Friday, August 4, 2017

Outhouse Adventure of a Different Kind

Important though it doubtless is for those who get to enjoy the myriad delights of Bigador for more than a day or two, the little building at the end of the short northbound trail from the cabin attracts very little fanfare. The floor, only 4’10” square, is too small to accommodate a party or dance or indeed a gathering of any size at all but that is no problem since it never need host an assemblage of more than one person at a time. Call it what you will – privy, backhouse, outhouse, poop palace – the little building is the one to which we travel whenever nature demands.  It has stood loyal almost as long as the cabin itself – close to 46 years and counting – and though we don’t say it often enough, yes, the little building is much appreciated.

The little building – let’s call it LB hereinafter – has undergone alterations over the years – a new roof a few years back, a ‘picture window’ installed more recently when pal Garth demanded a view, a bright yellow-painted floor more recently still – but its principal purpose remains entirely unaltered from the very first days. Before the picture window was installed the only way to admit a little sunshine into the LB and to enjoy any view at all was to leave the door open.  Once in a while a curious bird – a junco perhaps, a rubythroat or maybe a yellow-rumped warbler – stopped by to see what was afoot, but that was rare; most of the flying creatures who came inside while LB was occupied were mosquitoes, and their visits were always purposeful, never idle. I ought to have installed the picture window years ago: with the door closed mosquitoes are hardly a problem at all.

One needn’t be bored during a visit to the LB. The building holds reading material: a year-old issue of Vanity Fair magazine, a back issue of National Geographic, a fairly new picture book featuring images of fabulous toilets from all over the world. There is even an attendant of sorts – an old cardboard Mountie, only four feet tall, urging visitors to ‘Have a good one!

Given what goes on in the LB it should come as no surprise that a certain kind of regular maintenance is obligatory: to put no fine point on it, LB needs to be shoveled out from time to time. It is typically an olfactory signal that lets one know the time is nigh. Strangely, despite the birding and wildlife-viewing distractions reliably availed during a shoveling operation, no one seems drawn to the task. Truth be told, I am customarily the only person who carries out this important role.

Yesterday, in anticipation of Jan’s return from her week-long adventure at the University of Victoria guitar academy, I thought it suitable that my better half should be greeted by a freshly shoveled-out LB.

Without going into excessive detail about the task before me I need point out that a first step is to excavate a reception area for LB’s periodic proceeds. It was during that preliminary excavation that something extraordinary happened. Something hardly slower than a speeding bullet shot between my feet. It happened so fast I had no idea what I’d glimpsed or even whether I’d actually seen anything at all. I extracted another shovelful and at that there was instantly an eruption of small creatures. Beautiful creatures. I didn’t know it immediately but afterward I learned I’d unearthed a den of the extraordinary woodland jumping mouse – Napaeozapus insignis, if you care to know its scientific handle..

Much smaller than the familiar deer mouse we often see outdoors – and occasionally indoors too – the body of a woodland jumping mouse might be only half the size of its relative. Its coloration, a warm olive brown back flanked by golden orange sides, makes it, in the words of Banfield’s The Mammals of Canada “one of the most attractive of the small denizens of our eastern woods.” This was a ‘lifer’ sighting for me: I had never before laid eyes on a jumping mouse, let alone the five or six that scattered at the prospect of what my shovel might do next.

In addition to its extraordinary athletic ability, my new friends displayed a remarkably long tail – easily twice the length of the mouse’s body. I learned this from Banfield: though not at all rare the woodland jumping mouse is mostly nocturnal – the reason I’d never seen it. It has a diverse diet: from various subterranean fungi, an array of seeds and fruit, butterfly larvae, grasshoppers, dragonflies and beetles.

Somehow I managed to capture one of the little fellows so that I might take its portrait before setting it free. Two are exhibited here for my reader’s gratification.

Who knows how many fellow creatures – never heard or seen without a shovel in hand – share the property around us not through land registry title but by decree issued under the authority of Mother Nature. I do not expect that reacquaintance with jumping mice will be an assured reward of my next LB duty but I feel well enough rewarded by yesterday’s events that I will have no reluctance to look after the chore again.

No comments: