Tied Up in Knots

Deep in the grip of the midwinter cold 
The stars glitter and sparkle. 
All are asleep on this lonely farm, 
Deep in the winter night. 
The pale white moon is a wanderer, 
snow gleams white on pine and fir, 
snow gleams white on the roofs. 
Only tomten is awake.

Rubs his hand through his beard and hair, 
Shakes his head and his cap. 
Turns at his own command, 
Turns to the task at hand.

He must appreciate what life he’s got
By finding ways to tie time’s knot.

The ponies dream on in the cold moon’s light, 
Summer dreams in each stall. 
And free of harness and whip and rein, 
Tomten starts to twist and twirl each mane
While the manger they drowse over 
Brims with fragrant clover.

Still is the forest and all the land, 
Locked in this wintry year. 
Only the distant waterfall 
Whispers and sighs in his ear. 
The tomten listens and, half in dream, 
Thinks that he hears Time’s endless stream, 
And wonders, how can its knots be bound? 
Where will its eternal source to be found?

~adapted from “Tomten” by Viktor Rydberg

It is hard to say exactly when the first one moved in.  This farm was distinctly gnome-less when we bought it, largely due to twenty-seven hungry barn cats residing here at the time,  in various stages of pregnancy, growth, development and aging.  It took awhile for the feline numbers to whittle down to an equilibrium that matched the rodent population.  In the mean time,  our horse numbers increased from three to seven to over fifteen with a resultant exponential increase in barn chores.   One winter twenty years ago,  I was surprised to walk in the barn one morning to find numerous complex knots tied in the Haflingers’ manes.  Puzzling as I took precious time to undo them, (literally adding hours to my chores), I knew I needed to find the cause or culprit.

It took some research to determine the probable origin of these tight tangles.  Based on everything I read, they appeared to be the work of Gernumbli faenilesi, a usually transient species of gnome called “tomtens” preferring to live in barns and haylofts in close proximity to heavy maned ponies.  In this case, as the tangles persisted for months, they clearly had moved in, lock, stock and barrel.   The complicated knots were their signature pride and joy, their artistic way of showing their devotion to a happy farm and trying to slow down time so they can stay in residence eternally.

All well and good,  but the extra work was killing my fingers and thinning my horses’ hair.  I plotted ways to get them to cease and desist.

I set live traps of cheese and peanut butter cracker sandwiches, hoping to lure them into cages for a “catch and release”. Hoping to drive them away, I played polka music on the radio in the barn at night.  Hoping to be preemptive, I braided the manes up to be less tempting but even those got twisted and jumbled.  Just as I was becoming ever more desperate and about to bring in more feral cats, the tangling stopped.

It appeared the tomtens had moved on to a more hospitable habitat.   I had succeeded in my gnome eradication plan.  Or so I thought.

Not long after, I had the distinct feeling of being watched as I walked past some rose bushes in the yard.  I stopped to take a look, expecting to spy the shining eyes of one of the pesky raccoons that frequents our yard to steal from the cats’ food dish.  Instead, beneath the thorny foliage, I saw two round blue eyes peering at me serenely.   This little gal was not at all intimidated by me, and made no move to escape.   She was an ideal example of Gernumbli gardensi, a garden gnome known for their ability to keep varmints and vermin away from plants and flowers.  They also happen to actively feud with Gernumbli Faenilesi so that explained the sudden disappearance of my little knot-tying pests in the barn.

It wasn’t long before more Gardensi moved in, a gnomey infestation.  They tended to arrive in pairs and bunches, liked to play music, smoked pipes, played on a teeter totter, worked with garden tools, took naps on sun-warmed rocks and one even preferred a swing.  They are a bit of a rowdy bunch but I enjoy their happy presence and jovial demeanor.  

As long as they continue to coexist peaceably with us and each other, keep the varmints and their knot tying cousins away,  and avoid bad habits and swear words, I’m quite happy they are here.   Actually, I’ve given them the run of the place.  I’ve been told to be cautious as there are now news reports of an even more invasive species of gnome,  Gernumbli kitschsi, that could move in and take over if I’m not careful.

I shudder to think.  One has to consider the neighborhood.

