This past Thursday was an absolutely gorgeous day.  The sky was clear; the sun was shining brightly; the air was warm; the wind died down to a subtle breeze.  I was outside for much of the day and even as dusk approached, I was reluctant to come indoors.  Sitting on our screen porch, the only sound was spring peepers (loud little frogs) chirping at Little Pond at the bottom of our driveway.

Suddenly from the distance I heard a sound that I couldn’t quite place.

Sound carries very far here; I can hear an approaching car 1/2 mile away, and human conversation can be heard at 1/4 mile away. The noise sounded like a dog’s tail thumping on the floor.  The sound grew louder and closer.  Now it sounded alternately like a hammering, then a grinding, almost like a saw against wood, and it was coming from my closest neighbor.  Ordinarily it would not be unusual to hear such sounds because anyone who has a cabin is always consumed with all kinds of projects and repairs.  But my neighbor only gets to his cabin for a weekend every few months, and I knew he wasn’t there on this night.

So what was that persistent sound?

Suddenly I recalled my neighbor saying that he’d been trying to outwit a pesky porcupine who was chewing wood at his place, without much success.  By now the hour was late and I had no intention of venturing over there in the pitch black.  I would check it out in the morning.  The last thing I wanted was for my neighbor, who normally resides in Boston,  to arrive at his “camp” (the term used for privately owned seasonal cabins in the Maine woods) and find out that he no longer had a floor!

Before going to bed I let him know via email that I heard loud grinding at his place, and that I’d check it out in the morning. I received this reply:  “Yikes!  Let me know!” So first thing next morning, my dog Spencer and I walked over to the neighbor’s cabin.

One thing that makes it a “seasonal” cabin versus  a year-round home is the fact that it is built on cement-post “stilts” rather than a full, insulated foundation.  The underside of a seasonal house is exposed.  This leaves any pipes vulnerable to freezing, which is why all pipes must be drained of water and closed off at the end of the summer season and isn’t really usable in winter (unless you can do without indoor plumbing).

Using a flashlight, I crawled under the house but my inspection did not note any signs of gnawing.

Next I went to the shed.  Nothing.

Then I saw an ice-fishing shack, and bingo!  There were shavings, claw and tooth marks, gnawed wood, and fresh porcupine scat (poop).

Evidence of porcupine gnawing the wooden post.  Teeth and claw marks above the post on the flat slab of wood above, too.

Evidence of porcupine gnawing the wooden post. Teeth and claw marks above the post on the flat slab of wood above, too. (click to enlarge)

Fresh porcupine poop!  (Called "scat")

Fresh porcupine poop! (Called “scat”)

I turned to go back home and email him the news when I looked up at his house and saw this:  Open windows!!!!

20140509_092847_resized_1 My neighbor had visited the cabin the previous weekend.  I wasn’t sure if he purposely left the windows open – perhaps he had an issue with mold or mildew – – but hellooo – – leaving a large window ajar in the Maine woods is like giving a personal invitation for every bear, raccoon, squirrel, mouse and fisher to take up permanent residence inside!

That said, I didn’t feel comfortable closing the windows unless I cleared it first with the neighbor, so I returned home.  In Maine, there is a fine line between being a concerned neighbor and a nosy one.  I sent him another email:

Good news and bad news.  The good news is that your house is still standing.  The porcupine got to the ice shack, but your house and shed are unscathed and the ice shack is still usable.  The bad news is that you left your windows open, and it’s supposed to rain hard this week.  I assume there’s a reason you left them open but one of them doesn’t have a screen, and you may not want to invite  4-legged guests to housesit . . .

The neighbor thanked me and asked me to close his windows, explaining that he’d had a dental emergency and had to run back to the city, and forgot entirely about his windows.  This time I dragged my husband with me to the neighbor’s place – – the last thing I wanted if I had to venture inside his cabin was to run into a bear sleeping on a bunk bed.  Other than a nasty mouse problem, the house was critter-free.  Moments after we closed the windows, it started to rain.

While our neighbor’s mistake was nothing more than an oversight during a frantic time, it was an error one really can’t afford to make here in the woods.  And even in calmer times, despite extensive planning, it seems that there is always a last-minute rush to get out the door without forgetting anything when we commute between our hometown and our house in Maine.  To avoid this problem, here is part of a checklist we’ve created:

  • Close and lock all windows
  • Close valve by washing machine to prevent water flow to washer
  • Put toilet seats down (we started doing this after finding a dead drowned mouse in the toilet upon our return)
  • Remove all trash (bathrooms, office, kitchen)
  • Turn off all lights (including outside lights)
  • Lock the office door and garage door
  • Remove everything from the porch other than the hose and sofa
  • Lock glass door to porch (to prevent accidental opening due to winds)
  • Turn off the gas by the stove and unplug microwave and washing machine
  • If nothing is left in the fridge, keep door open
  • Check fridge for anything that could spoil
  • As done for the fridge, do the same for the freezer
  • Unplug the power from the Network Extender
  • Plugin the two webcams and aim them
  • Turn off printer
  • Dump dog’s water and put dog food back in container out of bowl
  • Lock the car in the garage
  • Remove USA flag from post and store
  • Remove hammock and store
  • Contact post office to not deliver mail to mailbox
  • Make sure mouse poison is set
  • Reset highs/lows in weather station
In winter:
  • Set thermostats to about 45 F (this is the minimum without pipes freezing.  Propane heat costs too much to set it warmer while we’re gone)
  • Turn off all outside water and bring hoses inside
  • Connect and test the two freeze alarms (if our furnace stops working, the freeze alarm autodials our cell phone to alert us)
  • Dump ashes, clean and set up wood stove with kindling

3 responses to this post.

  1. Hi,
    It’s stories like this, with an account of a good majority of detail, that has made your blog one of my favorites. I have to tell you, I’m truly enjoying your writing. It’s also fun to imagine your neck of the woods, compared to mine. Good times in Maine!


  2. Would love to see photos of the setting. The exterior of your neighbours cottage looks sweet. Bears and critters sound a little scary though!


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: