The end of solitude

I don't relish company when I'm visiting the outhouse. Especially since it tends to be of the multi-footed and furry kind, or else the pesky winged variety. It's still too cold for bugs, but there it is: a small dark shape darting past the outhouse door.

I don’t relish company when I’m visiting the outhouse. Especially since it tends to be of the multi-footed and furry kind, or else the pesky winged variety.

It’s still too cold for bugs, but there it is: a small dark shape darting past the outhouse door.

Within a second, it has vanished.

I yawn, my eyelids still fighting sleep, only mildly interested in the early morning vole traffic scuttling by the outhouse. They seem to be everywhere now, to the great joy of our dogs. While other people may have bear dogs, coonhounds, fox terriers and duck retrievers, we pride ourselves in a fine pair of mousers.

With their tails stiffly up in the air and their heads buried in the snow, Nooka and Milan have taking up their summer pastime of decimating the rodent population again.

I shift on the styrofoam seat, prop my chin up on my fist and stare at the view of branches, snow and the cabin further off. A peaceful place to contemplate things. To my great chagrin the voles have turned my mullein plants in the garden into nicely shredded piles of what looks disconcertingly like loose fibre fill insulation. Not only that. They used the soft woolly leaves for exactly this purpose as the piles of mouse poop in the carnage attest to. Similar devastation in the raised bed with the strawberry plants; a veritable Clayoquot Sound of mowed down leaves. I should begin to set traps before the voles get into breeding mood. Maybe they’re into it already?

I reach over to lift the old coffee can off the roll of toilet paper when I suddenly catch a movement to my right. Centimetres to my right – it’s the vole again. Uninvited, the rodent squeezes itself nimbly through the gaps in the outhouse wall and scrambles downwards, aiming for the light blue piece of styrofoam I’m sitting on. Suddenly it’s a matter of defending my territory. Bad enough to be sharing a rather intimate moment of my morning routine with a vole, never mind the ravaged garden, but having a mouse scuttle around the toilet seat occupied by my bare bum goes too far.

Partly immobilized by the pants around my knees, I brandish the coffee can at the offending vole, hoping to reroute it back to the outside. Instead, it flings itself into the air, plummets to the floor between my feet (thankfully missing my bunched-up pants) and darts hectically from boot to boot. I jerk my feet into the air, feel my bum connect with the plywood rim underneath the styrofoam and lean back forward to avoid injury just as the vole recovers its wits. Its rotund shape dips underneath the door and is gone. Peace.

I finish up my business and go back to the cabin, muttering to myself about the doubtful joys that rising temperatures bring. No mice in our house at least, not even in the roof is seems.

Instead, a bewildering number of small moths have mushroomed inside over the last weeks. The silvery things crawl and flutter on the window panes, bringing back uneasy memories of Silence of the Lambs. Although we wreak havoc among their numbers everyday, by the next morning a new crop has sprung up, rising and falling against the windows and at night, against Sam’s headlamp when he reads in bed.

It’s a mystery to me where they come from and what they live on. Our clothing isn’t falling apart, at least not because of moth damage. There was only one old pair of long johns that succumbed to natural selection. Its threadbare fabric was already severely damaged by the rigours of winter – in my effort to pry the frozen underwear off the laundry line, parts of it ripped – and then I discovered the holes in it. Could an entire moth population have arisen from a single pair of long johns? Where is relevant scientific research when you need it?

These are the things that I wonder about as winter draws to an end: the mysterious population cycles of mice and moths, their strange proclivities where food and shelter is concerned, and the end of solitude on the outhouse.

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

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