We did hear them for real – the noises, scratching sounds above us, behind the ceiling – at night, once we were tucked into bed, done for the day making our noises. And, because we liked to sleep year-round with the window open at least a little, there were also those crickets, and frogs, and the hoo, hoo, hoo-hoo call of our neighbor: the Barred Owl.
But the noises inside the house, these was nothing like the higher pitched scratching of the scurrying mice we had to contend with in our previous home, or the enormous wasp colony we discovered in the wall beside our bed in the house before that, all those papery wings, hundreds, maybe thousands, fluttering in their massive papery nest.
These scratches were deeper, and there were occasional thumps and thuds. These animals, whatever the species, were larger, perhaps much larger, and this is tremendously discomforting, however much of a treehugging nature-lover you may be.
We heard them for nearly a month, as day after day remodel tasks of much greater priority demanded our attention. Of course, we knew that for days at a time the house was wide open to the outdoors, an unintended, though likely irresistible, invitation to all manner of forest critters.
If we were lucky, we were so worn out on any given night – working day jobs, and then evenings filled with vacuuming sawdust and drywall dust, working on small, low-skilled trim projects, making trips to the dump or the hardware store – that these nocturnal disturbances in the house could not penetrate our exhausted sleep.
When we finally got the upstairs bathroom dormer completed, the wall, roof and ceiling sealed up, and then the downstairs addition sealed up as well, all of the known possible entry points for critters were gone, but…the evening noises were heard in the bedroom ceiling were not gone.
We did a full sweep of the house, looking for any other possible vulnerabilities to the great outdoors. We found droppings from animals of some kind that we of course could not identify because it’s not like we’re wildlife biologists, and though none were found, squirrels and raccoons remained suspects, but with the house now sealed off this meant, if it was them, they were now trapped inside, which was alarming, and our bleeding hearts bled.
The search was almost called off, except at the last minute Laurel remembered the attic…well, not an attic exactly. “Crawl space” is the regrettable, foreshadowing term, that area between the rafters and the ceiling, a space you never really want to see again after its built, much less enter, and yet building codes require so-called “egress” doors to access the attic, small ones, one of which was conveniently hidden most of the time behind a chest of drawers in our master bedroom.
Inspecting this space is no easy task, and it was considerably sketchy from a safety perspective. There’s no floor, for one thing, just a sea of pink fiberglass insulation stuffed between rows and rows of 2-inch wide lumber, one wrong step and that insulation gives way to the ¾-inch drywall ceiling, which quickly collapses under your adult portion of body weight, and you crash through and land in whatever room you happen to be over at that moment, a 9-foot fall.
Neither of us had been up there before, but we decided we should both go search it together, to help each other navigate safely. So, we put on headlamps, work gloves, long sleeves tucked into the gloves – fiberglass is a bitch! – crouched through the tiny door and started to creep around slowly.
The space isn’t very large, and at first glance it actually looked remarkably tidy. We didn’t even see those familiar mice droppings, those tiny specks, like black mouse-sized short-grain rice. But at the apex of the gable at the end of the house closest to the trees, it turns out, was a spot we were pretty sure we’d never even looked up at from the outside, because if we had we would have certainly noticed the sizeable hole in the louvered attic vent, through which a sizeable critter could come and go as it pleased. Next, we noticed that about three feet beneath the vent with the hole in it was a small plywood platform that didn’t seem to serve any purpose we could immediately figure, but upon further thought speculated that it might have been a temporary platform hastily installed by the original builders, to hold tools and supplies as they constructed the rafters.
Since I was actually closest to the vent, in the name of thoroughness I took the lead to check out the platform and the hole, and as I approached I had funny visions straight out of a Looney Tunes or Tom & Jerry cartoon, I envisioned discovering a whole tiny rodent village, with houses and roads and vehicles fashioned from scraps of cedar shims and shingles, replete with a village square, with a carousel, pushcart vendors selling bits of cheese on sticks, even a shopping center, with carts loaded up with tiny things we’d misplaced and wondered about their whereabouts, though obviously nothing we truly needed any longer.
Alas, there were no mice at all, but what I did discover was entirely real, much less complex, yet no less interesting, and a stunning reminder that we’d really fully committed to moving from town to the country, to a place populated more by non-human animals than our fellow bi-pedal mammals.
As I lifted my head from my precarious position on a joist, I saw a beautifully constructed and quintessential bird’s nest, the largest nest I’d ever seen in person. Scattered all around it, like a layer of snow, was the fluffy down shed by the hatchlings as their flight feathers grew in. Also scattered about were bits of egg shell, which seemed tossed out of the nest to make room for the youngins, and the thought occurred to me in a flash that under normal nest-in-tree circumstances the down and egg shell fragments would have fallen to the forest floor. Instead, here they were, telling part of the story of how this nest, for who knows how many springs, served its purpose well, interesting, I thought, because we had hatched a son 20 years prior, and in fact had coaxed him out of our nest a mere few months before the move to this house.
“Well?! What’s up there, for Christsake?!”
“Come here! You gotta see this!”
“No WAY I’m getting up there with you! Just tell me!”
“It’s a nest! It’s amazing!”