Jul 22 2012

All His Hard Work

A second after he heard the scratching in the ceiling, the light flipped on. De-facto bolted out of bed and grabbed the empty paint container in one hand, the lid in the other, and with the concentration of a hunter after its prey, closed in on the small barn squirrel frozen in its tracks, tiny claws gripping the stone wall.

We’ve lived with the glis-glis for years. The room that is our bedroom, like many things here at the country house, is not finished, nor is it sealed from the attached barn. This means more breezes in the winter, extra dust all year long, and a few visiting creatures who, no doubt, consider us to be the interlopers. We tried, once, to seal the hole that the critter uses to enter the room, but the scratching and screeching noises lasted until dawn and inspired us to unplaster the hole in the morning rather than endure that kind of a racket for a second night. Re-opening his passageway was our olive branch and we came to a truce with the glis-glis. He’d appear once each night, just at bedtime, squeaking a little before making his nightly run – our bedroom beams seem to be a nocturnal obstacle course – then he’d leave us alone for the rest of the night, except for an occasional scratch or screech, which we learned to sleep through.

But this year, there wasn’t just one glis-glis scurrying through our walls and over our beams. There were three.

De-facto refused to kill the creatures. This means no traps and no poison. His plan, to catch them in the paint bucket and drive several miles away to release them, was foiled twice last week when the glis-glis escaped immediately after capture. He seethed as he reported the escapes. The nightly tussle between De-facto and his barn squirrels had escalated into a war.

~ ~ ~

The truth is that our visits to the country house are never very restful for De-facto. I downshift easily into lazy pace. I have my country house projects: tending the grapevines and the roses – though I haven’t gotten to them yet this summer – and organizing an occasional cupboard, and of course the never ending stream of laundry. But I manage to spend a lot of my time here in a horizontal position, and not necessarily with my eyes open.

Short-pants and Buddy-roo spend their days running in and out of the house, into the forest and up and down the road. Their list of things to do – Short-pants voluntarily documented their choices in writing, as pictured here – includes marvelous tasks like observe blackberries, hang out in tent, story reading and, my favorite, funny time. These are exactly the kinds of things children should be doing on long, hot summer days.

De-facto grows industrious as soon as he steps into his green wellies. He dons his tool belt and begins construction. His work is paying off; the side room of the house has been insulated, wired, wall-boarded and its ceiling painted. During the last two weeks, he removed the rotted floorboards, dug out the space beneath them and, this weekend he borrowed a cement mixer from a neighbor and laid down a new floor. That Big Doll even deigned to descend from the loft, where the mess of mattresses and sleeping bags serve as a place for the kids to play and sleep – or used to sleep until this summer, when the noise from the glis-glis proved too much for them – and offered a sultry hand.

De-facto does all this hard work diligently, teaching himself as he goes along, dutifully promising me, each and every time I give him the look, that a new kitchen will be next.

“This is the best mistake we ever made,” he says of our decision to buy this beat up old house and barn. Despite the dirt and dust and everything unfinished about it, the rustic kitchen that breaks my back to cook in it, the mice droppings that must be cleared from every cupboard every season, I must agree with him. This house stores and feeds the memories of our children’s summers. Years from now I hope they’ll look back and remember the happy moments we’ve had here, happy not only in spite of the lack of luxury, but perhaps because of it.

~ ~ ~

The glis-glis, its four legs spread wide, clutching the stone wall, waited, motionless, as De-facto raised the plastic bucket and swept it toward him. Just as the open container scraped against the wall, the creature scrambled up to the beam and across it. De-facto followed, using the lid of the paint can to prevent the glis-glis from reaching the opening on the other side of the ceiling, forcing him to run around the room. De-facto bounded in pursuit over the bed and to the opposite corner where the glis-glis took cover behind a bag of golf clubs, unused for years and who knows why they’re there. A minute-long standoff, De-facto’s breathing ramped up with adrenalin, until the creature ran up the wall and behind the wardrobe. De-facto grabbed a shirt from the floor and snapped it at the glis-glis, catching him in it and quickly dropping the bundle – shirt and animal – into the bucket and, then, on his knees on the floor, he grabbed the lid and snapped it on tight.

“Now, the drive,” he said, panting. The previous escapes, attributed to his decision to wait until morning to dispose of the glis-glis, would not be repeated. De-facto slipped on his shorts and ran down the stairs. I heard the engine start and the car speed away.

Ten minutes later, De-facto returned, climbing the stairs to our bedroom with the sound of defeat.

“A successful catch and release?” I asked.

He shook his head. In his fury to get those few miles away where he left the living glis-glis to find a new home, he didn’t see the badger in the road until too late. He swerved, but heard a discouraging thump. On his way back, the badger lay dead in the center of the road. De-facto had to stop and move the animal out of the way.

“So much for being a Buddhist,” he said.

He slipped back into bed and pulled the covers up over this head. I curled up behind him, spooning close and wrapping my arms around him, grateful for all the hard work he does here at the country house.