Snakes, bats and the love of squirrels

I struck up a conversation with the man I’ll call Bill, who came to make sure the snake that showed up in our kitchen would not come back, by stuffing all possible openings with “Xcluder,” made of poly fiber and stainless steel needles, then placing “Catchmaster” glue board at the spot where P.J. saw the snake, to catch if it got past the poly fiber and the needles.

It’s been five days now, and except for a few bugs, the snake paper is still empty, so I want to tell you what Bill and I talked about while he was working.

“I like snakes,” he said. “When I was a boy, I caught ‘em for myself, and then began selling them to a museum. When word got around that I could catch snakes in the wild, I started getting calls to catch them in houses.”

He pointed to the brick wall on the back side of my house, “A snake can scale this vertical wall like flat ground,” he said. “They can weave around from where they anchor themselves in mortar joints, and they can slip through a weep hole.”

Although Bill likes snakes, he catches everything from beavers to weasels. At one point he noticed that the gable vents of my house were covered with perforated vinyl.

“Bats in the attic?” he asked.

“Not here,” I said, “in my shop building down the hill there.” I told him the story while he worked.

“I was washing the walls with a garden hose one morning” I said, “when I kept seeing shadowy things coming out and gliding into the woods. When I realized they were bats, I got a ladder and eased up to look through attic louver. There I saw bats hanging on the back side of the louver, and from the rafters, maybe 50 all together.”

Bill nodded.

“Everybody I asked for help said ‘Just don’t kill those bats — don’t kill ‘em, now. It’s against the law to kill bats.’ I didn’t want to kill the disgusting things. All I wanted to do was get rid of them. But no one could tell me how to do that. So I searched the internet, and found I had to wait for bats to fly out for food, then block them from getting back in.”

“That’s what we do,” Bill said. “How did you do it?”

“I bought a tarp big enough to cover the roof,” I said, “then I spread it over the gable end of the building, and hung within a foot of the ground. Then I tacked the tarp to the roof with roofing nails, and waited.”

“It was probably a week before I pulled up the tarp and looked in through the louvers,” I continued. “But by then, all the bats were gone.” I paused. “They flew out, hit the tarp, then hit the ground and flew away. When they tried to come back in, they ran into the tarp, and couldn’t find a way to get back in. Then I had the louver covered with perforated vents. And the vents of my house too.”

“That was wise, “Bill said.

“Let me tell you about the moth,” I said. “I was standing on an extension ladder, painting the back side of this house, when I noticed a quarter-inch crack at the bottom of one board, on either side of a nail head.” I paused. “Then I smoothed the paint off my brush on edge of the bucket, held the bristle band in my hand, and tapped the handle against the nail head. That board didn’t move at all, so I tapped harder. Just then a moth began to ease out of that crack. I stood transfixed as it came, then unfolded its wings so that what I thought was a moth turned out to be a full-sized bat.”

Bill chuckled.

“I yelled, slid down four or five ladder rungs, then jumped 15 feet to the ground. I kept my knees bent and rolled on the grass when I hit.”

“Whang-a, whang-a, whang-a,” said the extension ladder. “Bumpa, bumpa, bumpa” said the paint bucket.”

When I got up, I found my paint brush in the grass, but I never saw that bat again.

We laughed.

“Ten years ago, I got call to get a few bats out of a lady’s house,” Bill smiled as he finished up. “A Victorian style house with three floors and a tin roof. I could smell the bat guano when I got out of the truck. ”

“You’ll find the bats three floors up,” the lady said. “There’s a trap door in the ceiling.”

“When I opened that trap door, the odor took my breath. I’ve collected 300 pounds of guano on a site, but this was the most I had seen at one time in my entire life.”

I laughed.

‘The attic had no floor,” Bill continued, “and there were so many droppings, they covered the joists over the third floor ceiling. The bats were quiet, but there were so many that the rafters looked like they had been made of bat fur. Then …all of a sudden they stirred and began flying at me. I dropped the trap door down and scurried down the ladder. When I looked up at the third floor the ceiling, I saw it was sagging…from the weight of bat manure.”

I asked the lady how long she had had bats in her house.

“About 30 years,” she said.

“I could install a one-way vent to get rid of the bats,“ I said, “so when they fly out, they can’t get back in.”

“How much would that cost?”

“A few hundred dollars.”

“I suppose that would be all right,” she replied.

“But you have at least 3,000 pounds of bat guano up there,” Bill replied, “and it would cost two or three thousand dollars to get rid of it.”

“Oh,” she smiled, “we’ve kept them this long, I guess we can keep them a while longer.”

“So she just left the bats there?” I asked.

“She did. I guess she had gotten used to the smell.”

Bill thought for a moment. “This morning I got a call from a young woman, who had a squirrel in her gutter, and she just could not get it to leave. When I climbed on the roof and pulled the leaves out of the gutter, I saw why the squirrel wouldn’t leave.” He thought for a moment. “That squirrel had a baby in the gutter with her.”

“How did you get them out?”

“I baited a humane box trap, and caught her. Then I picked up the baby and put it in the trap with her.”

“What did you do with them?” I asked.

“Put them in the truck.”

“Have you got them with you?” I asked.

Bill nodded.

“Could you let me see them?”

“Sure,” he said, opening the passenger-side door, and lifting a towel to reveal the trap, made of wire, maybe six inches square and two feet long, sitting on the floorboard.

Inside, the mama lay in shadow, but I could see her baby, about the size of a mouse, and almost totally without hair on its body or husky tail. I don’t think it had its eyes open yet.

“The law doesn’t give squirrels the protected status it gives bats,” Bill said, as he placed the towel back over the cage. “And because these animals were taken as pests, the law requires that both the mother and her baby be destroyed.”

“You can’t fight bats, but you have to kill squirrels?” I said. “Something’s not right here.”

“I agree,” Bill said.

I did not think it appropriate for me to ask Bill what he was going to do with the squirrels, so I said nothing. I just thanked him, wrote him a check for the work, and gave him a tip for his stories.

But after he got in his truck and drove away, I surmised that a man who likes snakes, and puts up with bats, would make sure that a baby squirrel and its mother — who posed a threat to no one — would receive appropriate protection. If not by law, then surely by grace.