Of course the barn, where our Jersey cow (or two or three) lived was a busy place. Growing tired of chasing mice out of the feed bin when I wanted to get the grain for the cow, we had acquired a barn cat, and in a fairly short space of time we had quite a crew who showed up regularly at milking time to be given their portion of the wonderful rich Jersey milk. They were entitled to it, I felt, because mice in the feed bin had become a thing of the past, and continued to be conspicuous by their absence as long as we kept a cow. There were other tenants of course, including the flies which initially I tried to control by commercial means. Although I never used poisons I did resort once to a giant sticky flypaper only to discover to my horror that the flypaper had caught a bat hawking for flies too close to its surface. By the time I made the discovery the bat was dead. At that point I turned instead to the grey spiders who liked to build webs in the sunny windows and elsewhere. At first I had tried to tidy them away but after the flypaper episode I recognised them for the helpful citizens they were. It was only as the weather began to turn cold in the fall that their presence became something of a problem.
The End is At Hand -Spider Webs in the Barn
I opened the door to the barn this morning and strolled in only to be practically decapitated by a guy wire strung across the walkway sometime during the night by a determined spider.
Being tall has its disadvantages, as I've discovered over the years. One of them is that no matter where you position yourself amongst a group of hikers it will be your privilege to discover more spider webs slung across the path than are discovered by anybody else in the group, with the possible exception of the leader. It is a serious error in judgement, if you are tall, to volunteer to be leader on a hike. That way everybody behind you can skip along free of anxiety because you get all the spider webs.
This morning, though, being tall had very little to do with the case. In fact, the only way I could get through the barn these days without being garrotted or otherwise disabled by a spider web is to get down on my hands and knees. Even then I bet there is some spider down at ground level just waiting for me to come by.
I don't mind spiders most of the time. They are diligent citizens doing work I wouldn't care to tackle for wages I shudder to contemplate. I do rather object when, having unintentionally walked into a web, I later find the owner of the web wandering moodily around my shirt collar looking for a suitable site to begin reconstruction. I tend to wonder what exactly she has been doing all that time before I noticed her and what she might have done if I had inadvertently offered her what she might consider an insult of one sort or another.
The spiders who live in our barn are mostly grey and, this time of year, impressively large. Their webs and the associated guy wires are correspondingly heroic. A naturalist could probably tell me what kind these spiders are but I don't know that it would help much. I do know that as summer fades away they begin to get anxious, and an anxious spider is one that wants to make sure that she has a web of the very highest quality.
How do you say "The end of all things is at hand" in spider language? The whisper seems to be shaking the guy wires, though, and every spider, secretly convinced of her personal immortality, is busy extending her area of operations as rapidly as possible - and the strands of a spider's web are apparently stronger by far than the equivalent thickness of high-tensile steel.
I think the scientists are on to something when they compare a piece of spider web to a piece of steel wire. I must remember to park a stout cudgel beside the barn door this evening so I can wave it before me tomorrow morning as I attempt to penetrate the interior. Maybe I can convince somebody that the End really is At Hand. 19 September 1995
On at least one occasion the bat was only the last, albeit rather dramatic, straw in a series of last straws, on what had begun as a short night.
Although a day on a small farm has its routines, they vary with the seasons and indeed with the hours and minutes. Once the evening meal is done, though, and chores are over--the ducks safely tucked away in the coop, the chickens watered and eggs collected, the cows watered and fed and bedded down for the night, the pail with the evening's milking brought up to the house--life settles into a quiet comfortableness.
At the close of the evening, there is perhaps a last brief excursion outside to check the wind and sky and then back again to tap the barometer and write down a few notes about the weather in a notebook kept for the purpose on the kitchen counter. My wife finishes some of the grading she has brought home from school. Tonight the cats, in spite of the mild weather, are in. The dogs, both of them, are out. The younger one likes it that way, preferring to sleep on the porch in all but the dampest or coldest of weathers, but Baggins, the older dog, guards his comforts jealously and is careful to be inside and inconspicuous by the time I am closing up for the night and shutting off lights. Tonight, though, neither hide nor hair of either one is to be found.
