Pandemonium on the Porch

By , September 7, 2012

We spent Wednesday in town, staying late because of tides. We arrived home as dark fell in the forest, and, as we often do, we let Spice out onto the porch.

Our enclosed porch, which we and many other Alaskans call the “Arctic entryway,” has a movable step that bridges the foot or so from the porch floor to the cabin floor. We cover it with a coconut fiber welcome mat. The porch has a lot of gaps in construction, so voles and mice get in there often. Spice loves to hunt them, or sit and watch squirrels and birds in the dooryard through the screen door. Michelle maintains a couple of mouse traps under the step to help keep the critters in check.

We’d carried in heavy loads, so we had settled down to relax a bit before bed, when suddenly we heard a loud commotion on the porch. It sounded like a cat fight!

We opened the front door to find Spice on the step, slashing at something underneath it. The catlike yowls didn’t seem to come from Spice, although she hissed furiously. She focused so intently that she hardly noticed when one of her blows set off a mousetrap, which seemed to have been pushed out from under the step in the struggle. It snapped and flipped up in the air around her ears without her even noticing.

We manhandled Spice into the house. Michelle shut her, protesting, into our bedroom while I lit the porch with my headlamp from the door. I needed to see what we had in there, and I thought that shining the light on the step would keep the creature pinned. Michelle put my heavy gloves on my hands, and helped me step into a pair of boots without looking. Finally, she handed me the fire poker. Thus armed and armored, I stepped into the porch and shut the door.

Throughout this process, the invader emitted a continuous stream of screeches, snarls, and strange “chittering” sounds. I thought it might be a mink, but wondered if it might not simply be a red squirrel out of its mind with fear.

I stood on the door sill and hooked the far edge of the step with the poker, swinging it up on the other edge. The mat slumped off of it on its edge, but the creature smashed itself under it. It seemed as if the thing didn’t want any light to strike it.

When it poked its nose out and looked at me, its sharp, dark-furred muzzle made me think for an instant we might have a rat. That would be bad news—rats are non-native, so they should be extremely rare. Then, as it maneuvered to stay hidden in its scant hiding place, I thought it might be a mink. It certainly had the right coloring, speed, and elongated body. But then I caught a glimpse of its ears, as it glared at me with eyes that reflected green in my light, and I knew what we had: a marten.

Martens are common around here, but we don’t see them much. We saw one in our windbreak in summer 2007; we watched one in the woods once, and my brother encountered one on the back side of our property. Other than that, and occasional trackways in the snow, they keep a low profile.

I had a clear shot at killing it with my poker, but hesitated. Marten pelts are what furriers call sable—they’re a valuable furbearing animal, which means there are laws that govern how we deal with them. I could get into legal trouble if I brained it with my poker. Also, they are voracious predators, helping control squirrel populations in the area. But, they’re extremely stubborn, and if this one found a reason to favor our porch, it would likely be back no matter how poorly we treated it during its visit.

My opportunity passed in an instant, as the marten dashed behind a crated woodstove that sits against the wall. I tried to chase it out, then gave up, propped open the screen door so it could leave on its own, and went inside.

Despite having a clear exit, the marten stayed in the porch all night! It yakked at Michelle when she went out to use the outhouse after midnight. We heard a crash as it cleared my fishing knife and other tools off their shelf an hour or so before dawn. But when we got up in the morning, our experimental rappings and jostlings were met with silence. Our visitor had gone . . . for now.

I saw that the marten had slightly enlarged a hole in our screen door, and had slid through it to enter the porch. It came in to sample some canned catfood that smells so badly to us that Michelle stuck the dish of it out on the porch.

We hailed Spice as a hero in protecting the homestead. We checked her carefully for injuries, and found her to be unharmed. She got to sleep under the covers between us, and we fell asleep petting her and praising her efforts.

4 Responses to “Pandemonium on the Porch”

  1. Jessie S. says:

    I didn’t know what a marten was so I had to ask Google. They look so cute and innocent!

  2. Jim Luckhurst says:

    Sounds like quite the adventure…! Those ‘varmits’ can be quite dangerous when they feel trapped and hungry. Especially if someone is coming at them armed to the teeth in boots, gloves, headlamp and a poker. Enough to scare anyone I’d say.! A definite Kodak moment I’d say. Great story. Life is not dull on the ole Homestead! :>

  3. Mark Zeiger says:

    They really are cute, aren’t they? I’ve heard they make good pets. Like most mustelids, they’re highly intelligent, which (when not threatened with pokers or kitty cats) can mean very playful.

    My brother and his wife caretake a backwoods lodge near Sitka about every other winter. Last time, they spent the whole time trying to keep a marten out of the lodge. It took a liking to the place, and foiled every scheme they devised to keep it out.

  4. Mark Zeiger says:

    Hi Jim,

    Yeah, I wasn’t very hospitable, and neither was Spice, so we shouldn’t have expected it to be well mannered. I’m just glad it settled for scary noises rather than adding some property damage to the equation.

    I had a camera with me, but by the time I was girded for battle, and after the initial confrontation, I didn’t have much to photograph except a cluttered porch. It’s the old trade-off–either see the wildlife, or take good photos of it. Most times, I can’t do both.

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