Columns, Grace Notes

Year of the fox

I discovered in the spring of 2009 that an animal had dug a hole under my cabin in northern Minnesota. When I filled the breach, the as-yet-unidentified animal dug a different hole a few inches away.

We fell into a pattern. I continued to fill the holes that the animal repeatedly dug. The animal dug holes on different sides of the cabin and under the little guest cottage on the property. The routine of my cabin visits that summer, and the summers since then, has been to find the hole(s) when I arrive at the cabin, try to determine if anything is present under the cabin, then fill the hole(s). Repeat as needed, until heading home to Minneapolis.

Jean Johansson

By the end of this summer, I was getting a little more concerned about just how many animals I might be unwittingly playing host to under the cabin.

Wild animals are generally a source of delight to me, which is one of the reasons I am grateful to have a cabin. I haven’t been too assertive about putting an end to the underground occupancy. After all, I am the one whose cabin is plopped down in the middle of a forest, which is truly habitat for animals.

By the end of this summer, however, I was getting a little more concerned about just how many animals I might be unwittingly playing host to under the cabin (a hole would be an open invitation to lots of critters looking for shelter), what they might chew on/destroy when under there (since I’d already discovered insulation and plastic they had disturbed and didn’t want to put my wiring and plastic plumbing pipes in jeopardy), and I frankly had some issues about sanitation.

I had done a bit of research trying to determine what species of animal was most likely digging the holes, and from a few clues had decided it likely was a fox. To support that theory, one day I observed a fox exiting a hole that had been dug on the lakeside of the cabin. Another day, I saw a fox running along the beach. Then again, a skunk was also a possibility, but I hadn’t sighted one of those.

The hole truth

This summer the animal has limited itself to digging and re-digging the same hole, under a kitchen window. Nothing has deterred it, no matter how many times I have filled the hole. I put a cement block in front of the hole and the animal dug under it. My brother installed hardware cloth in front of the hole, to a depth of about 8 inches; it dug deeper.

The first weekend in October I made the trip north to close the cabin for the winter. My brother and sister-in-law met me there. The hole, of course, had been dug again. We were curious what kind of animal was being so persistent. My brother rigged up an impressive arrangement of a motion detector floodlight (aimed at the hole’s location), that triggered a trouble light (hung in the kitchen window), to alert us, and filled the hole. We discovered the flaw in the plan when we learned that it takes more than a light in a window in a different room than the one in which any of us were sleeping to awake any of us. The hole was back the next morning.

The second night, the animal dug the hole while we were enjoying a campfire on the opposite side of the cabin. Before going to bed, we filled the hole, arranged two metal garbage can lids over it (we thought we’d hear them being moved), and sprinkled Bisquick on the sandy soil leading to the hole, in an attempt to capture paw prints.

In the middle of the night, my brother woke up to see the light on, looked out the window, and saw — a skunk. It was eating Bisquick. So, what did we learn? Skunks like Bisquick. Now I was attracting animals to the site.

And, yes, the next morning the hole was back. So is it a fox, or a skunk, or something else under the cabin? We didn’t even bother filling the hole when we left for home. Next year, we’ll ramp up our investigation, this time with an infrared camera attached to the motion detector.

According to the Chinese calendar, 2011 is the year of the rabbit. In Jean-world, this has been the year of the fox. Or skunk. Or maybe something else entirely. For now, I’m taking Jesus’ words as prophecy, when he said, “The foxes have holes. …” (Matthew 8:20).

Tags: , ,