a few nights later, he encountered a young raccoon in the driveway. Evidently, it was under orders to stay put until mother returned with its sibling. He saw her appear with another cub, and then they were gone. Peace at last! Until…
A crash in the middle of the night and the “plink, plink” of a piano struck at random had me stumbling downstairs to my study where, amid the wreckage of family photographs, a large and agitated possum was glaring into my flashlight from the top of the piano. It had a fierce set of teeth and, with its unkempt coat, looked like a large rat.
“Hello, officer?” Amy was on the phone. “Can you help me? I have an opossum on my piano.” She hung up. “I’ve always wanted to say that to someone at four in the morning,” she announced as she came into the study.
The young policeman who soon joined us, however, had no more idea of what to do than I had; and viewed the beast with even less enthusiasm. Years of possum-catching experience are not the lot of Falmouth’s finest. Until recently, a possum in somebody’s yard would have been unheard of.
Our guest must have gotten in via the cat-flap and then decided to explore. Now it had positioned itself among the remaining objets on the piano like a guerrilla taking refuge in a crowd; direct assault would result in considerable collateral damage. Instead, the officer suggested we improvise a possum ramp: a zig from piano top to keyboard, then zag to the floor. I had my doubts, but perhaps, after all, he knew how to make a possum walk the plank. I found some planks, and we set to work.
It was the noise of our ramp’s premature collapse that ended the standoff. All at once, the possum was on the floor snarling, while the three of us, in a unison that would have impressed the Rockettes, leapt backward across the room. But, the advantage was ours. By good luck, the intruder was on a throw rug. I shoved a cardboard box toward the cop, who popped it over the animal. Amy held the box down as we dragged the whole thing from the study, through the sitting room and out the front door.
Like a headwaiter presenting his best customers’ meal, she lifted the box, and the possum bolted into the dark. I wish I could say I had acted as a liberator, not a bailiff, but an Englishman’s home is his castle.
Excuse me. There’s a scratching noise coming from behind the fridge.
Thomas Urquhart may be English, but his castle is in Falmouth. His book, For the Beauty of the Earth, recently appeared in paperback.