The Lighthouse

the lighthouse

24 August 2014

In which I have encounters with animals. And racoons.

I've been wanting to write this post for a while now, but it has taken a different turn from the original plan. Back in June while driving home from work along the country lanes I would spot cuteness and sights that compelled me to pull over and marvel. One day it was a mama beaver leading her little ones over the road; on another it was a faun leaping across a lawn. 

While at my mom's in the spring we were visited by turtle. That may not seem remarkable, but her house is two roads away from the pond and up a sloping gravel driveway. We looked out the window while washing up the supper dishes and spotted said turtle behaving strangely very nearly at the peak of the drive. It turned out to be digging a hole in such a remarkable way - scooping one clawful of dirt at a time with one hind leg and dropping it to the side, then using the other leg to do the same.  It laid its eggs, then filled the hole in again and used it's belly and hind legs to smooth the dirt and place the rocks back just so, that by the time she left we couldn't tell where it had happened. Any day now I expect to hear from mom that the eggs have hatched and baby turtles are scattered all up and down the hill. In the meantime, mom has been adopted by a neighbour's cat. The two (mom and Walter, the cat) have become so friendly that mom has bought him treats and he has free run of the house. I now get Walter Update text messages.

I'm not giving more detail on any of those stories because I want instead to tell you about the racoon.
Three years ago I moved to New Town. I lived in a beautiful century home that had been renovated into flats. Mine was on the second floor, which I entered via a charming though rickety iron fire escape. It had tall windows, beautiful moldings, hardwood floor, the tiniest bedroom closet and hot water radiators that never seemed to shut off.  It also had plaster ceilings, the living room one of which had a hole in. The landlord told me it was due to a racoon falling through. He was having a difficult time finding a master plasterer to repair it, so the hole remained while I just pretended it wasn't there.

But now and then, late at night, I'd hear sounds.  To me it sounded exactly like little clawed feet scratching across the hardwood floors, and now and then a subtle noise much like a cat makes when it licks its whiskers.  Now, as I hinted above, my coping mechanism when it comes to unpleasantness is often to pretend it doesn't exist.  This always worked when I babysat as a teen and very unwisely spent the evening watching Nightmare on Elm Street.  As long as I didn't look over my shoulder, there was no way Freddy Krueger was going to get me.  So there I lay in New Town, in the dark, hearing these noises, keeping my eyes tightly closed and my limbs firmly tucked up well within the edges of the bed, pretending there was nothing (ie. racoon) there in the room with me.

Not even I can keep the illusion going for long, however.  One night, I'd had it. I boldly turned on the light and dared whatever it was to come out from its dark corner and face me.  But I couldn't see anything (by 'boldly' I mean I hurriedly reached my arm out and peered quickly over the side of the bed).  I measured the distance to the door, wondering if I dared stop to get my jeans and slippers or if I should make a run for it.  Racoons can move fast, right?

So I did it. I flew into the hallway and slammed the door closed behind me. I found an empty bin and set it on the floor beside me and settled into a chair in the living room, waiting for whatever it was to come out and find me, at which time I would upend the bin over it to confine it.  What I meant to do with it next, I have no idea, but it felt good to have a plan. "Next" was up to the landlord who had left that darned hole in the ceiling.

It may have been hours later, or it could have been a handful of minutes when I admitted to myself I possibly might have been a little foolish. I brought the bin into the bedroom with me and actually managed to sleep a little before the alarm called me into another day.  I can't remember now how long after that I realized what was causing those scratching noises: the side of the building was covered with a beautiful creeping vine. Wind would causes dry branches to scrape along the bricks and the window screen, while the leaves would rub softly on the surfaces.  Once the landlord had pruned the branches back from my bedroom window, I didn't notice those sounds at night anymore.  No more nocturnal visits from the 'racoon'.

