a mess made by unusual suspects

Something has been eating our plywood. The good three-quarter-inch plywood we've kept carefully tarped, to be used eventually as flooring in the yet-to-be-built guest cabin.

Something has been eating our plywood. The good three-quarter-inch plywood we’ve kept carefully tarped, to be used eventually as flooring in the yet-to-be-built guest cabin.

Imagine the expense and difficulty of getting the awkward sheets from Whitehorse all the way out into the bush, and you’ll understand our horror when we discovered the mess.

Now, a couple days ago a porcupine came up the path to our cabin. “Yup, porkies will eat plywood,” you may think and move on to the classifieds section.

But it wasn’t the porcupine that did the damage. Their bad rep isn’t really deserved, I find. True, there are dog owners out there who fear an encounter with a porcupine more than bumping into a bear, and the visit of a porky at such a home tends to result in a shoot-shovel-and-shut-up sequence of events.

But I like them.

The way they waddle around, blissfully unconcerned with their surroundings it seems, the myopic eyes peering out from above huge twirled nostrils.

Next to moose, they must be the funniest-looking animals in the North.

We’ve also had to pull our share of quills out of our dogs, but really, who can blame the little fat prickly guy who was minding his own business for lashing out in self-defence when rushed by a gang of canine hooligans?

When we spied to porcupine waddling by our cabin, Sam took the golden opportunity to rush out with Milan on a leash and test his residual interest level in the species (after a painful encounter last year). I hunted madly all over the cabin for a roll of film—the camera was sitting on the table but loaded with a full film, I discovered. I would just love to have a close-up shot of a porcupine face; I’m sure it would make me smile every time I looked at it.

By the time I finally unearthed a new roll of film, got the camera ready and ran outside, the porcupine, Sam and the dog had all disappeared. But since neither howls nor shouts reached my ear, things seemed to be progressing favourably.

Indeed, when Sam and Milan met up with me, he said the porcupine had been all at ease and rather curious while Milan had been rather tense and straining at the leash, shaking all over.

He pointed me into the right direction and I ran on, camera in hand. Unfortunately, the aim of my photographic efforts was unwilling to sit for a portrait and indignantly ambled off with raised quills.

When the porky dove into the bushes, I disappointedly went back to the cabin. He must have liked walking on the path better though, because two minutes later he showed up at the cabin again, unleashing renewed photographic attention on himself. But it was no use, his stout little shape hurtled down a different path, quills wagging on his chubby rear end. That was the last we saw of him and the dogs, axe handles and plywood all remained unharmed by quills and teeth.

Which brings me back to the sore topic of what ate into our plywood sheets: carpenter ants.

We saw alarming little piles of sawdust under the tarp and when we lifted it up, were greeted with a nauseating scene of swarms of panicky carpenter ants scurrying all over the plywood. After shaking the ants off, a closer look at the panels revealed holes around the edges where the ants had eaten and presumably tunnelled right into them. The top surfaces were smooth no longer but had routed out grooves in them, in spots eaten right down to the glue.

This was not only a shock but also news to us.

We had never heard of carpenter ants taking an interest in plywood, only porcupines. Where to safely store the sheets turned out to be a bit of a problem. We moved them to a different location but apparently not far enough because a few days later, the ants were all over it again.

After that, we made space in our shed and put them there, liberally dosed with ant poison down all the holes along the edges to kill off any potential ants still encased in the plywood. Now we keep checking the shed regularly, with a sense of unease. What if they start eating the shed, too? I wish there was an easy solution—like shoot, shovel and shut up.

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