Monday, September 9, 2013

The Mangy Fox

While I was in DC, excitement was happenin' at home. Early in the week the dogs started a fox, near the business storage sheds across the street. They hared off after him, naturally. Suzanne was walking them, and they didn't respond to her recall at first. But they didn't chase him far, I guess, before they came back. As Suzanne tells it, the fox ran into our own yard, and stopped at the top of the hill, just outside the dog fence. And then just stood there and surveyed the yard, as if it were his own.

As she described the fox, he was mangy, and thin, with a rat tail (no hair on his tail). Definitely not looking good. So she kept the cats in. The fox seemed to be hanging about, and she was worried about the cats - that he might be stalking them.

End of the week, and I come home. I'm willing to let the dogs out to seek fox. I have enough faith they will come home, and we don't want this guy hanging about. The cats are more outdoor than indoor, even though we make sure they are inside at night. Tommy cat is not happy staying inside, and Trina is more nervous than usual. Kept inside they would bug us. Too much nervous energy.

So, Thursday evening, and I take the dogs out fox hunting. We circle the edges of the back yard, then head across the street to the business sheds and the patch of woods behind them. Our usual run route passes directly behind this small patch of trees and shrubs. We see nothing.

Friday morning, and Tommy is jumping on all the bookshelves and whatnot with energy to spare. Trina I let outside, in the dog yard. She is reliable, and generally stays in the yard, and shows cautious fear appropriately, like for traffic, or strange dogs. Tommy, I know, will go across the street soon after he is let out. His territory is larger, and one of his fav hangouts is exactly where the dogs first flushed the fox. I take the dogs out, to "scope" the area. No sooner do I get outside, then Klinger sights something across the front yard and bolts. He is in full-on visual chase acceleration. Sara follows him, close behind. They have flushed the fox from the front yard - very near the side entrance to the dog yard, where Trina is.

I see a red blur escape across the road, in full flight, with the dogs close behind. I go to the dog yard and check on Trina. She is in quiet, cautious, attentive pose, keeping a small profile - so I know she had seen the fox. The dogs are stalled across the street, milling about. I get my bike so I can follow, and head across the street.

I don't get far. The dogs had lost the fox at the first storage building. They don't seem to have any idea where to head from here. But that is fine with me. My intent is not to catch the fox, but just to chase him away so he goes somewhere else to live.

Saturday evening, and we run another check, at dusk. Back yard, clear. Cross the street, and the dogs head straight for that first shed. I can see no likely entry or exit, no foxhole. The smell around and explore, eagerly. As I move farther down towards the other end of the shed row, I see a brown blur heading around the other end of the building. The dogs haven't seen a thing, so I round them up and go to the other side of the building and the big field there. They mill about again, very interested, but not really finding anything. I am quite sure the blur was the fox - it was the right size, but the light is failing. It is almost dark, and it is too dark to see color. Finding nothing, we head home.

On Sunday, we head out for our usual run, which, as I said, passes these places where the fox was spotted. I take the dogs around the back yard before we go, to run a fox check. We check the other places as we pass them, but turn up nothing.

On the way home from our run, a walker flags me down. He is eager to warn me of the "mangy fox, with a ratty tail" that he, and other guests at the hostel next door saw on Saturday. One hostel guest even left out a bit of hot dog for the fox to eat (oh, lord, some people are idiots about wild critters). He describes the fox as odd in appearance, unusually bold and calm ("like it was a pet"), and mangy. The description fits with Suzanne's. I haven't seen enough besides a blur to know anything myself.

So, all week I go out at least once a day on a "fox hunt". No further sightings, but the dogs are "critter alerting" in the middle of the night, every single night. I get up and let them out - no critters spotted. The cats stay in, mostly. I let Trina out, but she stays out a couple of hours, then comes back inside for the day.

If the fox is rabid, as he might be from the "bold" description of his behavior, he shouldn't last much longer than a week. So, on Friday, a week after I got in this, I run a fox check in the morning, then I let Tommy out. He'll come in for a midday snack, and we will close the door then. We follow this pattern through the weekend. On Sunday morning, I'm running the morning fox check, and I meet a neighbor who is about to walk her dog. She lives farther down the road, about half a mile from my house.

I tell her I've got the dogs out on a "fox check". She reports seeing a fox a few days earlier. The description is the same: mangy. I ask "rat tail?", and she answers "Yeah!". But this is farther down the road, so that is probably good.