Here it is now a year and a half into my time here in Lake Town.  My little flat at the edge of the fields and orchards continues to delight me, and aside from occasional appearances of creepy crawlies I have no complaints (well, to be honest, the kitchen could use a wee bit more storage).  Until, that is, two nights ago.  Once again, I have from time to time been hearing sounds at night, only this time more like little clawed feet catching in the bedroom carpet.  Like before, I pretended there was nothing there, no need to be alarmed, all was fine.  That's what sleep masks are for, right?This happened only two or three times in 18+ months.  Two nights ago I decided once more to be brave and turn on the light to see what I could see. 

And see something I did.  A small something or other moving very quickly out of sight.  Without my glasses on, I could have convinced myself it was really nothing... but a few moments later the curtain jerked and suddenly there was a little brown mouse clinging to it about halfway up, looking at me.  It gave a mighty leap, and I shrieked a little, thinking it meant to leap at me.  Instead it flung itself away. I could hear it continue to scamper about the room, occasionally going at the curtains again. Need I tell you I slept not a wink that night? I couldn't think how to trap it and entreaties certainly were ineffectual.

I laid my case before my landlord and pleaded his help.  He bought some traps, showed me how to arm them, and assured me he would come and empty them should it be needful.  That was a relief, but for the rest of the day I entered each room cautiously, wondering if I would see brown furballs running around. I was out quite late that night, not returning home until nearly two, and sure enough the bedroom trap had a captive.  At that hour I wasn't about to ring up the landlord, but no way was I going to sleep in the room with a corpse!  So I girded my loins and did what every country-dwelling single girl must do: I squinched my eyes shut and quickly scooped the apparatus into a plastic bag and flung it all out the front door. I must say once the shivers of revulsion passed, I felt quite proud of myself and somewhat liberated. I now knew how to set a trap and had proved I could handle the disposal, too.

If only that were the end of the saga.  I'm sorry, dear reader, that it is not.  Today I found evidence of a mousish visit in the kitchen cabinets.  Ugh.  And ick.  So I did what anyone would do: I pretended for a while that I hadn't seen anything.  And then I took to Google, to find out how to keep mice out. (Despite my seeming hardheartedness, I truly would rather just keep them out than kill them.) As always with Google, there is a lot of conflicting advice, but what I came away with was that they don't like strong odours. The most frequent suggestions were peppermint oil, dryer sheets, and cloves.  Having neither peppermint oil nor sufficient quantities of cloves to do the job, I made use of what I had on  hand: oil of oregano.  Oil of oregano is a very potent herbal concoction for the use of easing sore throats with a tremendously strong scent - so much so that when I use it, I must rinse and soak the glass specially after, otherwise it lingers and taints whatever I have next in that glass.

While I may initially prefer to ignore unpleasantness, once I decide to do something about it, I tend to really do something about it. I washed the cupboard shelves down with a strong solution of water and vinegar, then practically covered them with dryer sheets. Next, I doused cotton balls with the oil of oregano and tossed them liberally throughout.. I may have gone overboard.  Now the kitchen smells medicinal - reminiscent of a Victorian sick room, perhaps.  I only hope that this mad scheme works, because I can't think what to do next.  I shudder at the idea of a mouse crawling over my packets of tea and tins of soup or curling up in the mixing bowls. 

That was now two hours ago.  I'm reluctant to go back into the kitchen in case there should be further signs of occupation.  If there is, I just may have to concede and move out.


  1. Since oregano is in the mint family, it may have the same effect as peppermint. Let us know it if works! I can understand your being upset at the thought of a mouse trespassing in your cabinets. I had a similar run-in with a mouse back in high school that ate part of my lunch while stored in my locker. I was not pleased.

  2. Gak! From inside your locker? No, I don't imagine you were pleased. The cheek!

    I didn't know mint and oregano are related. I have both growing in pots on my front step, but thought providing fresh greens would merely invite the mice to dine, so I went with the oil. This morning the fumes emanating from the kitchen are so strong I may have to evacuate for a time! But - and this is the important bit - no new signs of life. So I send up a cautious shout of 'hoorah' and claim victory for today.