She lingered in that charming little garden to say hello to the gnomes, such a glorious infestation!  How few wizards realize just how much we can learn from the wise little gnomes-or, to give them their correct names, the  Gernumbli gardensi.
‘Ours do know a lot of excellent swear words,’ said Ron…
~J.K. Rowling in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows

Things That Go Splash in the Night

brownrat2
most definitely not a picture taken by me; I’d never get close enough to even consider it…

(a Barnstorming reblog)

Seventeen years ago we were in the middle of a hot August like this one.  With no air conditioning then, as now, we use fans and at night hope for comfort from any cooling breeze drifting through the window curtains. Sleep is elusive when one is very busy sweating.

I remember waking suddenly from a fitful sleep in the dark of night, startled by a sound I could not readily identify.  I lay still, my eyes wide open staring into the black space of our bedroom, discerning the sound of intermittent splashing in the adjacent bathroom. What the heck?

Our five year old daughter’s bedroom was the next room in the hallway on the other side of the bathroom.  I called out her name, wondering what she could possibly be doing in the middle of the night, making splashing noises in the bathroom.

No answer.  More splashing.

Now I was worried.  I got up, walked into the hallway, peered into the dark bathroom, unable to see anything amiss.  I flipped on the light switch.  As my eyes tried to adjust to the sudden illumination, I was able to see one thing that most definitely did not belong in this picture:  a rat’s hind end and long tail disappearing back down into the toilet.    I gasped, shut the bathroom door quickly and gathered my wits.   There is nothing that will turn one’s stomach quite like seeing a rat in a place it absolutely should not be.

I checked my daughter’s room, flipped the light on quickly to scan the floor and her bed, and she was soundly sleeping and all seemed fine.  I shut off her light and shut her door quietly.

Then I woke the man of the house, the only reasonable thing to do in such a situation.

I’m not sure he believed me.  Maybe I had only imagined I’d seen a rat?  Maybe it was all a dream?  Maybe the heat was getting to me?

I went and got a broom and handed it to him.  He opened the door to the bathroom a crack, and saw little puddles on the bathroom floor and dirty wet marks on the toilet seat.   He quickly closed the door again and looked at me.  There definitely had been a grimy little something in that bathroom.  But where was it now??

He opened the door again and went in, getting the broom handle ready to clobber the varmint.  He peeked into the toilet and there was nothing to be found except some scummy debris floating in the water and scattered on the seat.  He flushed.  He flushed again.  Nothing.

It was really hard to believe that a rat would voluntarily dive back into a toilet bowl and swim into the pipes …. unless it was headed for another toilet bowl.  We quickly closed the toilet lid, piled books on top and went to check the other bathrooms–no signs of disturbance, wet paw prints or other ratty evidence of invasion.

There is little rational thinking that goes on in the middle of the night when a rat has swum up your pipes into a toilet.   I admit to being a little emotional.  That’s when we went for the bleach and poured a gallon down each toilet bowl, flushing a dozen times each, thoroughly disrupting all the healthy bacterial flora in our septic drain field.  It did make me feel better momentarily.    We closed all the toilet lids, closed all the bathroom doors and didn’t sleep a wink the rest of the night.  When we inspected the toilets in the morning, one of the other toilets had been “visited” as well, but with the lid shut, the rat had disappeared back down the pipe.

In the morning, we coolly told lies to our three children.  We told them two of our toilets were plugged up and they had to use one only, and always put the lid down afterward.  We decided if we told them about a rat in the bowl, they would never feel safe about sitting on the toilet again.   There is the potential of a real psychological PTSD (post-toileting stress disorder) entity.   I certainly didn’t feel safe about sitting on the toilet and kept furtively looking down, which doesn’t make for a very relaxed bathroom visit.   It can be positively constipating.

We did a search under the house, around the house, trying to figure out where rats could have found access to our septic system.  Finally, we discovered that a pipe previously connecting the septic drain field to our temporary single-wide trailer living quarters during our major farm house remodel the previous year had never been completely sealed off when the trailer was removed.  It was an open invitation to rodents seeking a cool dark (and wet) place to hide during a hot summer.

It wasn’t the end of our rat woes, but it was the last time they breached our plumbing.  We later had a major invasion of our barns, requiring the ongoing services of expert exterminators as well as super duper cat defense.    I’m proud to say I’ve not seen evidence of rats or their homely furry selves for years now.

We never told anyone about this little middle-of-the-night episode.   In fact, our children thought for years we had sudden massive toilet failure at our house.

Until I blogged about it because it is a good tale (tail??) to tell…

Sorry, kids.

the defense
the defense to the rescue