Occasionally, Baggins finds himself on the wrong side of the kitchen door and does not notice the error until the lower floor is dark. Sometimes I remember to get him in before I go upstairs, but tonight I look at the outdoor temperature and figure the season has advanced far enough that a night outside will probably be quite pleasant. Before I turn the porch light out I check to see if he is out there, asleep at the switch. He's not, and I drift off upstairs, shutting off lights as I go.
It has been a late night. There has been much to do and the moon has long since disappeared behind the hill back of the house before we can put out the last light and settle down for a good, if brief, night's sleep. Through the open window we hear the peepers singing joyfully down at the pond as we doze off.
Moments later the quiet rural countryside was made hideous with volleys of barking as Baggins took violent exception to something and continued to take exception to it all around the house, coming back to the porch occasionally (just below our window) to take further exception before setting off on his vociferous journey once again.
I was not coping well with this activity. A vaguely conscious part of my mind told me I should Do Something, when, to my surprise, my wife, who would speak politely to a riot, was at the window, shouting at the miserable hound to "Cease" and "Desist," and etc., (not exactly in those words).
Groggy as I was, I was impressed with the fervour of her tone. Baggins was not, apparently, because after a thoughtful pause to allow us to get almost to sleep he careered off again in splendid voice calculated to shiver timbers and shatter glass.
I reached the kitchen just as he was completing one tour of the house and was returning to the porch beneath our window to report on his progress before setting off again. He was invited in no uncertain terms to spend what was left of the night indoors and I trudged off upstairs in search of at least a little sleep before the day began.
It was probably an hour later when Helen the cat arrived in our room with a thump. We have had the interior screens off the new bedroom windows since the winter, I don't remember why. Helen apparently knew this and had gone out on the roof through the open window while we were getting ready for bed.
Helen is not a large cat but she has what might be called a weighty personality. She can make a simple trip down the stairs sound like the footfall of a stampeding rhinoceros. Even so, the thump which announced her arrival was not so interesting to our fogged minds as were the evident sounds as of struggle, accompanied by what sounded like flappings. "Oh no, she's got a bat!" was my wife's speedy diagnosis.
I was just getting my faculties reassembled when a Great Awakening, with cries and thrashings, erupted beside me in the bed. Helen wished to share her good fortune with us and had brought her bat, still flapping spasmodically, with her as she jumped on the bed, landing heavily on my wife.
By the time I had responded to the Great Awakening and was on my feet, Helen and her trophy had been dumped back on the floor and my wife had taken refuge beneath the bed clothes, from whence muffled pleas to "do something" continued to surface. Needless to say, Helen was invited to enjoy her late night snack in the remoter corners of the house. Even she seemed to think this was probably a good idea although I did have to deflect her attempt to go to ground behind the bureau with her prize.
I closed the bedroom door for what seemed like the hundredth time that night and climbed into bed as my wife expressed the fervent hope that the bat would not be found in the bathtub in the morning. I shared her hope, remembering that Helen had chosen the bathtub on other occasions as the perfect place to messily devour some late-night snack. I shared the hope but lacked the will to pursue the matter at that time.
Moments later (it seemed) the clock radio weighed in with the grim news that another day had dawned and it was time to rise and shine.
It was a memorable evening, no doubt, but not one we are anxious to experience again. Baggins is sleeping inside, at least for the time being, and this morning I put the screens back in the bedroom windows. 1 June 1993
Our brief Northern summer means that much must be done outdoors even if we are retired and no longer have animals to lay in supplies for against the long winter to follow. Time too to travel while the weather can (more-or-less!) be relied upon. Already, now, at the beginning of September, the nights have gained two hours on the days. Before long we will watch, as the day comes to a close, for indications that it would be wise to cover the tomatoes. I have neglected Jacob Erdman ove the last while but now that September has come I hope to post new matrial at least once a week. Here to begin with, is another episode in our JTWROS saga.
