Critters in My Room

When your room is part of a 200-year old former farmhouse, you are bound to get a surprise visitor now and then.

Let me explain to you where we are. Imagine yourself in the middle of a german village with a population of about 8000. There is a large L-shaped, 2-story farmhouse on the main street not too far from church and city hall. One side of the L toward the street on the first floor, there is a gate big enough to let a fully laden tractor through to the barn behind the house. On top of this gate, there is a room, separated from the rest of the house by the staircase. This room, the gatehouse room, was my home for 21 years. Three of the walls were made from timber-frame construction, the fourth wall a yard (!) of rock and mortar. Because the water table is high, the weight of this wall caused the floor to tilt by about 2 inches while the building was under construction. I guess to make up for it, the ceiling rises 6 inches!

Of course I got the usual visitors in summer when the windows were open: flies, bees, mosquitoes, and Daddy-longlegs. Window screens were, and are, largely unknown in Germany.

In fall, large wolf spiders joined the visitor stream. Big, hairy critters, large enough that I considered charging them rent. One showed up in the kitchen above the dining table. The other one I heard crawling down the wallpaper toward my bed. I actually woke up from the noise, spotted the large moving shape, and must have won a long jump competition for getting out of bed really fast. I drafted grandma to rescue me from the beast, but after stabbing it a few times with a broom (she could not really see it without her glasses on), it fell behind the nightstand. Not sure if it was dead, I decided to spend the night in another room at the far end of the house.

There were more pleasant visitors. In the gatehouse, for many years a pair of swallows nested in a T-beam. Usually, were there is one nest others soon follow, but these swallows did not appreciate neighbors. Other swallows trying to check out the nesting spot were chased away in impressive aerial fights. On one hot summer day, I had one of the two windows in my room wide open. In swooped two swallows in the heat of the battle. The chasing bird soon realized the other window was closed, looped around, and shot out the window again. The chased one was not so lucky. The bird, amazingly, managed to avoid hitting the glass at full speed by heading for the plants on the windowsill instead. Unfortunately, I was very much into growing cacti at the time. A short struggle ensued, but the swallow got out of the mess and was out the window before I even could comprehend what was happening. I hope it did not have to spend too much time pulling thorns out of its feathers that evening.

One evening in winter, I lounged in my bed reading and eating half-thawed strawberries. They were, and still are, my favorite snack food. You just take a bag of frozen strawberries, let them thaw until they are mushy on one side, sherbet consistency the other half. The room was filled with the summer scent of ripe, home-grown berries. Suddenly I heard a rustling noise. Thinking: uh-oh, not another spider, I looked around, but nothing was to be seen. The noise seemed to come from the wood-panel wall next to my bed, and travelled toward the gap between panels and door. I followed it with my eyes until it reached the door, and met the eyes of a little field mouse! It must have found its way through the ceiling behind the wall, attracted by the scent of good times. The rational side of me knocked on the wood panels to chase it away. The friend to all critters in me still thinks I should have handed over a strawberry and shared memories of warm summer sun.

To keep with the spider theme, one summer evening I saw a strange shadow in the wooden ceiling. I could not quite figure out what it was, but I assumed it to be yet another Daddy long-leg. Not so shy this time, I took the broom and stabbed at it. to my surprise, it took a few stabs to succumb to the broom. Inspecting the remains, I discovered I had done away with a grasshopper.
I was very sad, because grasshoppers were infrequent visitors to the garden and I quite liked them. Since then, I try to avoid killing any intruder if I can avoid it, with the clear exception of mosquitoes.

Then, there was the big guy, Bosco, beautiful German shepard and quite fond of waking up humans from deep slumber. Did you know human young adults make delightful squeaky noises when you plant a cold dog nose underneath the warm blanket right on their belly? The cream-colored carpet works extremely well to record a trail of muddy paw prints, too.

The cat? She never bothered to walk upstairs. The basement was way more interesting.

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