18 September 2009

An unwelcome nature encounter

When I arrived home yesterday, the garage door was open. This is not unusual, but the fact that the front door and the door in from the garage were also wide open clued me in to the fact that something was up.

Thursday night is Chris's gaming night, and I now have a Pilates class after work, so it's usually a kiss each other as we pass evening. Chris was putting the finishing touches on dinner as I walked in the door (Baroni sauce spaghetti, yummm!) and the kids were bopping about as usual.

"What's with the doors?" I asked, putting my knitting and work bags on the hooks and scooping up Dorothy to stop her hollering for me.

"We have a chipmunk in the house," Chris replied. "Or at least we had one a few hours ago."

Turns out Chris had all the doors wide open (for several hours, no less) in the hopes that the critter would return to its proper habitat if given a reasonable chance. He figured it had come into the garage, where we had spilled some bird seed, and from there into the house sometime yesterday afternoon—the girls are pretty bad about leaving the door between the garage and the house open. He was fairly confident that by now it was gone, so we went about our normal routine and he headed out to gaming.

The girls and I ate dinner without any unusual occurrences, after which they went outside to play while I cleaned up. About the time that was done, I realized Dorothy needed a clean diaper. So, standing at the changing table, I looked up, saw Nora coming back from playing outside, and went to quickly reopen the front door (we'd closed up the house on the assumption that the chipmunk was gone). When I turned back to the den ... there was the chipmunk.

I shrieked, it ran—around the corner, I didn't see where to. I started opening up the house again while shooing the girls upstairs to get into their pajamas and get ready for bed, trying all the while to figure out how I was going to put them to bed upstairs with all the doors wide open downstairs. Overwhelmed by unease and logistics, I called Chris.

"It's still in the house," I told him. "I don't know what to do."

"I'm coming home," Chris replied. "I had a feeling this was going to happen."

By the time I got off the phone, Nora had decided she had seen the chipmunk upstairs and that she was scared of it, so down she came, whimpering and fussing and not dressed for bed. Dorothy kept trying to wiggle out of my arms and make a break for the wide open doors. Mairi was not at all scared and was actually quite helpful, getting Nora's pajamas for her and repeating that the chipmunk wouldn't hurt us unless we tried to grab it.

Chris arrived home and I took the girls upstairs to read them their bedtime stories and settle them in bed. Towards the end of that, Chris yelled up, "It's out!" It had been hiding under the stove, from which he flushed it with a cleaning brush, and he'd seen it run into the front hall where the door was wide open.

Note: he did not see it run out the open door.

So, Chris kissed the girls, we closed up the house, he headed back out, and I started settling Dorothy down. These days that means sitting in my recliner in the dark, usually playing on my laptop, while she nurses herself to sleep. Mairi and Nora had gone to sleep remarkably quickly, given all the fuss, and Dorothy was drifting off when I heard it.

Scritch, scritch, scritch.

The chipmunk had not left the building.

I called Chris again. He hadn't made it back to his gaming group, but they said they'd have him call when he did arrive. I then called my brother Lou, who lives three doors down, hoping my nephews were all asleep. They weren't, but Lou said he'd come down once things got quiet at their house.

Not sure what else to do, I opened up the doors, turned out the lights, and resumed setting Dorothy. Shortly after she'd fallen asleep Lou arrived, carrying a variety of chipmunk hunting implements, most of which were grabbed from his boys' toy box: work gloves, a snow shovel, a snow block maker, a plastic golf club and a flashlight. I told him where I had last seen the critter and he started searching for it.

In fairly short order, he flushed it out. It ran through our kitchen area, under the dining table, and towards me. I did not shriek—Dorothy was now asleep in my lap—and Lou told me when it had moved on from under my chair so that I could resume breathing. We watched it run into a corner, behind Chris' audio cabinet. (Side note: this was about when I realized that the modern "open floor" house plan—which I generally like quite well, generally—has at least one flaw.)

At this point, I had a thought: Chris has wood panels in the garage, we would make a chipmunk run and guide it to the door outside. So, while Lou watched the chipmunk (or, more precisely, the corner we knew it was in), I settled Dorothy in our bed and got the paneling from the garage. Together we set up the run—it was lovely, wide enough to allow the beast to run free, set up in such a way that it had to end up in the front hall. Where else would it go from there but out the door?