On Sunday night, as Graeme is driving to work, he sights the fox - or one of a similar description: a mangy fox with a rat tail. By the way, a fox's fur is frequently poor in the summer, but a healthy fox would still have a good coat, and a full bushy tail. A hairless, ratty tail is unusual. Where Graeme has spotted the fox is closer to where the neighbor lives and spotted him. It is a little further down the road, but the road turns up the hill there, so through the woods it is about the same distance as the neighbor's house. Still less than a mile away, or maybe a mile. But it is a little ways, and hopefully enough. I'll continue to run fox checks before we let the cats out. There is a good side to the additional sighting: the fox is likely not rabid. There is a bad side, as well. He isn't that far away that he might not be at our house hunting. "Danger, Will Robinson, danger!"

Next week: Wild Concord grapes - an excellent year!

Monday, September 2, 2013

Pick a Peck of Poison Ivy

I start with the pre-exposure stuff, spreading it on my forearms and calves. I think about putting some on my face and neck - but I don't like having stuff on my face or neck, so I don't put any there. But it is designed to stop the poison ivy sap from getting to the skin. Long pants are next, and a long-sleeved t-shirt. No belt, nothing in any pockets. When I am done, the clothes will get stripped off in the laundry room and put straight into the washing machine. I set out two special soap formulas in the bathroom, ready for the washup after.

I continue gathering what I will use. The heavy-duty rubber gloves, the latex gloves to use as a glove liner, a second long-sleeved t-shirt to wear as a top layer, a cloth to tie around my head and cover my scalp, and to absorb the sweat. As I put my shoes on, I tuck my pants into the tops of the socks.

First, we have to do a small digression: the fox hunt for the morning. I'll post a bit about this in a few days. I take the dogs out to check the area around our house to make sure there is no fox close by. The cats want to go outside, and we don't trust the fox who was spotted recently.

The day is getting warm now. Back at the house, I put on the 2nd shirt. I make sure I've drunk some extra water, as I won't be able to do so as long as I work. On with the first gloves, and the 2nd pair. I tie on my headcloth, and I am ready to start:

picking poison ivy.

My European friends probably don't know what this is, but my American friends will know - this is nasty stuff. Not the plant itself, as poison ivy is simply an averagely aggressive vine, and rather pretty to look at. Nope, not the plant. It is the rash you get from touching it that is the pain in the ass. The vine releases plant oils when touched, and those cause severe rashes. Sensitivity varies between individuals, but the more you are exposed to it, the MORE sensitive you become. I get regular cases, usually mild, just from the animals strolling through the borders and hedges where the ivy thrives, and then coming home for me to pick up or pet. A couple of weeks ago I had a patch on my face, just in time to go down to D.C for a big trade show. Yucka.

Poison ivy loves the environment around here, and this has been a bumper year. I didn't get out early with the Roundup, so I have to pick it out of the flowerbeds and yard borders. Even when I go after it with the Roundup, I usually dress up something like today, although perhaps not quite so prepared. But even prepared, I may get some rash. We won't know for 3 days if I have managed to avoid it or not. It can take up to 3 days to start showing.

But I get a full bushel of ivy plants by the time I am done. It takes me over an hour, more like two. I am hot and sweaty before I am done. I have to avoid wiping the sweat off my face so I don't spread any of the plant sap on my face or get it in my scalp. I have to carefully pull up the vines by the roots, to get as much as possible so it does not just grow back when I am done.

I feel good when I am done, as I have a good haul of vines in the basket, and that means they aren't in the yard. It was hard work, but worth it. I did this the first year we were in this house, and I had kept it pretty clean with a little maintenance since, but for some reason, the ivy came back strong this year.

I pull off the heavy rubber gloves, and hang them on a fence. I set my digging tool next to them, and turn the sprinkler on them. (For those of you who don't know poison ivy, water dissolves the oil that causes the rash, but you have to wash for a good while. The latex gloves go in the garbage, and I strip down in the laundry room. The clothes go in the wash, and I head to the shower. The first wash is an application designed for poison ivy. It goes on without water, full strength, to help dissolve the oils. On top of that I use a paint-cleaning soap, which is also good at cutting oily stuff on skin. Then the shower. I spend a full twenty minutes in the shower, and hope that I've done enough to cut whatever plant oils got through all my protection! I've done this before, and still ended up with a rash! But, this year I was more thorough than usual, so we will see.

But I tell ya, there's a happy moment for the day! Picking a peck of poison ivy! Done!

Mon Sep-02-2013. Update. The preventitive measures were almost completely successful. I got a spot of blisters and rash in a few places, but in all cases quite small - like a small streak of blisters on my scalp, and a pencil eraser size blister on my ankle. So, no misery, (sigh of relief)!