Animals – Loved Ones and not so Loved Ones
Bees. Despite the unfortunate fact that I have developed a serious allergy to bee stings, I am still a bee keeper. Jointly with Guy (who does all the management of the living bee colonies), we kept three hives this past summer, and harvested very close to 100 pounds of honey. Hopefully, next year will be another good one. My job is in the workshop, where I repair any damaged hives or frames and build new ones as we need them. Once in a while I drive over to where the hives are located and watch them from inside the car; I love seeing the bees flying in and out, or swarm around Guy, well protected with a screened bee-hat , as he is working with an opened hive.
But that is not the end of our bee situation. Early in spring, I discovered that a swarm of honey bees, which had arrived and set up house and home in the wall of the pump-house late in the summer of 2011, had survived and was flourishing. With my allergy, I was not too pleased to have these invaders so close. Yet, it was very tempting to think about capturing them, putting them in a hive-body and moving them to the place where we keep the other hives. We had read an article on how to capture a colony of bees, and decided to give it a good try. Out of fine screening, we made a long funnel, and attached the wide opening of the funnel firmly to the wall of the pump-house, with the flight hole to the hive within the funnel. We also placed a nice hive-body, with wax containing frames ready to receive honey close to the exit point of the funnel; it was inhabited by a small colony of bees (including a queen). The theory was, that the workers would come out of their colony in the wall, and finding themselves trapped inside the funnel, would search for an exit, and get out through the small hole at the end of the funnel, but would not be able to get back in when returning with a big load of honey. Seeing our new hive nearby, they would go and enter this hive and deposit the honey. Because they would outnumber the resident bees in this hive, they would just take over, and forget their old home and their old queen with it. Well, it did not work. The bees that we had locked out, simply disappeared, or managed to squeeze into their old hive via cracks in the wall of the pump-house. After a few weeks we gave up. If by this spring, the colony-in-the-wall will have survived the winter once again, I have designed another scheme to entice them into a portable hive. If we decide to give it a try, I will write about it next year.
In the meantime, the hives are all wrapped up in tar-paper, with enough honey for the bees to survive the winter. I went to see them recently on a cold day, when it is safe for me to listen with my ear on the side of one of the hives and hear the faint buzzing of our apid friends.
Ebeneezer. Last autumn a beautiful, sleek weasel took up residence in our little barn, which is attached via the drive-shed (and the loft above it) to our house. He – for no reason at all we decided that we were dealing with a male – was remarkably tame, watching us from a short distance when we were up in the loft, which is full of boxes, trunks and the like. As the cold weather set in, when autumn became winter, our weasel found our house more to his liking. How exactly he entered and exited the house we never found out, but he came up out of the crawlspace under the kitchen and chose a space inside the wall behind the cook-stove for his winter headquarters, which became his central foraging point. As time went by, he turned a beautiful snowy white, except for the tip of his tail which remained jet black. We fed him bits of suitable types of our human diet, but we also spotted him occasionally outside, foraging in the bush near home.
Photo credit Janet Foster
It also turned out to be the first winter ever without any rodents in our house; he earned his keep! He remained quite tame, and was very cute when he sat on his haunches, looking at us and was obviously begging for a morsel. However, after a few weeks, we also discovered the down side of a wild animal sharing one's dwelling with humans. Ebenezer, as we named him, was a sneaky thief and if he had been able to speak, I am sure he would have proven to be an inveterate lier. He had a penchant for stealing small plastic scrubber sponges, which he then hid in various hard- or impossible to reach places for us humans. We kept buying new sponges, but whenever we left one over-night in an accessible spot, it would be gone the next morning. He also retrieved chicken bones and other items of what to him seemed to be edible morsels out of our compost bucket. These items became toys for him; we could hear him rattling these toys under the cook-stove or even under the floor. We are still missing a few items that he could not possibly have considered edible, such as a wooden napkin ring.
By spring he turned back to his lovely chocolate brown upper pelt and cream-colored belly, and as the weather warmed he spent less time with us. I guess the food supply in the wild became more abundant, and it was also mating season for weasels. We did not see him all summer, but this autumn I saw him once in the drive shed; he was very tame, walked right past me, and disappeared into a pile of fire-wood in the wood-room. I assumed he had made a nest among the stacked logs and that we were in for another winter with Ebenezer, but no, that was the last time anyone of us saw him.
