Monday, October 18, 2010

Hired Muscle

And it has come to this: a rather predictable, but completely necessary, troop surge in the second year of the War on Mice. Times were dire.

In the house, tomatoes, set out to ripen, developed mysterious tiny bites, one to two per otherwise prefect tomato.

In the barn, strong feedbags of cracked corn developed mysterious weeping sores. The weeped corn mysteriously disappeared. Things skittered across the floor in broad daylight.

The assumed mouse in the kitchen turned out, when Big Man caught a glipse in the pre-dawn hours one day, to be larger than mouse-sized, and tan. I, choosing not to assess other possibilities, assume it is a chipmunk. Driven to shame and despair that a chipmunk manages to live in the kitchen and share my heirloom tomatoes, drastic steps were needed. Drastic, impossible to photograph steps.

This is Zoë, our new house guardcat. She is a little calico who had somehow been stuck at the SPCA for over a year. Apparently calicos have a bad wrap, but Zoë has been all curious sweetness since we got her. And, she auspiciously likes chasing things that move.

The barn, of course, presents its own, more varied, challenges. There are the mice and voles and chipmunks. Then there are the pigeons, and the shockingly large flock of finches that seem to have made it a daily snacking site. Not to mention the horribly invasive spring barn swallows, the possums, the etc.

For these ruffians, we took cats that most people wouldn't want in their houses. Nichol Fritz is a big gray manx who is exceptionally shy (they kept him in the "shy cat room" at the shelter) and, according to his records, doesn't necessarily prefer a litter box to drapes. Dubious, since he seemed to understand that whole thing in the shelter, but it was probably enough to scare off a year's worth of customers. He is big, healthy, and . . . well, good at hiding.

We also took Lisa Marie, a shaggy lady who is "a total bitch" according to the shelter manager. When the cat-obsessed volunteer objected to this characterization and tried to prove that you just needed to approach her the right way, she scratched the shit out his hand. It seemed to make sense to put a strong, brave, territorial type with a shy and able follower.

So far they have done nothing but sit on the shelving in the corner, trying to blend in with the fuel filters. No one has even ventured near the food, water, tuna (!!!), litterbox and beds we made for them in the stall we plopped them in their first night. In fact, we thought they'd run off when we looked for them in their room the next afternoon, only to find their quarters abandoned. It took us awhile to look at the shelving. A flash camera helps.

Despite their trepidation, it is encouraging that they seem to like being close to one another. We wanted a bonded pair for the barn, and while these two were not siblings or even friends at the shelter, they are at least familiar with one another, and Lisa Marie's presence was enough to coax poor Fritz out of the tiny space he had wedged himself into the first morning to be closer to her. When something terrifying happens (the tractor drives in the barn, for example, or a person shows up) they move closer together.

As for the finches, etc., they haven't yet seemed too concerned about the new feline presence, but hopefully the felines will some day venture down from their shelving units to prowl about like proper carnivores.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Jack Frost (noun): an elfish creature fond of nipping noses

Other farmers, in some places, call winter the Dark Days. Reading a blog post about "preparing for the Dark Days" in mid-August, I thought this was overly dramatic. Everyone knows that there is less light in winter. Plus, it's only August; pop open a wheat beer and listen to the garden grow. But, apparently, it's true. The days are increasingly dark, and apparently, need to be prepared for starting in mid-August. It appears that the dark is a lot more obvious when your house, and the five other houses that share the valley, are the only light producers (save the moon and stars, of course) around: no streetlights, no rows upon rows of buildings full of restaurants and ostentatiously bright apartments, no endless stream of cars, no traffic lights, and no (if you are in certain Philadelphia neighborhoods) occasional, mildly nerve-wracking, helicopter spotlight. And, a need to be outside -- first thing, before the sun, for a while after work -- just rubs it in. It is dark now, Time to wake up. It is dark, now, Go inside and stop for the day.

This is both nice (oh, to eat dinner before 11!) and somewhat alarming.

Our first frost happened the night of the 9th (a mere six days before I had predicted it. I dutifully noted it: "FIRST FROST!" in my garden notebook). The day before, I spent hours in the garden, harvesting every pepper, ripenable tomato, eggplant, and winter squash (75 pounds of these). And true to last year's legacy of putting in windows the day before the first snow, we blew in a foot and a half of insulation in the attic, just in time to keep us relatively cozy under a frost.Other notables: the boar and all the roosters have become total jerks. The boar makes all kinds of odd clicking noises, while trying to push you over. He understands that the best way to do this is to slam the weight of his bigger-than-you body into the back of your knees when you are distracted. We are not on good terms right now. The roosters, similarly, have taken to flinging themselves at the back of my legs when I innocently stroll out to throw corn about and hunt for eggs. They remind me of the raptors from Jurassic Park, running about in the weeds, in a team of three, waiting for me to get interested in something else. THWAP!

The frost is like that: a constant reminder biting you on the back of your legs, on the tips of your nose...time to figure out how to water the animals in the winter....time to figure out where to keep the squash...time to buy hay and build a cozy place for geese. And the dark just keeps creeping later, and earlier, eating the useful hours of the day and forcing us to spend time inside, baking casseroles and reading in the dim light.