We are not alone. I’ve known since boyhood that houses often have critters––that the structures we humans perceive as ours often contain other denizens who don’t happen to share this proprietary attitude. The resulting interspecies disagreement often leads to conflict. During twenty-five years of residence in suburban New Jersey, for instance, I fought a low-intensity war against the squirrels on the property that Edith and I owned there. These cute troublemakers persistently invaded and nested in our attic, and I resolutely set traps to catch and relocate them to a nearby nature preserve. The result: nearly three hundred squirrels deported over the course of a quarter-century. Following this and other experiences, I’m not surprised that our house on Hyland Hill would appeal to wildlife, nor am I shocked to hear scratchy sounds coming from the ceiling and the walls.
Neither am I astonished one January morning when Edith announces: “There’s a rat in the bathroom!” She utters these words emphatically but without alarm.
“A rat? Are you sure?”
“It’s big, it’s white, and it has huge black eyes.” Having closed the door, she has trapped this critter in the room.
I’m puzzled by her description. It’s true that a large rodent might well be a rat, but I’m surprised by the color. Most wild rats are gray, brown, or black. I’ve never heard of one that’s white. I tell Edith I’ll investigate; I ease into the bathroom; I look around. I sit on the closed toilet for a while and wait in silence. There’s neither sight nor sound of an intruding animal. I don’t doubt that she has spotted something, but whatever she saw has somehow escaped.
A day later, after Edith has left Vermont for a work assignment, I prepare the house for my own week out of town. One of my chores is to move firewood from the attached garage into the house and stock two racks near the wood stoves. I make multiple trips into the garage. On my third or fourth trip, something catches my attention: a rustling sound in the far right corner. I can’t see what’s making it. Then, after fifteen or twenty seconds, I catch sight of the intruder. A small creature, long and lithe and altogether white except for two huge black eyes and a black tip at the end of its tail, emerges from beneath the ride-on mower, slinks into plain view, rears up on its hind legs, and stares at me. It’s a weasel of some sort. I’m struck at once by its beauty. This animal is agile, supple, and alert. Despite my total ignorance of weasels, I decide that this one is female. She stares at me with interest but without any sign of alarm. I realize just then what has drawn her out: a bag of frozen garbage that I had carelessly left on the garage floor the previous night. One corner is now chewed open. This little beast has clearly been exploring the trash. Even as I watch, she scampers over to the bag, pokes her head inside, and returns to pilfering whatever she can extract. I step closer. She startles at once and darts under the mower. There’s no sign of her for several minutes. Impatient, I return to my task of stocking firewood. Each time I return to the garage, however, I find her exploring the garbage, so I walk over, surprise her with my approach, pick up the bag, and remove it. My later visits to the garage show her still present as she attempts to figure out what happened to her smörgasbord.
It’s clear to me that I can’t let this animal remain here. For all I know, she is the source of the scratching sounds that Edith and I heard on the second floor. Spotting one such creature probably means that others are present––an entire family, even. Very well, then: they have to go. But I decide on the spot that there’s no way I’ll set a spring trap and risk killing this splendid creature. I don’t have a non-lethal trap small enough to catch such a tiny animal, however, so I’ll have to obtain one. Since I’ll be leaving Vermont in just a few hours, I realize there’s nothing to be done until I return. I simply have to trust that with the bag of garbage now gone, this snow-white intruder will simply withdraw to the natural habitat whose color she so fully and beautifully mimics.