finding a new outhouse tenant

Strange sounds are coming from the outhouse. While it may not seem like prime animal habitat other than for flies, we did have robins build a nest…

Strange sounds are coming from the outhouse.

While it may not seem like prime animal habitat other than for flies, we did have robins build a nest there in the past.

This, however, is a forceful low-pitched chittering sound somewhat like a deep-voiced squirrel.

What could it be, I wonder, as the angry tsk-tsk noise continues?

Of course as soon as I reach the outhouse, the sounds stop. One of our dogs is lying attentively in front of it, greeting me with a quick tail wag, and immediately focusing on the privy again. Something must be in there.

An investigative look over the half door reveals nothing but the usual still life of old Styrofoam seat and coffee cans to protect the toilet paper from mice. A fly buzzes up from the deeper, darker reaches.

Taking the dog as an example, I remain motionless. Only seconds later, at the dog’s side of the outhouse, the loud chittering breaks out again. Milan wags his tail.

Just as I want to get closer and peer between the logs into the pit to find out what creature is in there, tiny paws and a brown face poke out of a crack.

The ermine erupts into another angry bout of insults, then disappears. Like a slapstick comedy act, he keeps scuttling around the rim of the pit, peeking out alternately at the dog and me, and hurling bad ermine language at us.

It seems so funny to me that soon I am giggling helplessly and wiping off tears of laughter — well, when you live in isolation, without sit-coms, you have to wholeheartedly embrace humour in all the forms it might come in.

After a while, I take pity on the little weasel, call the dog off and leave so he can get out. Since our outhouse is constructed for maximum air circulation and consists almost entirely of larger than ermine-sized gaps, I’m sure that once the dog is gone, he’ll leave his smelly hunting grounds.

As with many animals here, I wish I could recognize this individual. Is it the ermine from underneath our cabin? The same question bugs me every time a cow moose shows up at our place.

Their range is apparently quite small, so it would stand to reason that we often see the same cows, but I find their features not distinctive enough to tell them apart.

Then again, I’ve always been plagued by a bad memory for faces. Particularly if I see a person in an unexpected setting, I often can’t for the life of me remember who it might be.

This handicap is compounded now by only venturing into town a couple of times a year, giving me no chance to refresh my memory with the looks of people.

So invariably, I end up heartily greeting complete strangers and walking by acquaintances. Very embarrassing.

Unfortunately this difficulty is limited to faces and does not extend to words. Those I remember in all clarity for ages; a definite drawback when the only radio station we can receive is CBC 1.

The never-ending, merciless repeats of broadcasts only a few months or at most a year old are quite tortuous, especially because a lot of them get repeated multiple times.

It is then, listening for the third time to a comedy skit infinitely less funny than the ermine in our outhouse, that I begin to fervently look forward to more memory loss. Every broadcast will be news to me.

But until that time, I am still working hard to tell apart our wildlife visitors from the residents. It seems ignorant not to know our neighbours, and it would be interesting to know exactly who is frequenting which area when.

With bears it is not so tricky, not only do they come in a great variety of colours, markings and sizes, they each have a very distinct personality as well.

Moose again seem very daunting and look much different in their sleek summer coats from their shaggy winter fur, all of them equipped with faces only a mother could love.

Ermines, I am afraid, might be altogether impossible to tell apart.

Nonetheless, I will be carefully observing any future outhouse tenants — although to be honest, I’d much prefer to have robins in there. It is a bit of an unsettling thought to have a free-roaming weasel underneath vulnerably exposed body parts, no matter if I’m already acquainted with it or not.

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

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