One singularly unpleasant aspect of life in the country is dealing with the occasional and inconvenient deaths of random forest creatures. Usually small, and largely cat related, over the years we’ve had to lift the odd spade to remove shrew and bird corpses and – just once – a rat that had somehow become trapped in the garage, and had died. I say “we” when I mention these operations, but of course I mean Tonia.
Tonia has been, in the past, the person responsible for orchestrating the corpse removal events. There has never been a vote on this practice. She established herself many years ago as the household undertaker by virtue of the fact that she did it three times in a row, and I declared it her job. Now, I discover and point, and my hero removes the offending object. Like most superheroes, however, Tonia has one weakness. Her Kryptonite is foul odor, and when it comes to all jobs smelly, I am the one who deals. This to explain why I found myself Sunday dressed as a terrorist, reeking of Tuberose essential oil.
The plan on Sunday involved power washing the garage, prior to painting and generally sprucing up this building that is sadly in need of many repairs. The wooden fascia above the metal garage door is rotting and, while not structural, looks very shabby. The wooden side door is missing it’s bottom panel, having rotted away over the winter, owing to a lack of paint and attention these many years. All of the windows are timber framed, and in need of paint before they go the way of the door. To be fair, it was in sad shape when we arrived but, as with all the repairs to this building, it should have been seen to years ago. There are many adages that would apply to our garage, the most fitting of which by Lao Tsu – “It is better to resolve things when they are small.”
Zach, having the week off, was roped into helping, and together we rented a pressure washer on Friday afternoon. It was a monster, requiring both of us to lift it in and out of the car, but deemed necessary to the painting preliminaries. It was complicated, and not easy to use but, if there is a more delightful power tool in the world than a pressure washer, I can’t imagine it. Power washing, we both agreed, while not exactly fun, is an oddly satisfying pastime nonetheless. The demarcation between work done, and work yet to do is so clearly outlined on the wet concrete, one wants to just keep going; to clean the next little bit, and then the next.
While we didn’t exactly waste Friday afternoon, there was admittedly a great deal of larking about on the back terrace; some moving of plant pots upstairs to the deck, spraying of green stuff from plastic gutters, and pressure washing the concrete of the terrace until it gleamed bone white. We continued the job round the side walkway, all the way to the front of the house. We sprayed the white plastic lawn chairs clean, and washed the insides of both trash cans for good measure. Boots squelching, and muddy from the knees down, we had accomplished a lot by the time we’d finished, and were proud of our efforts, although we never quite made it to the garage. Not really a problem, we had rented the tool for the weekend, and still had plenty of time. Sunday, we agreed, would be the day we tackled the job.
On Sunday at noon, Zach and Laura arrived, with extra clothes and the additional plan of cleaning their car, inside and out. The day was fine, with a high wind, and we gathered in the graveled area between the house and the garage, drank tea and planned the line of attack. It was deemed prudent to begin with vacuuming the cars – theirs, and ours for good measure – to avoid the potential hazard of vacuum cleaner perched on wet concrete. Electrical appliances and water will kill you in this country, and nobody wanted to spoil our Sunday with death. The team went to work on the cars, while I began cutting away at the over grown shrubs and other vegetation surrounding the garage. We were on track.
Clearing a small flowerbed of weeds near the garage was the first order of business, so that I could get to the overhanging Forsythia, and whack away at the spindly Butterfly Bush towering over the garage. At the first forkful of earth I noticed it; the grim stench of death, somewhere close. I kept going, flinching with every turn of the garden fork, nervously poking about under the vegetation, fearing the worst. Not strong, but definitely present, the stench didn’t increase as I worked. It was close, but not underfoot, and I relaxed a bit and made headway.
With our car clean on the inside, Tonia passed the vac over to Zach and Laura, and joined me at the garage. Her nose wrinkled as she got wind of whatever it was. “Cat shit?” she said, hopefully. “No. I am fairly certain that’s death,” I replied. “But it’s not too close. Maybe off in the woods somewhere.” Tonia grabbed the loppers, and headed for the back of the garage.
Twenty seconds later I heard the sound of sloshing water, a muffled retch and, “Ugh! I think I found it.”
Behind our garage lies another, belonging to one of our neighbors, just four or five feet away. In this small alley between the buildings someone had left a couple of old plastic trashcans. Cracked and partially covered with vegetation, we didn’t know they were there. As Tonia began to clear the space between the buildings, she found them. One had been on its side, and was empty. The other was perched at an angle and partially full of water. This second can had become the vehicle of untimely death for an innocent hedgehog. As she pulled the can from it’s resting place, fetid water sloshed and soaked the earth, releasing its unbearable odor. I have no idea how long it had been there, as the the stench precluded a closer inspection and drove both Tonia and I from the area.
The car cleaning team stopped working, and the day’s plans came to a grinding halt. We stood in the gravel parkway, looking at each other, wondering what to do. Tonia claimed the horrible smell effectively removed her obligation as family undertaker. Dessicated corpses are one thing. Rotting flesh, quite another. My strapping son used car wax as his excuse. Can’t leave wax on a car. Hell of a mess. Would love to help, but the wax made it quite impossible. Of our group, Laura alone was willing to help move the trash can, but I wasn’t sure we had to do that. Not yet. I had an idea.
Technically speaking, the small strip of ground behind the garage isn’t our responsibility. It is that of the management company, and the gardener appointed to look after the grounds of the estate. By rights then, it wasn’t really our dead hedgehog. It was the management company’s dead hedgehog and, as I explained to the others, the management company should remove it. They nodded, and it was agreed. Not our problem.
I explained this fact to Nalda, our neighbor on the estate, as well as the company treasurer. One of the few neighbors whose company I actually enjoy, Nalda was apologetic, very sad for the hedgehog’s demise, but utterly unwilling to involve the management company. I explained my reasoning, and suggested that Simon, the Go To Guy on the estate, come and deal with the problem. Nalda was sorry, but she didn’t think there was anything she could do to make Simon clear up the mess.
As I walked home through the estate, I considered my options and there weren’t that many. Frank is a nice guy, and always willing to help when asked, and I thought about knocking as I passed his door. If I’d been alone I’d probably have stopped, as it was clearly a two person job. But the thought of involving a neighbor, while my own squeamish family watched helplessly from the sidelines, was just too embarrassing. Besides, there were two people who could do this job. Me and Laura.
Another quick family council was held, and I shared my plan. Tonia was dispatched to the house for old tea towels, and the only essential oil I had on hand – Tuberose. I dowsed the front of the towels in oil, and Laura and I tied them over our faces. We donned protective goggles and gloves. We posed for the camera and said “Hamas!” And then we went in.
Laura waited at the entrance to the alleyway, while I grabbed the reeking can, and dragged it out. Laura quickly covered it with the lid of one of our trashcans, and together we half dragged, half carried the thing towards the woods. Rotting corpse water flowed from the cracks at the bottom of can, and Tonia and Zach called helpfully from the sidelines for us to “Be careful.” Yeah. Thanks for that. Laura and I held the can between us, held our breath, carried it as long as we could stand it, maybe seventy five yards, not as far as we should have gone, but what the hell. We carried it as far as we could, dumped the stinking thing over in a ditch, dropped it, and ran. We returned victorious.
My return to the foliage whacking job around the garage, however, was brief. The smell was still intense, and all plans for pressure washing were abandoned. Zach cleaned cars for the rest of the afternoon, washing and waxing.The experience of the morning stayed with the team long into the day, as the stiff breeze continued unabated. Laura and I had had little choice in the area for final hedgehog internment, and it was upwind.