We have not played host to a bat for some years now but in the early days down here, when the old house was still pretty much as it had been for the past fifty or more years, the occasional bat would creep down from the attic past one of the chimneys for a midnight stock-taking flight, with rather predictable results, especially after we had put together a bit of money to buy aluminum storm and screens.
It was 4:46 in the morning when the bat appeared for the first time.
I know it was 4:46 because I looked at my watch. I bought a digital watch for an absurdly low price several years ago, so I would have something to take with me to the hayfield. If it died of a surfeit of hayseed I would not even have to shed a tear, as I would if my faithful, if rather inaccurate pocket turnip were to get crunched.
My ten-dollar special not only did not die it has survived numerous crises and continues to tell time with depressing accuracy. Long after digital time has been discarded by the cognoscenti, I am still trying to remember whether 4:46 is one minute before or one minute after the quarter hour. Math was never my strong point.
So, when my nearest and dearest gave me a poke in the ribs with her elbow and announced that I was to do something about our little friend, I was able to know exactly when my well-earned rest had been shattered.
There is something about a bat. What it is I don't know, but one's reaction to its fluttering is a trifle cautious. If the guest were a bumblebee, even, one's approach would be simple and direct. With our bat, though, I found myself ducking involuntarily every time batsy flapped by.
Of course I did what any hero of the people would do when confronted, at 4:46 in the morning, with a summons to "do something about that bat!" I opened the door to our room and politely stood aside. Not being slow of study, the bat, after a zoom or two around the room, was out the door and into the shadows of the hall. Thinking that he or she would be grateful for an opportunity to sample night-life in the great outdoors, I opened a window in the bathroom and returned to bed, shutting our bedroom door as I went. A moment or so later I was again sleeping the sleep of the just - now with more right, because I had heroically solved a difficult problem.
It was 5:11 when another poke in the ribs announced that the bat felt the outdoors was not as appealing as sharing a few precious moments with us.
If it is hard to be awakened from a sound sleep at 4:46 a.m. when that sort of thing is not part of your daily routine, it is even worse to be awakened at 5:11 after already having been awakened at 4:46 - if you see what I mean.
This time, fortunately, I did not have to work out a new strategy. Avoiding, as best I could, the bat's air-space - particularly after my wife suggested from beneath the bedclothes that rabies might be a reason for flapsy's presence - I again opened the door and oh-so-graciously wished it god-speed.
Again the bat flew down the hall. It went right past the open bathroom door. I noted that but decided it was just a glitch in the navigation system which the bat would correct very quickly. As for me, I again shut the bedroom door and composed myself for slumber. My wife, however, wanted to know how the bat got into our room in the first (and second) place? "Magic," I mumbled, and shut my eyes.
It was not a convincing answer, and my eyes re-opened. A few moments later (at 5:16 to be exact), my wife, in a stage-whisper, announced the solution: the dear little thing was back again with us, having crawled under our door to get there.
Really. I am all for the wonders of nature. I think bats are fine corporate citizens. No doubt their habits are a marvel to contemplate, and worthy of prolonged study. However, I also think a good night's sleep is even more worthy of celebration, and this was not being a good night.
Once again I crawled out of my warm bed and opened the door. This time I took the precaution of stuffing a towel under the door when I closed it, and so, at last, was able to gather a few moments of sleep in what was left of the night. Where the bat went I don't know. Where do bats go when they are not fluttering about in your bedroom or squeezing under your door? I don't wish to intrude on their privacy and I would hope that they would not wish to intrude on mine.
The fact that there were no blood-curdling shrieks from any of our sleeping youngsters suggests that the bat had also had enough - for one night. 24 September 1986