I have a deep and abiding love for all God’s creatures — as long as they are dogs or cats. Anything else, especially those belonging to the rodent, insect or arachnid families, freaks me out. And don’t get me started about snakes, OK? So you can imagine the state of my nervous system a few weeks ago when, within the space of just a few minutes, I had encounters with mice, ticks, spiders, and a snake who I knew wasn’t deadly but looked like he had a poisonous attitude.
Since colder weather was quickly settling in, I started winterizing the house while it was still above freezing. One task I tackle is taping heavy plastic over the outside of the living room windows. This involves cutting sheets to size from a large roll, which means I screw up the measurements at least twice per window. Then I use a special, extra-sticky tape to affix the plastic to the window frame, which means I keep getting the tape folded over on itself. This leads to ripping the sheeting to shreds trying to straighten out the tape, and that leads to unleashing a stream of profanities so inventive that Eminem has been known to visit and take notes before dropping his next track.
Anyway — next up was draft-proofing the side entrance into the kitchen. We never use that door to go in or out, so its only purpose is permitting cold air to seep in. Before plugging a clay-like filler into the gaps, I opened the door from the inside to check the overall condition of the entrance. That’s when I saw that some sort of toothy varmint had gnawed a tunnel through one side of the frame. I grabbed hunks of steel wool and packed them into the opening. Apparently, rodents experience a sensation when chewing steel wool similar to what happens when you bite down on a Hershey’s kiss and one of your fillings makes contact with a piece of the foil wrapping you neglected to peel off. Of course, finding this security breach meant I had to go into the crawl space and see if anything had taken up residence down there.
I hate to go into the crawl space. First of all — I’m 60 years old and gave up crawling 59 years ago. I’ve never gone to boot camp, or participated in one of those obstacle course-type races, or done anything requiring me to beg forgiveness from my wife (ask for — yes; beg for — no), so I’ve never needed to crawl in all the intervening years. I don’t even “crawl” when I go into the space; instead, I stand hunched over at a height that’s a few centimeters too high to keep me from banging my head into support beams or plowing through spider webs. It’s cramped and uncomfortable and creepy and inevitably something is down there that I wish wasn’t.
The only thing I hate more than going into the crawl space is paying someone else to go into the crawl space. Therefore, I cancelled our contract with the pest control service, which sent someone every three months to go under the house and check the traps laid along the walls. Inevitably, the exterminator emerged to say, “Looks good!” and left clutching $60 rather than the carcass of any vermin. I duck-waddled my way over to the section beneath the damaged doorway but saw no signs of a mouse hostel. I threw down an extra trap just in case before squeezing out through the crawl space opening. This was much like going through birth re-enactment therapy, and in fact I let out a primal scream when I went to stand up too quickly and snapped my spine across the entryway’s frame.
When I finally emerged and was able to again stand erect, I went to brush the cobwebs out of my hair and shook loose several spiders. Once rid of the arachnids, and rattled from the whole experience, I decided to go sit by the edge of the lake for a few moments to regain my composure. I plopped into a lawn chair, took a deep, relaxing breath, and as I stretched my legs I saw something slithering through the grass, right where I was going to rest my feet. It was most likely a Northern water snake, which is considered “harmless to humans,” but that depends on how you feel about shitting yourself.
Deciding I might be better served by a cold drink and change of underwear, I headed inside. As I opened the door, our cat Miles bolted out and ran off through the yard. He is an indoor cat but seemed unaware of the assignation at that moment. I lost sight of him as he dashed toward the marshy area bordering our property, so I grabbed a can of cat food, hoping the sound of peeling open the lid would entice him to return. Fortunately, it did. I set out some of the food as a reward for his responsiveness and went to scratch him between the ears and along his neck, in a “good kitty” gesture. That’s when I felt a bump, which upon closer examination turned out to be a tick. I grabbed Miles and placed him up on the counter as I looked for our tick-removal device. It’s a small plastic spoon, about the size of a teaspoon, with a slit in one end. You slide the slit between the embedded tick and the skin, carefully spin the handle around, and the tick twists out like removing a cork from a wine bottle. I was successful at removing the tick, and Miles expressed his thanks by biting my hand. This caused me to lose my grip on the spoon; now there was a tick loose somewhere in the house. Luckily, the little demon landed in the bottom of the kitchen sink and was crawling toward the side, naïvely imagining he would escape. I won’t get graphic here but I killed him real good.
I’ll be spending my winter evenings sitting in a chair, traumatized, my knees held up to my chest so my feet aren’t touching the floor in case something either scampers or slithers across it, compulsively running my fingers across my scalp to check for anything embedded there. I think I can make it through the season if someone will toss a beer my way every now and then. And a piece of cheese.