Skunks, Muscrats, and Snakes...Oh My!
If you army crawl through enough basements, crawl spaces, and attics, you will, at some point, come face to face with creatures who have made their home here, and are not happy to see you.
My very first encounter was with a furry, adorable rodent who got himself stuck in the window well of a client's basement. He was curled up in a little rusty colored ball, sleepy peacefully. Awww (The sigh that comes when you've been overtaken by cuteness). I had to get him out of there and back to his happy little habitat, so I told my carpenter to stop what he was doing and help me make an escape ladder for the little guy. He went up to the window and looked at "Rusty" (yes, I had already given him a name), and tapped on the window. That cute little furball picked up it's head and hissed at us, showing two very sharp, very large front teeth and whipped out a thick rat-like tail, then rushed at the window with alarming speed. It ran right into the glass, hissing and spitting, and my burly carpenter let out a womanly screech (ok. I screamed too. I was sure it was going for my throat the way it smashed into the glass).
My aww moment completely gone, I decided we would let animal control deal with the muscrat problem. We had to work all day with that thing watching us, and I noticed that the carpenter gave it a wide berth whenever passing the window. Rusty now has a new home at the golf course, and I like to think of him terrifying those unfortunate enough to sink a ball in his pond.
I have come across a family of skunks in a crawlspace, a massacre of mice in an old cabin (over 20 of them in one trap- hideous!), and at least once a week, get a face full of cobwebs. I do think at this point, I have developed a friendly rapport with spiders, but a friend of mine has had to deal with some really creepy crawl space invaders! A home energy improvement installer and mentor of mine, EJ, was installing insulation and a vapor barrier in a crawl space in Boulder, CO. It was mid summer, and blazing hot outside, but inside the crawlspace, it was a cool 50 degrees. This made it a perfect napping place for a family of rattlesnakes. EJ jumped into the dirt floor crawl space as he had with hundreds of others, and made his way around, taking measurements. As he got closer to the back corner, he heard the unmistakable sound of a rattle. He turned his light on the snake, and saw that it was not just one, but 4 or 5 snakes curled up in the back corner, and they were starting to move. Let me just tell you, EJ has dealt with mice, rats, spiders, and various other creepy crawlies without blinking, but snakes make him break into a cold sweat and abandon all macho behavior. He backed his way out of the crawl space, keeping his light on the big rattler in the corner, and praying that he would not step on one of its cousins on the way out. He made it out safely, and did not return until animal control (always at the top of my speed dial) had removed the intruders.
In my profession, you're guaranteed to have harrowing meetings with creatures of all shapes and sizes when entering the forgotten places in buildings, the attics and crawl spaces, but we take pride in the fact that when we are done with our improvements, not only do our clients save energy, but they also save their homes from infestation, keeping critters locked out.
Note to the reader: if you have a furnace, pay close attention to this disgusting tale. An HVAC repairman was checking out a furnace that had shut down, and the owner thought some water had gotten in it and started to mildew. After some investigating, the repairman found that rodents had made their way into the machine where the cover should have been, which was now sitting on the floor, and chewed through some wiring and various hoses. They had met their end inside the blower unit (yeck...this one still makes my stomach churn). He spared the homeowner the details of just what that smell coming through the vents really was, and ordered some replacement parts. Please make sure the cover to your furnace is in place and your filters are changed regularly (once a month).
And now for something a little less nauseating. The photo above was taken during a workshop I attended at Rancho Mastatal, Costa Rica to learn about Renewable Energy For the Developing World. One evening a small group of us decided to have a real jungle adventure and convinced a local to take us on a snake walk at dusk. We trudged through frog filled streams and made our way to what our guide said was a favorite snake watering hole. As we came around a bend, it suddenly seemed like there were snakes everywhere. I started to think that maybe this was not such a great idea, counting the minutes it would take to get back to the ranch and wondering if they had a healthy supply of anti venom. Our guide, Franky, used his machete to cut of a tree branch and shape the end into a fork. With his stick, he walked right up to a huge snake and pinned it to the ground by the neck. He then picked it up, and grinning ear to ear, held it up for us to have a closer look. As our shock turned to awe, he demonstrated how the snake released it venom, letting it bite the stick he had trapped it with (I bet myself I could make it back to camp in 15 minutes, maybe 20 if I was dragging our guide behind me. Do you think they keep the anti venom in the fridge, next to the mayonaise?). When it was time to let the snake go, I saw Franky flinch a little, then he tossed the snake into the water, as far away from his body as possible and started back along the trail at a much quicker pace than before. While we were ooing and aahhing at the snake, it friends had started to gather in alarming numbers. We all got out of there as fast as we could and made it back to the ranch having had our fill of adventure for the night.
Next week... Stuck between a rock and a hard place. You want me to go in THERE?