I fell in love with my neighborhood the first moment we drove in. Mature hardwood trees framed every street. Little brick houses with basements. Ah, this place was full of Character. And Attic mysteries, though I didn’t know it yet.
The house we chose needed a lot of little repairs; carpet to rip up, wallpaper to remove, walls to paint, etc., but nothing outside of our skill-set. Pregnant with Zach, and nesting, we hit all of the aesthetic stuff first. The outside was supposed to be next, but life got in the way.
The hole in the screening over part of the roof vent was a glaring repair. I noticed the hole. Joel noticed the hole. I commented on the hole—monthly. Thanks to my super-sonic-gestating smell-sense, I would smell something odd in the kitchen on rainy, humid days. In my mind it smelled musty, like mice. Joel smelled nothing beyond “40-year-old-house-in-the-rain.” Mollified, I did sporadic internet research on “what’s in my attic.”
That particular Google phrase delivers nothing good. You learn about bats, rats, birds, squirrels, and raccoons. Since most of the information is coming from pest removal companies the examples are terrifying. Both because they’ve seen it all and because they want to freak you out enough to hire them. See, my logical-brain processed all of this, while my intuition-brain was super freaked.
I sent Joel up into the attic on more than one occasion. Crap, I’ve been up there (after Joel each time, because if there were roof rats I wanted them to get him first.) We never found evidence of anything living thing up there. Regardless, I remained skeptical. That hole, easily accessible by the thick cable, and all of the squirrels made the attic’s vacancy suspicious.
After living here for 2.5 years, during the spring of 2009, I started hearing noises in the kitchen. Scraping in the gutter sometimes, too. Birds maybe? Under my husband’s continued assurances that there was nothing living in the attic, I set aside my catastrophic thinking (thus ignoring my gut) and worried about it no more.
One morning as I loaded my kids into their respective carseats I looked up and watched a bird fly into the hole. With twigs in its mouth.
Normal people would have been immediately alarmed. Not me. VINDICATION was mine*. All along, I had been right about something using that stupid hole to get into our attic. For me, the only logical next step was to run back into the house, get the camera, and collect visual evidence. Next a quick email to Joel with the attached pictures. (Yes, I removed my children from the car before going back inside to compose the email.)
*I admit to this being a totally adolescent reaction. I don’t care.
Now, why didn’t we just patch the hole when we first moved in? Good question. I have an excuse for why we didn’t DIY-it—one really steep slope on the ground below made balancing a ladder really dangerous. After several failed attempts to reach the hole from either the roof or the attic we just gave up.
Joel called and scheduled a consultation with our local Critter Control. The exterminator shimmied up his ladder, took one whiff of the vent screen, pronounced them starlings, ripped off the fascia board, plopped the nest into a garbage bag, reattached the fascia board, and shimmied back down his ladder. The whole operation lasted about 15 minutes and cost $200. Worth it? Totally. Check out what starlings can do.
Now- the following will make more sense later, but bear with me.
There was an event that we assumed was unrelated right before the bird incident. Joel and I made rain barrels from Rubbermaid trashcans at the back gutter. Stephanie (I talk about myself in third person when I do something asinine) never factored in the weight of 55-gallons of water against the load-bearing capacities of a $15 dollar trashcan. When the experiment failed I disconnected the gutter and dumped the water. Which is how there came to be a random trashcan—sans lid—almost under the hole in the screening. After a week of spring rain, I kept noticing the dogs sniffing around the can. I went over to dump the rainwater and flip it over.
All right- this is going to get gross. As I write it, my whole body is all shudder-y, shiver-y and bleck-y.
Something was floating in the collected rainwater. Something furry and maybe black, but I didn’t look twice to make sure.
As a sidebar- these are the moments where I turn all girl and go find my husband. Could I deal with a floater? Of course. I’ve watched my Mom beat snakes to death (more than once) with a garden hoe when the Army had sent my Dad TDY. You do what you gotta do, squeamishness is not allowed.
What I don’t have to do is deal with floaters when my husband is 20 feet away.
Me: “There’s something dead and floating in the trashcan/rain barrel by the gutter. I wait, met with silence. Louder this time, “no, seriously, dude. Dead animal removal is a Joel-job and I really want it done right now.”
