Critters gone wild

jane sanders illustration

Whenever anyone mentions overboard, animal-loving do-gooders, my husband’s father tells the story about me and the skunks.

It occurred shortly after I arrived here from Atlanta, lugging all my starry-eyed notions about cute little furry creatures and –– if you asked the pragmatic farm boy I married –– a useless house cat that pooped in a box and bit our feet while we slept.

My in-laws’ farm then was in the grips of a freakish skunk invasion. Every day about dusk, large groups of skunks could be observed roaming the fields or trolling for pet food near the farm’s various houses. The dogs –– a species not noted for gladly sharing with the less fortunate –– perpetually exuded the aroma of skunk. Barely a night passed that we didn’t hear a scuffle in the yard followed by a pungent fragrance Glade might call Evening with Pepé Le Pew.

Late one afternoon, I noticed my father-in-law at the edge of a field, taking aim at a Duggar-size clan of polecats.

According to him (and bear in mind I married into a family with a flair for the dramatic), I rushed over and hysterically beseeched him to spare the fuzzy, adorable darlings.

A few nights later, one of the darlings repaid my act of heroism by spraying an open window of our tiny cabin. I exaggerate only slightly when I say the place was nearly uninhabitable for a week. The next time I saw my father-in-law headed out for a skunk shoot –– and this is his favorite part of the story –– he says I marched over and hissed: “Kill them. Kill them all.”

No disrespect to my father-in-law, but I have a hard time believing I said it quite that vehemently. It wasn’t until later in my evolution as a farm wife, you see, that I actually became that cruel and that heartless. I’m pretty sure that what transformed me from namby-pamby nature-lover to stone-cold killer was the mice.

Nothing prepared me for the mice that go with living in an old house in the country. They are called field mice, but that is a misnomer. We would all get along just fine if field mice stayed in the field. But       unfortunately, most field mice have discovered that a warm house stocked with groceries affords a lifestyle far superior to anything a field can offer.

Mice first became an issue when, for the sake of marital harmony, we gave away my “useless” house cat. Once the cat was away, the mice didn’t just play. They partied like rock stars.

The first sign was mouse droppings in the kitchen cabinets. Dutifully, I removed all the dishes, washed them, sanitized the shelves and replaced the dishes. Then, after carefully pondering the most humane way to address our mouse problem, we set a mousetrap.

I heard it snap one night when I was watching TV and Harvey was asleep. There was a pop and a scrambling noise in the kitchen. I hurried to investigate. Instead of breaking the mouse’s neck and killing it instantly, the trap had pinned it in the middle of its body. To my horror, the mouse was struggling and looking up with tiny, terrified eyes that seemed to say, “Help me, kindly human!” The guilt was unbearable. Teary-eyed, I ran to the bedroom, pleading with Harvey to wake up and save the mouse from the trap we had set for the express purpose of killing it. To his everlasting credit, he reluctantly indulged my foolishness. (The mouse died anyway.)

As more and more mice appeared and I was forced to overhaul our kitchen cabinets time and time again, my heart grew harder. Then came the morning I found mouse poop in our infant son’s crib.  Anyone who has experienced the crazy love a new mother feels for her baby will completely understand why that instantly destroyed any remaining tolerance for the mice. After that, it was on.

Like a raging mama bear, I set out to terminate the rodent population by any means necessary –– the more painfully, the better. Remember the farmer’s wife who chopped off their tails with a carving knife? That was me, only nicer.

Now when I heard a mouse trap snap, I didn’t cringe. I gloated. I threw back my head and cackled. I became the Ted Nugent of pest control.

I can honestly say that something snapped that day, and it wasn’t a mousetrap. In fact, I wonder if I don’t enjoy my showdowns with the wild kingdom a little too much. For instance, if I spot a poisonous snake anywhere my children play or might one day conceivably think about playing, I don’t agonize over whether the snake is simply minding its own business or is vital to the delicate balance of the ecosystem or is one of God’s creatures. I summon Harvey to blow it away, and I cheer like the audience at a Chuck Norris movie when the deed is done. Not long ago I discovered a bunch of black widow spiders in my kids’ sandbox. I snatched up a sharp stick and enthusiastically started squashing arachnid butt. Hasta la vista, baby! Try messing with my children now!

But killing creepy-crawly things is easy. The cute furry things can still test my resolve. A few years ago, a beaver kept damming up one of our ponds, causing it to flood our nearby watermelon crop –– the crop we were depending on to provide most of our income for the year. Twice Harvey tore down the dam only to find it miraculously rebuilt a day or two later. Clearly, more drastic measures were in order.

“I don’t know what to do,” Harvey said one morning. “I don’t want to kill the beaver, but if we don’t do something, the watermelons are going to die.” I thought deeply — not about the beaver but about health insurance, electricity and all the other things we couldn’t afford if that buck-toothed nuisance drowned our crop.

“I know what to do,” I stated evenly. “Kill him.”

Harvey balked. The beaver was just being a beaver. He wasn’t sure it was even legal to shoot a beaver. Besides, if I thought killing the beaver was such a great idea, he challenged me, why didn’t I do it myself? (Because it is easy to kill cute furry animals when somebody else does it, I was forced to admit.)

We finally resolved the problem by draining the pond, but the beaver episode convinced me that at some point, Harvey and I traded roles. The tender heart who once cried over skunks is ready to take down any critter that crosses her while the guy who grew up blithely murdering Bambis no longer even hunts. He’s become so Zen he actually carries bugs out of the house rather than kill them.

I appreciate the fact that few men are sensitive enough to respect the sanctity of every living thing and all that stuff. No, really.

I do. I just hope all those cute little furry creatures don’t find out.
 

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