Sunday, October 28, 2012

Trouble in the barn

I always enjoyed that old Yorkshire (and Monty Python) meme "there's trouble at t'mill."

Hard to believe that when I was younger I actually spoke like this.

In this case the trouble was in t'barn, and the picture above obvious to anyone American. Aimee surprisingly found it strange, however, that my sister couldn't identify this animal when shown the picture on FaceBook.

"Don't you have skunks in Britain?", she said.

Well, no, actually. No skunks in the entire British Isles. Really.

She still found it difficult to believe that someone might not be able to recognize this animal. Even if it were not endemic, it might be still obvious what it was, just because it's so common in the US, and features in movies and cartoons and the like.

I tried to explain that we have animals in Britain that she might not be able to recognize, too. But then I had a hard time coming up with one. I tried "water rat," but that was too easy. "Rat-like thing that goes in the water,"  she said, with a giggle at my expense.

Sigh. But yes, the humble British water Ratty, beloved of readers of The Wind in the Willows the world over, is indeed "a rat-like thing that goes in the water."

Actually, it turns out that the common or garden British water rat is actually a water vole.

Who knew? But still.

First prize of a free Maine wildlife t-shirt (size small -- and we only have one, an unwanted birthday gift), for the reader who can come up with an otherwise obvious British animal that my wife can't recognize.

As for Mr. Skunk, who'd been eating eggs and might decide to taste a little chicken next, well, he had to go. It was of course with some care and not a little trepidation that I approached this particular task.

Aimee, for her part, took off to do the week's shopping, saying, "it's good that I'm leaving, then," and "there's skunk shampoo under the kitchen sink."

So much for wifely loyalty and family togetherness in the face of danger. No Dunkirk Spirit in this household.

And the shampoo under the sink might have been skunk-ready, but it was meant for dogs.

Sigh, again.

But, I supposed, any port in a storm. Always good to have a Plan B.

I started by clearing the barn of all its truck and lumber in order to be able to remove this smelly wee mustelid's nest and give everything a good general besoming. All the banging and thumping would, I hoped, drive our friend away before any more, shall we say, "unfortunate" encounter occurred.

Plan A: Not to get sprayed in the first place.

The resident had, luckily for me, already fled. Big sigh o' relief. Then it was a fairly simple matter of sweeping and carting the soiled hay, which surprisingly, didn't smell at all. I guess skunks don't spray in their own bed.

I then dismantled the larger grain crib that had provided said skunk, and the rats before him, with rather too much cover and security, and stored it in sections, transferring the oats to the smaller crib, and in general making a much more open space in the barn.

The rats had been poisoned several weeks ago, for what I hoped was the last time, but getting rid of this big thing might seal the deal.

This very large and unwieldy crib can be put back together next May, before our piglets come, if I don't revise it altogether. We only store one kind of bulk grain in winter, the sheep's oats. Pig feed won't be needed again until next summer.

The smaller crib is much easier to use, takes up less space although it stores the same half-ton of grain, and provides less shelter for unwanted critters. I may just use the materials in the larger one to make a second smaller one, and be done with the larger eyesore once and for all.

I also re-worked the northeast wall, where rats and pigs had eaten away a fair amount of the supporting studs, creating some danger of collapse if not fixed. I'd managed to clip the weakened wall myself with the tractor loader blade the day I cleared out the pigs bedding, pushing the already weakened studs off the sill in two places, and causing a sag in the eaves of about a quarter inch. Using a trick I'd seen on "This Old House," new studs were made, three-eighths of an inch oversize, put in at an angle, and pounded in tight to take over and support the load. (I knew watching those old PBS shows would come in handy one day!)

The worrisome sag, although probably indiscernible to anyone not a builder, duly disappeared, and we were left with a sound, square building once more. Yay! Very satisfying, too.

Then my older chain saw was fitted with a sharp but ancient and disposable blade and fired up. Using this as a giant Sawzall, I cut out all the remaining rot, making a new door entrance about five feet wide. New cripples and a new door header were then also made a tad oversize, pounded in hard, and screwed in place with long deck screws.

I'll need to buy some lumber for doors, but the sheep seem to like their new entrance way. It's wider and lets in more light than the old one. They can now see a little better to eat their hay.

And the tractor will fit through it (as long as the tractor driver remembers to duck) making it a little easier to clear out the barn.

No photos of any of this. My camera is on the fritz again. Aimee took the skunky photo.

Sunday, October 21, 2012


I've been busy. I think Aimee has been too, but I've been so busy, I haven't seen enough of her to know for sure.

Too busy to post on here, that's for sure.

But all things come to an end. In about seven hours' time the new annual MASAR Search Team Leader Training will be complete, and perhaps even a success, and I can come home to rest, catch up with Aimee, and maybe even manage to stay awake for the Steelers-Pats game.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012


It's October in Maine and, as usual, quite beautiful and serene.

Aimee and I took the dogs for a walk in the woods to see the leaves up by Howe's Pond. We had a four-day weekend for Columbus Day. We both had a stack of grading and course prep to do, but we made time.

The pond and the woods thereabout are always glorious this time of year. This is private land, but the landowner allows hiking as long as you don't use motorized vehicles. No four-wheelers, no snowmobiles. Which is just how we like it.

Aimee took her camera, while to dogs took their noses. Both had a good time using their senses.

The beavers had been hard at work. You can see their dam has raised the water level by a foot or so, and they have built a new lodge (the pile of sticks in the background). I was impressed by the dam, which at one place was about three feet tall and a perfect curve, very steep, held up by sticks wedged perpendicularly in the rocks. These beavers must have engineering degrees.

The dogs didn't care about the beavers, or the leaves, but they were very interested in all the smells. Flame, who is much more of a water-lover, went in the pond.