Multispecies housing

Wildlife is moving in with us. Maybe it's a slow reclamation process of the 45 square metres of habitat that our cabin has displaced.

Wildlife is moving in with us. Maybe it’s a slow reclamation process of the 45 square metres of habitat that our cabin has displaced. The newest tenants are a pair of violet-green swallows who have taken up residence right under the ridgepole, in the roof insulation – a rather crowded accommodation that’s also popular with mice, ants, wasps and assorted other members of the insect kingdom.

It used to be relaxing to sit on the couch and stare out at the mountains, letting my thoughts unravel and listen to the wind in the trees. Now it’s like an airport. A steady string of workers from the little ant colony that has established itself in the flowerpot of winter savoury is busy carting off the mosquito and black fly carcasses that pepper the window sills, pulling and jerking like travellers with unco-operative luggage carts. I ponder the self-cleaning advantages of an animal-infested household: whatever the dogs don’t mop up, the ants take away. A real benefit when you can’t vacuum.

Outside, the swallows dive past the windows at breakneck speed until one of them lands on the HF radio’s antenna wire above the hummingbird feeder. The runway manager, our resident hummingbird, instantly abandons doing figure eights in the grass around an unimpressed sparrow and darts over to the swallow, issuing his machine gun commands to vacate the wire immediately. He does his job well and within seconds, the airspace is cleared.

My head whiplashes around as the swallow flits by, then jerks back again at a loud buzzing sound coming from the woodstove. Aha: that’s where the wasps get in. Or at least the dusty grey ones. An ash-covered wasp climbs nimbly out of the air intake and drones past my towards the exposed rafters. A cunning move, up there I can’t reach it. Nevertheless, I pick up my wasp control equipment, a cup and a postcard. This is my chance to impress Sam with feats of daring and courage – he’s slightly scared of wasps, I’m not.

I jam some toilet paper into the stove’s air intake and begin my pursuit of the dusty intruder. Finally, it flies to the window and begins it’s dance against the pane. I put the cup over it and slide the postcard in between the window and cup, careful not rip any legs off the wasp. The humming vibrates in my fingers as I walk towards the door.

“Here, I’ll open it for you,” Sam says, looking nervously at the cup in my hands. I stretch my arms out the door and shake the wasp back out into freedom, unsure how long it will be before it or one of its cousins will find their way back in. I average five wasp catch-and-release missions a day now.

There’s not much time for laziness, though. Two or three large houseflies (how can there be houseflies out in the bush?) and a flock of mosquitoes have come in through the door. Sam and I fan out with our bug swatters to electrocute these latest arrivals. We can’t let them all get off scot-free. The ants have to eat, too.

One fly explodes on Sam’s racket like fireworks. He shakes the fly off and stomps on it to end its brief foray into human habitat. “Dani thinks this is mean,” I comment. “I emailed her about how effective these things are and she said that’s terrible.”

Sam frowns, having missed the second fly. “Yeah, well. Whenever we put a foot outside the door, we’re fair game for all the bugs. In here, it’s the other way around. Anyway…,” he lunges, another pop, sparks fly and then there’s the summer smell of grilled fly, “the outhouse is a real fly hatchery. Tell her that.”

I wrinkle my nose. It’s true, everyday the Styrofoam seat is sprinkled with a fresh brown tattoo of fly footprints. I zap what I hope is the last of this batch of the mosquitoes and put my bug racket away. Peace. We sink back onto the couch.

The soft chirping of swallows filters down to us from underneath the roof, punctuated by the rapid pitter-patter of mouse feet. Over by the window, an ant is wrestling with a desiccated mosquito corpse while the low drone of another wasp is coming out of the bowels of the woodstove. I’m just about ready for winter again.

Lisa Hasselbring is a writer who lives at the headwaters of the Yukon River south of Whitehorse.

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