Perdu (alias Buster). To my delight, Leif decided to come to celebrate Fathers' Day (17 June) with us. All sorts of things kept him in Toronto till late the evening before, so that he did not arrive in Kingston until the 11 pm. bus. On my way to the bus station to pick him up, as I was driving down our lane to the highway, I noticed fireworks exploding above Shannon's Corners (the hamlet adjacent to our land); “early beginnings of a weekend-long Fathers' Day celebrations” I thought. At the station, Leif was already waiting for me, so it didn't take long to get back home. All started as usual, Leif barging into the house yelling “Mommy, Mommy”, but before he could give her a big hug, he spotted, out of the corner of his eye, a small fluffy dog looking in through one of the bottom panes of the garden door. I opened the door, and the little pooch ran in, did one or two loops through the kitchen and then jumped onto the couch where Jeri was sitting, and hopped in her lap, looking satisfied. He was a small, very cute doggy, the type that has been bred to melt human hearts, and he was very good at it. The problem was that he was not our dog, and our home lacks the necessary doggy things. Being a lost dog, we called him Perdu. We gave him a little bit to eat and some water and barricaded him in the laundry room for the night. The next morning we took him for a doggy-walk so he could do his business; Leif made a poster with a life-sized photograph of Perdu, which we posted at our local grocery store, and informed the person at the check-out counter.
Photo credit Leif Harmsen
, where I bought a bag of dog-bisquets. As I walked back into the house, I held up the bag, and instantly, Perdu recognized the bag and sat on his behind in the typical dog-begging position. He totally acted as if he was at home. As he was crunching his fourth treat, the phone rang, and a man asked anxiously if we were the people who had found a Lhasa apso, after a bit I realized that a Lhasa apso is a breed of dog and the description clearly fitted Perdu, and that he was the owner of our foundling. Ten minutes later he, his wife and daughter turned up and took turns embracing Buster, the daughter was in tears, and bit by bit the story of how he got lost the night before was told.
They had a party at their house and shot off the fireworks I had seen. Because Buster was scared of loud noises, they kept him inside, but a guest let him out, and he ran off into the night. They were up till 2 am., and hardly slept after that, worrying about little Buster. He, in the meantime, had run across the highway, through Shannon's field, and then through a good stretch of our forest and part of our field, got hopelessly lost and then spotted our house. A happy end? Yes for Buster and his family, but we soon discovered that Buster was a fleabag, who left a number of dog fleas in our house, without any dog to feed on. We itched from flea-bites for weeks.
Oatmeal and Peaches. Two of our very best friends, Katharine and Sandy, live nearby in a wonderful house on a gorgeous lake. They very generously offered us the use of their house and garden for our fiftieth wedding anniversary in May 2010, and they are always there when we need help. For instance, during the ice storm of January 1998 we spent six days with them while our unheatable house was shut down, all water drained and in darkness. They had a generator and lots of fuel, hence they were hardly affected by the four inches of ice that covered everything and had brought all local electric wires down.
Their daughter Clara had two beautiful cats, which since her departure for university have become the parents' cats. But now, Katharine and Sandy are moving into a no-pets condominium in the city, overlooking Lake Ontario, and can not bring their cats. They asked us if we would take Oatmeal and Peaches as our pets.
This was a very difficult quandary. Of course, we would do just about anything for our friends, but there were also a lot of reasons why it would not be a good idea to take on the care for two cats in our house. There is, for instance, the question of how long we would stay in our country house, I am the only one with a drivers license, it only takes one accident or illness and we will also have to move into town. Even now, when we want to go to New York for a couple of weeks, or down south for a mid-winter get-away, or to some far flung place to visit old friends, what would we do with the cats?
At first we thought we would have to say 'no', but as the time for Katharine and Sandy to vacate their house came closer, and no other volunteer adopters came forward, we decided to negotiate, and very quickly we came to a mutually acceptable arrangement. We will take the cats, and when for some reason we can not take care of them, Katharine and/or Sandy will take over. Done deal, we will adopt Oatmeal and Peaches; at least for now.