With everything in place, Lou flushed the chipmunk. It ran to the front hall, it looked out the front door (I swear the thing was no more than eight inches from being outside) ... and it turned and jumped at the board blocking the stairs. This was a two and half foot wall, and Lou and I were both confident that, having failed to clear it the first time, it would run around some more and then out the door. Instead, it jumped again, got a paw on the top edge, went over, and raced up the stairs. Lou and I stared at each other in dismay, and I said some things that are better not repeated.

The chipmunk was now upstairs, somewhere, with my three sleeping children.

At this point, the phone rang and it was Chris. He wasn't eager to come back to the house again and I don't blame him. However, I was not going to be able to sleep in a house with a free range chipmunk in residence and I made that clear to him. Either he came home or the girls and I were going to Grandma's house—he could deal with the chipmunk when he came home. He said he was on his way.

Unsure what else to do, Lou and I dismantled the chipmunk run and cleaned up the living room, reducing the number of chipmunk hiding places a bit—and reducing the likelihood someone would trip on a toy while chasing said chipmunk a lot. I allowed as to how I was okay in the house with the critter and that Lou should head home, with my thanks for his efforts (not his fault the blasted beast didn't know enough to get while the getting was good).

Chris arrived home just as Lou was leaving. We agreed the best thing to do was for me to sit in the quiet downstairs and watch for the critter while Chris did a systematic sweep through the upper story to flush it downstairs (neither of us said it but we were both desperately hoping it wouldn't end up trapped in Mairi and Nora's bedroom). My mom called, so I sat in the dark talking with her, listening to Chris moving around upstairs.

Scritch, scritch, scritch.

I looked up and there it was, sitting near the doorway from the kitchen to the den/kids' art room/computer room ... the one room on the main floor that can be closed up. I tried to call for Chris, quietly so as not to wake the kids, but he didn't hear me. I quickly said good-bye to my mom and ran upstairs to get Chris.

By the time we returned downstairs, the chipmunk was out of sight. I was reasonably confident that it hadn't gone back upstairs, so we started checking the hiding places it had gone to in the past. Nothing under the stove. Nothing behind the refrigerator.

I looked at the den and said, "Let's close up the room, just in case it's in there." Chris agreed and so while I shut the double doors leading to the front hall, he took down the baby gate which keeps the sliding door from closing. All shut in, Chris shifted the couch away from the wall. Zip! Out ran the chipmunk, towards the kitchen—no exit! Zip! Off along the wall to behind the computer...

Thus began half an hour or more of Chris and I trying to catch the darn thing or shoo it out the room's window—we popped the screen off and put down a piece of cardboard as a ramp. Progressively more and more things were disrupted in the room as we shifted things to eliminate hiding spaces.

Now Chris and I both have a fairly "live and let live" approach to wildlife. Moths, bugs and even spiders that find their way into our house are treated tolerantly, and they're usually caught and released out of doors. I kill mosquitoes and I kill ants that come into the house, but that's about it.

However, when the chipmunk finally ran right into Chris' feet and he brought them together to hold it, well, I wasn't worried about if he had hurt it. It was caught! Chris had gloves on and he reached down to grab hold of it ... and, well, it was immediately obvious that this particular chipmunk would not be giving us any more trouble. I felt bad for it, but I really think we had done our due diligence in trying to get it out of the house without hurting it. Chris tossed it out through the open window.

We both looked about us, at the up-ended couch and everything else. Then Chris turned to me and said, "I'll pick this mess up tomorrow. I'm going back to my gaming now."

I smiled, kissed his cheek, and said, "My knight in shining armor—you've slain the beast, go have your fun now. Thank you!" Chris went out and bagged the beast, to show the gaming group (and prevent our girls from finding it later), and drove off. It took me a while to settle down after he'd left, so I did sweep up some of the mess before heading to bed, but there was a lot to clean up yet this morning.

So, my goal for the coming days? Train my children not to leave the doors open!

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