Then my next statement, in a giant rush of words, “you-promise-to-tell-me-the-truth-about-what’s-in-the-trashcan.”
I had moved from bats roosting (I spent the first year we lived here convinced we had bats. Lots of big trees, lots of bats in my ‘hood) to maybe rats nesting. Did you know that anywhere there are humans there are also rats? Gross, hunh? So, furry floater could have been a rat, squirrel, cat, or unknown. I had all of these very plausible scenarios in my mind. I would feel bad if it was a squirrel; feel horrible if it was a cat; and be horrified if it was a rat.
There’s a very good reason why I suspected Joel might lie to me about what he discovered. It involves our old house, extra hardwood floors stored directly on the concrete pad of our garage, discovery of a termite colony, and us having to move afterward. Staying with this logic I can appreciate that Joel would remember The Great Termite Freak Out and thus deduce that the discovery of a drowned rat would rank much higher on the Freak Out scale. He promised not to lie and went outside. When he was done, I grilled him for details to test whether he was telling the truth, and he repeatedly insisted that the corpse belonged to a squirrel.
Fast forward to early winter 2009, now I’m hearing scuffling in the front gutter over the living room. In the afternoon, during the quiet of naptime, I heard “scutter, scrape, scutter, scrape” over my head. Source– a squirrel was using the gutter as a runway from one side of the house to the other. Stupid squirrels. I complained to my husband- he agreed stupid squirrels.
Ha! Squirrels, not so stupid. Stephanie and Joel, pretty stupid.
Our gutters have solid leaf guards attaching on the roof, under the shingles. NOW we know that there is a one-half inch of uncovered space between edge of the roof and the top of the fascia board (what the gutter attaches to). Not our house, but similar to the chewed fascia board in this picture. Except our squirrel was doing this under the cover of the gutter-guard.
NOW we know that the squirrels weren’t using it as a runway, they were building a nest. In the gutter. NOW we know that they used the cover of the gutter-guard to chew through that one-half inch of space. We know it, because you can see pink insulation in the nest. But we didn’t know it until a week ago.
Hearing them run across the attic last Monday morning I called Joel at work, “Dude, there’s a squirrel in the attic”.
“Are you kidding me?”
“Okay, I’ll be home early with a trap.”
Joel is on the roof, pulling back gutter-guard, and cursing. Zach and Elliot are playing in a mud puddle. I’m supervising and offering solutions from the ground. We decided to start with the trap before taking a zip-saw to the metal gutter-guard. Of course, there is a giant windstorm that night which trips the baited trap closed.
The trap stayed baited and tripped– Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday. Every afternoon, the same “scutter, scrape, scutter, scrape.” I amused myself by throwing rocks at the gutter with the resulting racket making the squirrel run back and forth as if it was a member of my own personal circus. Yes, my retired neighbors across the street witnessed my activities, but they never said a word. Or made eye contact, for that matter. Joel reset the trap when he arrived home Friday night.
Saturday morning we had 4 inches of snow, some sleet, and lots of icy walkways. The trap was there—useless—buried in the snow.
We should just call a professional. Let me rephrase that, I’m calling someone today. I have been extremely calm about the whole squirrel-in-the-attic situation despite the fact that there are rodents chilling out above my head. Dare I say I’ve even been patient? I’m done co-existing with the bushy-tailed rodents that also happen to be noshing on my freakin’ house.
I was outside today looking both at the starling nest hole (now patched) and the opposite corner with squirrel nest. The squirrel that drowned? Yeah, he was getting into the attic from what became the starling hole. That musty smell when I was pregnant? Probably wet squirrels. They have likely been nesting up there for years. The floater either fell while trying to get to the hole from the roof, or was pushed out by the starlings. I kind of hope he was pushed- please don’t call PETA.
Something else has been chewing a side door into the attic at a different corner. The Masonite is original—1969—and it looks every bit of its age. Enter, new vinyl siding. Exit, tax refund. We had plans to spend it on adding a shower to the half bath, but I just can’t have squirrels eating my house. It’s just not cool.