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Magnetic North - January 17

Magnetic North 1/15/17
 
Critter Catch and Release
 
Welcome back to Magnetic North where daily snowfall reveals fresh critter tracks every morning. On my chore rounds to coop and barn, I spy the telltale prints of field mice, and snowshoe hares, along with a few more concerning paw marks. The wily fox visits each night and often at dawn, sniffing out the flock of bantam chickens, ducks and two geese snugged up in the hay storage side of my garage.
 
But old Wiley can sniff all he wants. I keep the garage door and coop hatch shut tight at dusk and my two big Lab, Jethro and Zoey, often chase the handsome redhead across the meadow and into the woods by day, allowing the birds safe sunbathing outside, even on  the coldest of days. 

That is not to say there haven’t been loses over the years.. The chicken wire run has been breached by tenacious martens and raccoons.. Stubborn turkeys and guinea hens have resisted my efforts to put them in at night, paying the ultimate price for their brief freedom. And hardest to bear, there have been lapses on my part -a garage door left ajar, or the coop hatch I forgot to close.
 
And so, I have lost birds to pine martens, skunks, coyotes, raccoons and foxes.And even though I know that the predators are only doing what nature tells them to do, I am bitter, even vengeful. But over time, I think I’ve struck a workable method of dealing with the inevitable outcome of keeping domestic creatures in the midst of wild ones.
 
All of the marauders mentioned, except for fox and coyotes, I’ve successfully coaxed into Havahart traps. Skunks proved to be the trickiest to deal with humanely, for obvious reasons. And for those who say that skunks are just big pussycats who can be covered up with a tarp, then carried to a distant place and release without spraying, I say this: give me your phone number and I’ll pay you a hundred bucks to do that for me next time I catch one. 
 
Time was, Paul would dispatch trapped predators with the 22 rifle he got as a twelve year old boy for Christmas. He was a great shot and did the deed well. I can’t shoot straight and, for my own health and safety, prefer not to have a weapon in the house. For these reasons, over time I have become a catch and release fan. 
 
Oh, I did toy with the idea of snaring for a while after my pet goose, Ziva, was killed last winter. She was snatched by a fox in the middle of the day when the dogs were inside. Ziva was a dear thing, not the least bit mean. When I visited her quarters on bitter cold winter nights, the big grey and white African goose would waddle up to me as I sat on a bale of straw and wait for me to pick her up and unzip my parka so she could stick her head inside. It must have reminded her of being a gosling under her mamas wing. For me, it was like holding a big feather pillow, only with a beating heart and cold feet. I miss her every night on chore rounds, as her babies, Thelma and Louise, are not so much cuddly as combative.
 
So when I lost Ziva to a fox, I had blood in my eye and took to researching snares. I knew where the fox came and went from its tracks in the snow. He -or she- made a path off the driveway into a willow stand. The slender willows were perfect for setting up snare lines. After measuring and plotting the wire placement, I asked a friend who knew about such things what he thought my choice of location and chances for success.
 
“Are you sure you want to do this?” he asked me. . “Have you thought it through?”
 
I had not. 
 
“Well, the thing is,” my friend told me, “it’s not going to be pretty. The animal is going to be frantic, caught by a foot or by the neck. And right off the driveway?....What happens when you let Zoey and Jethro (my dogs) out? Are you going to borrow a gun? It won’t stand still, you know, so you’ll probably end up making a mess of it.....”” and so forth. 
 
Frankly, he had me at “it’s not going to be pretty.” The snare wire is still in the garage. And the fox is still coming, like clockwork, at dusk and dawn, outracing Zoey and Jethro across the meadow at other times. 
 
Howsoever, also in the garage are three sizes of Havahart traps. Wonderful devices that look like big wire breadboxes, with spring-loaded doors that snap shut after the hungry varmint enters and steps on a metal plate where I’ve placed stinky tidbits. The biggest Havahart snapped shut on an enormous raccoon, who clung to the wire piteously until I released her. The small traps have imprisoned three pine martens. All of them, like the raccoon, left the farm alive in my car with road trip treats to keep them happy on their way to their new hunting grounds.
 
When get to the release point - a good 15 miles from my farm - and set the Harahart on the ground, I open the trap door and sing, “Born free, free as the wind blow, free as the grass grows, born freeeeeeee.....” After a momentary confusion as to where the heck they are, the little criminals can’t get away from the sound of my voice fast enough.
 
So yes, this isn’t the eye for an eye punishment I feel like bestowing when I find a favorite goose missing, or a poor duck so badly injured that I have to put her down, but revenge is, as they say, a dish best served cold. I take that to mean that to punish an offender when in the grip of grief and rage is folly and just makes matters worse.. 
 
It’s not exactly the Annie Oakley image of myself I had when I moved to this wild and wonderful place. But it’s one I can live with. And so can the critters who live here too.
 
 
For WTIP, this is Vicki Biggs Anderson with Magnetic North.
 
 

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