Digging a Hole to China


When I was a young child my grandpa, whom we all called ‘Pop’, had many wonderful stories to explain the mysteries in life to us. Loud thunderstorms were just Rip Van Winkle bowling. Or if thunder rumbled way off in the distance Pop assured us Rip was snoring. If we asked why he was doing something we didn’t understand, Pop would break into a tale of his travels to Timbuktu or Buxtahooda in order to explain. It wasn’t until I was grown that I discovered some of the places he described actually did exist.

The story Pop spun for stray holes, especially deep or unexpected ones, was that someone was digging a hole to China. It is still the first thing I think of when I discover a hole in the ground. This week it suddenly became apparent to me that someone, or something, in our south yard had begun a mass invasion….or perhaps a migration to China. There were holes everywhere.

Who, or what, left almost a hundred small holes in our yard? And all of them dug overnight.

Holes 1

Some holes had a depth of only 4-5 inches while others seemed to disappear down into the abyss. Our big coon cat, Tramp, seemed uninterested as he sniffed around the excavated area. After a cursory inspection he proceeded to lounge around the portion of the yard that now resembled Swiss cheese. When I asked why he had not stopped the previous night’s digging activity, he yawned and clearly communicated, “Not my area.” I reminded him cats are a delicacy in China and he may want to reconsider his nonparticipation.

Cog and I set about solving the mystery by ruling out who we thought was not digging. The weather was too cold for many small rodents or snakes to be burrowing this time of year. There were so many holes it would have required an entire tribe to dig at such a furious rate. It just didn’t seem plausible.

We are all too familiar with the moles and groundhogs still actively tunneling on the east slope of our land as well as on the other side of the road. But this new digging was a different animal. Cog suggested it might be deer trying to prod something from the ground, but the dirt was too fine and neatly piled next to each hole for it to be a hooved beast. Various possums and raccoons have been visiting us since we moved here and we never found these holes before. So we decided it probably wasn’t them either. The mystery deepened.

Finally we hung up our sleuthing hats and emailed images of the holes to our new mountain friends who own a professional exterminating company. The following day one of their employees came out and inspected the situation. To Cog’s relief he had no ready answer for us. It seems we weren’t so dumb after all. He treated the grounds for the obvious infestation of moles and groundhogs, and then confidently informed us he would consult with the big dogs back at HQ about our ‘hole’ problem and be back in touch soon.

About an hour later he returned with a big grin. He asked….wait for it….if we had seen (or smelled) any evidence of a recent visit by a skunk. Face Palm! Duh! The exterminator explained that in all likelihood the skunk was digging for grubs. In fact he had found evidence of grubs when he fished around in a few holes during his first visit. I immediately stopped laughing at the memory of Cog smelling a skunk at 3 AM the other night. Shivers rippled up and down my spine. “We have grubs? Ewwww.”

Yes, the fun discoveries just never seem to stop for me. I keep getting to the point where I don’t feel like a city gal trying to live on an isolated mountain because I have finally conquered my fear of nature’s unknowns. But my confidence is repeatedly stripped away as all that is natural finds new ways to give me the heebie-jeebies. When will my old programming finally be overcome?

OK, grubs! I can deal with grubs. They are just the immature form of beetles. Perhaps the type that went to town on my green bean leaves last summer? Maybe I like small furry animals that eat grubs even if they periodically stink. Will I once again have to revamp my entire view of the food chain ecosystem that is my yard?

The exterminator set several traps with Cog trailing close behind asking all the right questions I rarely think to ask. What was he using for bait? “Dry cat food,” he was told. How does one reset the trap in case a cat gets trapped? “Carefully if you want to keep all your fingers,” Cog was informed. Why are the traps long skinny tubes? “So the skunk cannot raise his tail to spray.” Made sense to Cog. Both Cog and the exterminator assured me that when caught Mr. Skunk would be relocated to a “foofy” skunk resort where he could live out his remaining days in comfort.

With two traps set and Cog’s training complete, we returned to our regularly scheduled activities. I placed binoculars by the big window in the sun room so I could check to see if either trap had been sprung. Tramp is really far too big to fit into one of those tube traps. But I have seen him attempt to squeeze into a very small cardboard box so I’m not sure he has a true appreciation of his perceptual impairment as it applies to his great size.

The following morning Cog woke early, around 5am while it was still dark. He shuffled over to the front door to see if our outdoor feral cat had arrived for his morning meal. Indeed Gray Kitty was there, with his back to the front door being hissed at by another cat we did not know. Cog promptly shooed away Strange kitty, then returned a few minutes later with a bowl of moist food, complete with warm gravy, for Gray Kitty. Several few minutes later Cog once again checked the front porch to make sure the world was still safe for the feral feline’s breakfast. He arrived just in time to see a fat, mostly gray possum circling Gray Kitty in a challenge for his food.

Gray possum challenges gray kitty.
Gray possum challenges gray kitty.

No sooner had Cog chased off Gray Possum but a small white possum appeared out of the dark from the other direction, marching right up the front steps for his breakfast. This was getting ridiculous. In between moderating conflicts and directing traffic Cog was snapping pictures on his iPhone. Finally, now 6am with dawn just starting to light the eastern sky Cog retreated inside to fix himself a cup of coffee.

Next up, White Possum creeps in to see what's for breakfast.
Next up, White Possum creeps in to see what's for breakfast.

Checking back a bit later, steaming mug in hand and Gray Kitty still eating, Cog spotted the main attraction heading for the front steps of the porch. Mr. Skunk had finally arrived for the early morning buffet. He quickly waddled away as soon as Cog opened the front door and headed off in the direction of the traps. We kept our fingers crossed for some good news at first light.

Sure enough, a few hours later we could see a trap had been sprung. Cog headed out to investigate on his way to fill the wood stove boiler. Watching from the safety of my sun room window, I saw Cog shine a flash light into the small dark air holes in an attempt to identify the occupant. This went on for almost a minute as he attempted to see from different angles, finally tipping the tube trap a bit to one end to get the unknown critter closer to the holes.

Obviously modern furry recognition techniques finally allowed Cog to identify the culprit, telling me later he recognized the teeth. Abruptly he began walking towards the woods with trap in hand. At this point I grabbed the binoculars to aid in my own identification. I briefly wished there was time to pop popcorn as this was the best show I’d seen in a long time.

Arriving at the edge of the woods Cog opened the trap and shook it to unceremoniously dump out its occupant. But nothing fell out lol. After a few more shakes I was startled to see what emerged. It was Gray Possum and boy was he angry. For a moment I thought he was going to go all Elf on Cog.  He hissed and showed his teeth, then sized up the big guy and the situation and slowly (and defiantly) waddled off into the woods.

That was several days ago. The traps remain set and we have had no activity since. Aside from Gray Kitty the porch activity has been quiet. And as far as we can tell there are no new holes to China in the yard. I’ll keep you all posted if any more rural excitement develops.

Finally, Tramp arrives after Mr. Skunk departs to stand point while Gray Kitty finishes his food.
Finally, Tramp arrives after Mr. Skunk departs to stand point while Gray Kitty finishes his food.

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