Monday, October 25, 2021

Feeling a little weasel-y

        My backyard has an assortment of large and small holes scattered throughout the landscape, all excavated by animals of some sort, and I enjoy watching their occupants scamper from one hole to the next. Most are home to chipmunks, which can be seen during most of the year filling their cheeks with sunflower seeds spilled from the birdfeeders and dashing off to hide them under ground.    
        The hole closest to my abandoned vegetable garden is twice the size of the chipmunk holes, and I have often wondered what creature lived there. One day as I walked by it, I was surprised to glance in and see a tiny face looking my way from six or eight inches beneath the surface. I’ve long suspected
Long-tailed weasel (Mia McPherson)

that long-tailed weasels might live on my property, and that’s what I think I saw that day, but I’m still not sure.
        Despite their small size – just 10 inches, half of it tail — and a dachshund-shaped body, weasels are voracious predators. Not ones to pick on small prey, they feed primarily on mammals like mice, voles, moles and shrews, which are nearly the same size as the weasels. They kill their prey by clamping their jaws down on the face or skulls of these animals and crushing their heads. It’s messy and vicious, but it’s usually a quick death.
        Last month, I came home from running errands, and as soon as I set foot in the garage, my eyes were drawn to the hose of my Shop Vac lying on the floor. Peeking out from the hose was a tiny face. Rather than retreating further into the hose, the animal slowly walked out into the closed garage. It was a long-tailed weasel, no doubt about it. And it seemed to have little interest in me.
        First cautiously, then boldly, it wandered around the garage, apparently sniffing out the mice that I knew lived in the wood pile in the corner. It crawled up the leg of my work bench, clambered over a pile of old rags and a container of screws, then disappeared into a bucket of kindling before reappearing from behind an old pallet.
        The animal’s stealthy movements while hunting contrasted sharply with what could only be described as a prance across the open floor — a happy-go-lucky hop with all four feet off the ground at once that reminded me of a cartoon sheepdog I had seen on TV as a kid. I couldn’t help but smile. My eyes continued to follow the weasel’s every move, but my body remained still, fearful that any movement would cause it to bolt.
        After about three minutes that seemed like 20, it had given up hunting mice and instead turned to figuring out how to escape from the garage. As I stood at the door, the weasel came slowly toward me, seemingly unafraid. It had apparently eyed its best chance for escape – a tiny crevice beneath the door sill that had formed due to the effects of three decades of harsh weather on the wooden frame. That was probably how it had gotten into the garage in the first place.
        The weasel took the most direct path to the outside – a stroll across my foot – then pushed its skinny body through the crevice and out into my driveway. By the time I opened the door to follow, it was gone. Why it decided to enter the garage in the first place, I’ll never know. But I sure hope it returns.
        This article first appeared in The Independent on October 21, 2021.

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