Saturday January 12, 2013

Imagine being a captor in a large building where you have the run of the place, but there’s a twist. You were created as a natural predator so that every cell in your body is attuned to hunting down and eradicating certain types of creatures. You do your hunting at night in the wild, so the big house isn’t helping. Talk about frustrating! It’s not science fiction, it is what happens every winter when you have a cat that is a real good hunter. We have one of these captors, and the minute the snow starts piling up, our cat Max is literally climbing the walls. We will let him out whenever he wants, and he may spend as much as 15 minutes outside, but when he comes back inside, well, look out. That’s when the wall climbing begins.

For a period of about 20 minutes after being out in the snow, Max will tear around the house like he is being chased by the hounds of Hell. He gets that wild look in his eye, and has been known to bounce off walls like a ricocheting bullet. A couple of weeks ago he was tearing around in the master bedroom. He disappeared behind a tall cabinet, and before we knew it, he was coming up over the top of the flat screen TV that sits on the cabinet ... some six and a half feet off the ground. While the entire screen rocked precariously, it did not topple, but I sure thought that it was going to!

Often in winter Max will get on the bed and wildly chase his tail. It’s like watching a cat playing tiddly winks with its own body. Great entertainment, and all relatively harmless. One of the things that we’ve been doing to help him blow off some of the pent up energy is to provide him with a good, steady supply of catnip on a cardboard scratch pad. He loves the thing. His body gets all floppy as if the muscle and bone were suddenly transformed into rubber. His pupils dilate, his tail curls up into a funny angle and he rolls around on the floor in pure ecstasy. We’ve noted that the excessive bursts of wild energy are fewer and farther between when he gets a lot of catnip exposure.

Occasionally a foolish mouse will decide to take up residence in the house. I don’t exactly know how they do it because the place is pretty tight, but needless to say, we always manage to get a few mice each winter. Max takes up a position and sits quietly hour after hour until he eventually catches the intruder. When he isn’t "house hunting" he is sleeping for long periods of time, or he patrols every corner of the house, listening, looking, smelling, stalking. His relentless vigilance will always turn something up eventually. It may take weeks and weeks, but he’ll find something alive sooner or later, and then it is his.

In the past few weeks Max has taken up a position near a pocket door that connects the master bedroom to the bathroom. This is exactly along the line where the new addition and the old house meet, and the space required for the pocket door is a potential access from the two or three inch wide enclosed gap between the sections. There has to be some tiny point of access, because we’ve heard noises in the attic and along the interior wall. I’ve sealed it up as much as possible with insulation and expanding foam, yet somehow the occasional critter will be heard, but never for very long, thank you Max.

Well, last night we finally learned what all of this recent vigilance has been about. There was a huge ruckus right underneath our bed, squealing, yowling, bouncing against the bed legs and underside. My fiancee springs up, grabs the blanket chest at the end of the bed and pulls it out, to reveal Max with a good sized Ermine in his mouth. It was at this point that the Ermine expired, releasing the foulest musk-like stench your olfactory senses have ever experienced. It was beyond disgusting, all wild, completely foreign, and tinged with dread. I give her credit, my fiancee scoops Max up Ermine and all and gently pitches him out the door. Meanwhile we worked at eradicating the smell. Between some commercial odor eliminating spray, some Lysol, and a Yankee Candle, we got it under control.

Max finally relinquished his grip on the Ermine and came inside, very proud of himself. We congratulated him on the fine work and fell back asleep. In the morning the white Ermine carcass lay at the doorstep, proof that none of it had been a dream. Somehow I think that this could be a very long winter of house hunting for Max. God help us.

Arlo Mudgett’s Morning Almanac has been heard over multiple radio stations in Vermont for nearly 30 years, and can be tuned in at 92.7 WKVT FM Monday through Saturday mornings at 8:35 a.m.