Monday, April 28, 2008


Several years ago, Deb and I placed a spare mattress and a bed frame in our three-season porch. We slept out there for many of the Spring and Fall months that year. The combination of the evening breezes coming through the windows, the crickets, an awesome view of the night sky, the morning songbirds and other factors made this a pleasant sleeping experience. It was sort of like those delightful summer evenings, camping in a tent with all the flaps rolled back to let in the night air, only without having to sleep on the hard ground.

The next year, we extended this into the winter by piling more blankets on the bed, and into the summer by opening more windows. We soon swapped the spare mattress on the porch with the good mattress in the master bedroom, because now the master bedroom was only used on those torrid July nights where air conditioning was the only way to sleep, and on those winter nights in the teens when our breath would condense and freeze on the pillows. Our master bedroom now serves as a guest bedroom, because we don't use it much anyway.

We've had some rather interesting experiences while sleeping out there. About ten years ago when straight-line winds tore out many trees and caused lots of property damage in the area, we were one of the first to know the winds were coming, because they lifted all the blankets right off the bed. We had a duck take flight early one morning and attempted to fly through one of the windows. The noisy crash and quacking that went on didn't break the window, but it did jolt us rather violently awake. It's amazing how loud a duck sounds when it hits a window 18 inches from your head.

We also can hear, in crystal clear surround sound, when a raccoon decides to start eating the corn out of our garden, which is just behind the porch. More than once I have dashed outside in the middle of the night and lobbed apples from the nearby tree at the corn-stealing varmint to chase him away.

I suppose you could say we're a little closer to nature out there. We're probably as close as we can get to being out in nature while still maintaining a roof over our heads and a few of the human creature comforts that we've come to enjoy.

Last week, nature came in to us.

Deb noticed while cleaning that there were several winged ants peeking out around the window trim near the floor in one corner of the porch. We cleaned these up using some bug spray and the central vaccuum. But we could tell there were more where they came from. Several minutes later, there were a few more ants peeking out from the same location. After a few rounds of cleaning up ants and then seeing more of them, we decided to call it a night and go to bed.

The next night was a warm spring night, and as we were getting ready for bed, we noticed that the floor around the bed was black with ants. Most of them were dying or already dead, but there were hundreds of them. They seemed to be literally coming out of the wood work, from the trim around the windows, to coming out from behind the window tracks, whereever there was a hole or a gap. We spent quite a bit of time vaccuumming them up, and eventually had the place looking ship-shape again.

I did some looking on the Internet to figure out what kind they were. Carpenter ants. The article I read indicated that swarms of ants could indicate a colony nearby. Do tell! I'll bet it's in the wall right next to the bed. So now I have a new project, removing the trim and the wall below the window so that I can go ant hunting.

We had some family over the next day. My 8-year-old nephew brought over something he wanted to show us. He took it out and placed it on the kitchen counter next to where Deb was making dinner. It was a small clear plastic box that glowed a soft blue when you plugged it in and turned it on. An ant farm. Lots of little ants making their tunnels through the blue-illuminated clear gel.

Ants. On the counter. In the kitchen. Sure, they may be contained, but its about the last thing Deb wanted around while preparing food. After the appropriate ooh-ing and aah-ing over the ant farm, it was moved to the floor of the dining room so Deb could finish the preparations without all that company.

This one was at least easy to remove. It went home with my nephew when they left. The carpenter ants in the porch walls will be an entirely different matter. Probably fit for another story.

Friday, April 25, 2008

Things That Go Bump in the Night

I was awakened yesterday morning by the characteristic squeak of our bedroom door. The squeak is not all that unusual, as one of us will occasionally get up in the middle of the night to use the bathroom. However, this particular squeak arrived in my unconsciousness out of order. If Deb is the one who gets up, her movement wakes me up first, and then I hear the squeak of the door when I am awake. So to a person who is aware of the order of things, even while asleep, this particular squeak was particularly jarring.

While I was still clawing my way into a state of semi-consciousness, a three letter word floated about just beyond my reach. I think it was repeated a couple times before finally sinking into the mire far enough to be recognizable, but it eventually got there.

It was a distinctly male voice.

"Dad!" the voice said.

It took a few seconds to assemble all the pieces of my mental facilities together. The fog was still pretty thick. Auditory cortex... check! Prefrontal cortex... check! Brain stem... check! Primary visual cortex... Primary visual cortex.... Oh! check! Motor cortex... having a little hard time of it, but, check! Cerebellum... down!

"Dad, I need some help!"

All those brain facilities that have lurched to a start have been brought up so fast that they are now overreacting. Stark visions of fire, flood, ceiling collapse and other apocalyptic events swirled about as I struggled out of bed. Josh has been in his new bedroom for about a week, so I imagine there could be many things that go terribly wrong that I haven't even thought of.

I sure wish that cerebellum would come on line. I could use a little balance about now.

"Dad, there's a mouse in my bedroom!"

A mouse. No fires, no broken pipes and flooding, no major gas leaks, no cataclysmic events. I just went through the laborious process of brain initialization and startup at 4:30 in the morning for a mouse?

I followed him downstairs to his bedroom, grabbing the first weapon I could find along the way--one of Deb's shoes. I entered his bedroom, armed with the shoe, ready to do battle with a mouse. I squinted in the dazzling brilliance, not able to focus on anything at all, as Josh described hearing the mouse running back and forth beside his mattress. I imagine it was a little disconcerting, hearing the little rodent scrabbling about so close to his ears. I wouldn't be able to sleep either.

We drew up our battle plan. He would pull the mattress away from the wall and I would go in for the kill. I held the shoe high while he yanked the mattress up. No mouse. We searched the rest of the room for our prey. Nothing. I finally told him to get some sleep. We'll set traps or mouse bait in the morning.

I rolled back into bed, but sleep had long since fled. Deb noticed several minutes later that Josh's light had come back on. It was on for a while and then was back off.

When I arrived home from work that day, we pieced together the rest of the story. The mouse was active again immediately after Josh got back in bed so he got back up and managed to corner it against the wall and then trap it in a small bucket. He then carried his captive into the garage and left it there, where it later escaped. He also discovered that it was not a mouse but a vole.

It didn't take too long to figure out what a vole, which normally does not live in a house, was doing in Joshua's bedroom. It was rather warm the night before so we told him to open his window. He discovered that the screen I had bought for the window was the wrong size and could not be used so we told him to just open the window anyway because there are no mosquitoes or bugs at this time of year.

The thought of rodents coming in through the window didn't even cross my mind. As near as I can figure, the vole had fallen into his window well during the night and could not climb back up the smooth plastic sides. So it took the only path available to it--Joshua's open window.

This evening was rather warm again, so I went down in Joshua's room to open the window. I had looked for a screen at Lowe's this morning but they were out of stock. So I made sure to check all the corners of the window well before opening the window.

This time it was a young rabbit that was huddled in a corner. I removed the rabbit but wisely left the window closed. I can just about imagine what a rabbit would do for someone's sleep.

I am also wondering just what's next... a raccoon? Or maybe a snake?