Unwanted guests

And now, we return to our regularly scheduled program of home life in Tucson, AZ.  We are back at winter home base, 12,000 miles and four months after departing Tucson at the beginning of summer.

The Airstream is tucked into its bay and connected to water, sewer, and electric.  We’ll be clearing out half of the stuff in it, partly to clear space for future guests who will stay there, partly because we need those things in the house (like my office equipment, Emma’s books, and Eleanor’s sewing machine).  A summer full of gifts, treasures, and miscellany needs to come out, be sorted, and dealt with, and we’ll do that over the next couple of weeks.

As we planned, the house was ready for us when we returned.  Everything we needed was still in place, so our first night back was a matter of moving some food and the computers. I needed only to turn on the air conditioning (it was well into the 90s when we arrived), light the water heater, and plug in the Internet modem — ta-da! — instant home.  Clean sheets on the beds, fridge already cooled down thanks to our wonderful neighbor, and …. uh … what are these tiny black pellets in the kitchen drawer?  And hey, look, they’re in here too.

In fact, they were all over the house, concentrated in the kitchen and bathrooms. Rodent droppings.  Looks like we had a visitor or two while we were gone.  That meant a serious program of cleaning for two days.  Hantavirus is a possibility in Arizona, and we don’t want it.  Good thing we left very little food in the house (and it was all sealed tightly).  The critters ate part of some scented soap in Emma’s bathroom, chewed holes in a bag of soup mix, and not much else.  I doubt they were here for long, since there was no water available.

But finding unwanted guests was the worst thing about coming back.  We were greeted enthusiastically by all of our great neighbors within minutes of showing up, and that made a huge difference.  You can pull in after a long trip feeling tired, hungry, grumpy, and stressed about all the unpacking work that has to be done, but with a few people who are happy to see you waiting by, it all feels much better. Carol swept the dust off our front doorstep, Mike had some of our recent mail, Tom received a book for us that came last week via UPS, and Kevin was keeping an eye on everything with his trusty peacekeeper in reserve.  Frank and Joanie swung by within an hour to say “welcome.”  You can’t beat neighbors like we’ve got.

Oh, sure, there are a few weeds in the backyard, but I’ll deal with those once the heat ends.  No rush.  Right now we need to give ourselves time to make the adjustment again, from 200 highly mobile square feet to 2,000 completely stationary square feet.  It’s harder than you might think.  Everything changes, from daily habits to traffic patterns.  What you do each day changes.  The places you go, the things you think about, what you buy at the store, the clothes you wear …It’s a shock to the human system, like switching from a life as a suit-bound Wall Street executive to a Red Cross workers in Ethiopia. We’re all adjustable but still, big life changes take time to absorb.

Speaking of rodents, we have a few others in the back yard.  Pocket gophers have apparently been a long-time feature of this particular property, at least according to one neighbor. Over the past two years, as I have carried on my campaign to eradicate the invasive grass, they have flourished under my neglect.  Now the backyard is riddled with mounds and holes.  They even pop their little furry brown heads up during the daytime and toss dirt into the air.

I have a destination in mind for those gophers and it’s not Disneyland.  I had thought that there was no need to remove them until we got more serious about making our backyard something other than the wasteland it is at present, but now I’m re-considering.  In the meantime, they are providing a useful service.  They have burrowed under our composting bin (it has no bottom) and tunneled through our rotting vegetables.  This introduces air and soil into the compost mix, which speeds decay.  I looked in the bin and found that everything we left in there last winter had decomposed, except for a few late items that simply dessicated before they could break down.  It’s “gopher-assisted composting,” a new concept that may be more palatable than vermiculture. I’ll re-start the pile with some water and fresh greens.

Useful or not, a supply of traps seems to be in order.  Anyone who potentially carries hantavirus is not welcome to inhabit our house or our silver guest house in the carport.  We would prefer that visitors coming to Tucson this winter be capable of walking on two legs and using the bathroom rather than our kitchen drawers for their ablutions.  It’s not a lot to ask, is it?

About the Author

Editor & Publisher of Airstream Life magazine