Open door policy

Last week, it was about 12 degrees outside with a stiff wind. It was pretty cool in here, too. The source of these refreshing indoor breezes is the Old Hippie’s (aka wife Stephanie) homemade pet door that is really part of a window. I don’t mind — it’s sort of a compromise all around — and considering the alternative proposed by the Old Hippie, well, I’m willing to live with it.

At 18, while preparing to attend the University of Connecticut, she decided that dorm life was not for her. Showing the same hard-nosed tenacity that makes life with me possible, she constructed alternate student housing for herself. While spending the summer and fall of 1973 in a tent on the outskirts of the tiny rural village of Woodstock, Conn., she constructed a log cabin.

She didn’t have a kit delivered then have a contractor set it up. Instead, using a smallish axe, she felled the trees, mostly ash, then put herself in harness and dragged them to the site. She notched them and winched them into place with a rope. Roofing, flooring, doors and windows were scavenged from the local dump and hauled home on the roof of her 1956 Chevrolet. (She eventually broke the handle of the axe and I bought her another just like it. She doesn’t like being without a good axe which occasion’s food for thought on my part.)

Such darkness as surrounded that cabin at night is seldom seen these days. When arriving home late and finding herself without a flashlight, she was able to navigate the quarter mile footpath to the cabin by removing her shoes and following the path by feel. There was no electricity but as soon as she would arrive at the cabin she would light the oil lamps and the soft glow would illuminate a tiny patch of the deep, dense forest.

Except for the coldest winter nights, she would often leave the door open so that her cats could come and go freely. Occasionally, she would awake to find a possum exploring the inside of the cabin. I asked her if this made her uncomfortable.

“They’re just Phyllis Diller wigs with feet,” she shrugged. Fortunately, possums very seldom contract rabies. If anything higher on the food chain ever came to visit, she wasn’t aware of it. Foxes and raccoons may have come and gone, their tread being much lighter than that of an ambling possum.

She lived there for four years then we married and moved to Iowa, her home state. Through various residences, she would leave a door open somewhere if only slightly. She started making an exception in winter in our present home since, unlike the other places where wood was the sole heat source, we’re paying for heat here. Her Scottish thrift had the final say in the matter. In the other seasons and the warmer days of winter, though, the back door remained propped halfway open through the night.

Outside, possums often raided the cat food. When we turned the porch light on, they would just look up at us and go right on munching. “What … What?” But, as far as I know, none ever ventured further into the house. A drunk stumbled in late one night. It was completely dark but I happened to be awake. I could hear the movement and smell the booze — not my brand. I didn’t go into defensive mode because the dog was apparently familiar with whoever it was and it was then customary among some of our neighbors to walk into each other’s homes unannounced — though we didn’t knowingly participate. He eventually found his way out and was on his merry way.

That was the only unwelcome (though only mildly) creature to invade our space because of the Old Hippie’s open door policy.

Still, more recently, the reports of bear sightings and encounters steadily increased. Looking out the open back door at night, past the porch and munching possums, to the wilderness across the river, I easily imagined a bear looking up at our place and contemplating his approach.

I worried over this for a while then insisted that we start closing the door of a night. Plans for a pet door were considered but reports of a rabid skunk entering a local home through one of these doors nixed these aspirations. I have sufficient ordnance to dispatch any animal intruder but the fantasy as to how I would handle that situation and the reality, as with any situation involving firearms, can be two very different things.

It’s always better to prevent such an occurrence or, if it does happen, to distance oneself from it and call the experts. This may sound like a wimpy approach but even if I don’t hurt a loved one, or myself I wouldn’t look forward to pulling the walls and floors apart to extract buckshot or bullet fragments from the plumbing, electrical and phone wiring. This approach has also proven to be hard on artwork and bowling trophies.

A small apple tree grows just inches outside a living room window. The Old Hippie covered the open window with plastic sheeting then cut a small cat-sized hole in it. Inside hangs a heavy curtain. The system works pretty well, the cats climb the apple tree, jump onto the window frame then enter through the hole in the plastic. Hopefully, skunks can’t climb.

This setup usually keeps the weather out of the room to a satisfactory degree. Today, though, the cool breeze is finding us — like it did between the shrunken logs and through the open door of her one-room log cabin so long ago.

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