Written by Lynn E. McElfresh
posted on June 13, 2013 07:47
We’re here! We arrived on the island in the middle of a glorious sunny day. The crossing was a little bumpy but Linda at Chalks told us this is nothing compared to the swells that were rolling down the river just the day before. We landed at the front dock and began unpacking for the season. The big question looming in my mind as I opened the front door… is there anything else in the cottage?
Our little cottage never seems to have an issue, but our big cottage (Happily-Ever-After Cottage) seems to attract “visitors” during the winter. Twice we’ve had squirrels invade the cottage. The worst was the last time. It looked like a murder scene! The poor creature had knocked over and smashed some glassware and cut its foot. There was glass and blood everywhere! In the kitchen, in it’s frantic search for a way out, the squirrel knocked over a canister of flour. A dusting of flour covered everything. In the rest of the cottage, every picture was askew. Every lamp was knocked over. While I had more to clean up after Squirrel #2, years earlier Squirrel #1 actually did more damage. It gnawed every windowsill upstairs and totally destroyed a set of window blinds. We found Squirrel #1 in the middle of the office…spread eagle and flat as a pancake. Freeze-dried.
Even after I swept up the glass, de-floured the kitchen, righted the lamps and straightened the pictures---I still hadn’t found Squirrel #2. I doubted it had escaped and that meant it was there in the cottage SOMEWHERE. That night when we went to bed, we pulled back the covers to find a huge hole gnawed in our brand new mattress. It wasn’t even a year old yet! Was the squirrel dead—or worse, alive and asleep—in our mattress? No. Whew!
The next day I found the poor fellow lying dead wedged between the dresser and the wall. He looked like he was sleeping. Obviously, he hadn’t been dead for very long. What if we had returned a few days earlier to this frantic creature trapped inside the cottage? Yikes!
So on our arrival day last month, I entered the cottage with a little trepidation. At first glance everything seemed untouched, but as I began moving boxes in, I noticed a white blotch here, then a white streak there and soon realized that sometime during the winter a bird had gotten into the cottage. I checked our wood-burning stove and I saw we left the flue open. I was immediately thankful that for the first time I had covered every piece of furniture with a sheet. Fortunately it didn’t take long to find the carcass of a little starling under a chair in the dining room.
Ah…not too bad. A much easier clean up and less damage than from our squirrel invasions. And just as I was beginning a sigh of relief, I heard a scritch then a scratch and called my husband to hurry inside from his water pump chores to tell him that there was something in the stovepipe of the stove. We stopped and listened, but heard nothing more.
Two nights later we were playing a game at the dining room table when we heard a metal clanking. It was the stove. Something was in the stovepipe. Again? Still? We banged on the pipe and the scratching stopped.
The next morning my husband woke to the sound of something fluttering against the stove. When we got up and peered in behind the mesh covering we could see nothing but blackness, but we could hear breathing—low, deep, loud, rasping breathing. It wasn’t a small tiny bird. I thought perhaps it was a raccoon. We found a light and shone it in the stove. A large gray shape appeared. What was it? There was a long sharp beak. And finally more from the shape than from the color---it was a gray, sooty blob---I was able to identify it as a merganser.
We have mergansers nesting in the white pine outside our bedroom window the last few years. They like to nest in the cavities of trees. I’d seen the merganser in the white pine this season. Had this merganser confused our chimney for its tree or was it another merganser looking for a nesting site?
My husband had shoulder surgery in March and I’m a big chicken, so we called our neighbor Wayne for reinforcement. Armed with a fishing net and clipboard, Wayne scooped the bird from the stove and took it outside to the dock. It didn’t struggle much and I was relieved that as soon as we untangled it from the fishing net it flew away uninjured.
One of the joys of being on the river is watching the wildlife around us every day. I would prefer that the wildlife stay on the outside of the cottage. I know we are not the only islanders that have had a “Goldilocks” visit them in the winter. Would love to hear your stories!
By Lynn McElfresh, Grenell Island
Lynn McElfresh is a regular contributor to TI Life, writing stories dealing with her favorite Grenell Island and island life. We have learned a great deal over the past three years from Lynn McElfresh’s musings, from moving pianos to island weddings or from plumbing problems to meeting old friends, taking nature walks and the importance of trees. Recently she presented several articles about Grenell for its 100th Birthday.