Diary of a Highland Lady - November/December 2005
November and December are a busy time for us ferrets in one way or another. It's the start of the rabbiting season for the workers amongst us, while the rest of us get involved in whatever is going on in the house. Our help isn't always welcomed but when did that ever stop a ferret?!
Left: Button checking out the onion skins.
The kitchen's pretty hectic at the moment. It's the time when the last of the autumn harvest of fruit and vegetables has to be pickled, bottled, cooked, frozen or made into wine. That means endless scope for ferret entertainment. Button's culinary speciality seems to centre on pickling onions. He has an absolute compulsion to steal onions and to roll around in onion skins. No-one (not even Button) can explain why. It's not as though it makes him popular. In fact, he leads a very lonely social life until the smell wears off as his cage mates won't let him into bed. Attempts to wash the smell off with shampoo were a dismal failure as it seemed to make matters worse, although Dr June did say that if Button would care to live in the wardrobe he might make a very effective moth deterrent.
Right: Laurie's paws-on approach to wine making.
Laurie, who seems to know something about everything, volunteered to help with the winemaking. His offer to jump up and down on the fruit pulp was declined (not that that stopped him from having a truly 'paws-on' approach). He then stickily studied the air filters to count the rate of air bubbles passing and to calculate the fermentation time. By his reckoning the entire West coast of Scotland should be nicely sozzled by New Year. I have to say I worry about home made wines. One year my people made what was supposed to be 'light, social wine' from elderflowers. Social? Who were they kidding? It made everyone burp (or worse). I'm all for a little drink to help break the ice but the methane emissions caused by that wine was enough to fracture the ice caps at both poles.
Left: Oooops! Someone has overdone the festive spirite!
Foss, the albino jill who is supposed to be my companion, has not calmed down at all, and is as hyperactive and potty as ever. She causes quite a few problems hurtling around and bouncing off walls. Last week she managed to knock over the umbrella stand which holds all the crooks and walking sticks. The clatter almost gave me a heart attack. Poor Rusty, the Rhode Island Red hen, was peacefully standing on the kitchen doorstep, and was so alarmed at the noise she made a dash for the door. Sadly for her it was closed. I'm surprised that she didn't bend her beak on impact. She did get a nasty bump to her face, though, and goodness knows what our poor, long suffering vet made of Dr Jeff's phone call on what we should do for the hen equivalent of a black eye.
We did, however, think of a way in which we could put Foss' speed and enthusiasm to good use. Dr June and Dr Jeff have just acquired a very large stone boat-house on the edge of the loch, but it needed clearing out of all sorts of old, forgotten things left by previous owners. Needless to say the assortment of old, forgotten things had become a haven for mice. Enter the ferrets! No-one (including us ferrets) had any wish to kill mice, we just all wanted them to re-locate. It was generally agreed that Foss would do an admirable job of spooking them into packing their bags and heading for the hills, or someone else's barn. It has to be said that Foss started well enough, dashing in and out of boxes and crevices. Then she saw her first mouse. If she could have screamed, held up her petticoats and stood on a chair, she would have done. The utter shame of it - a ferret who is scared of mice! There was no doubt about it, the first mouse that appeared sent Foss into a state of gibbering panic. We rescued her and left her to lie down in a darkened carrying case to recover from her shock while Laurie and Polo calmly ushered the mice back into the outside world.
Foss is now utterly convinced she has a genuine phobia regarding small furry things. She couldn't have picked a worse phobia! Less than a day after her ordeal the weather became really rough, and what happens up here when the weather turns nasty? Wispa, our hand-reared weasel, returns from the wild to find a safer, warmer place back on the croft. In fact, she usually turns up in the house to either steal the dog's dinner or poo on the bathmat - her favourite way of letting us know she's back. Foss came face to face with Wispa in the kitchen (Wispa is so small she can squeeze under the kitchen door even if it is closed). Foss shot in one direction, Wispa in the other. I'm not sure who was the most alarmed. Probably Foss... She had to resort to lying down and fanning herself while Wispa took off to the hay shed. But it seems that Wispa was not affected for long by her meeting with Foss as later that day a terrible commotion was heard coming from the ferret pen in the small stone barn. This area houses a mob of very large raucous ferret youngsters. Dr June and Dr Jeff were in the raccoon pen at the time and came rushing out to see what the problem was. There were the ferrets with their noses jammed against a crevice in the stone wall while a piercing screaming came from somewhere within. Just as they were gathering up the ferrets Wispa shot out of the wall and fastened herself firmly to the nose of the largest hob in the group. Talk about screaming, shouting and skunking! (And the ferrets were even worse). Eventually Wispa let go of the hob's nose and stood, stamping and skunking, in pure rage while Dr June and Dr Jeff whisked the unfortunate hob off for first aid.
He was OK, his pride was more damaged than his nose, but we all had to agree not to mention it to the other ferrets, so we promised no to breathe a word, not even a Wispa!
And so to Christmas time. As I write, several (mostly malfunctional) activities are occurring. Dr June uses Christmas as a reminder that the sheep are due for their annual vaccinations and so is going ballistic with hyperdemic nerdles or whatever they're called. Dr Jeff is getting gummed up with parcel tape trying to wrap presents to send to family and friends. Thankfully, this year my people have decided against the 'gift vultures' and bought real presents to send - if he ever gets unstuck long enough to get to the post-office.
The Christmas tree is in place and decorated with literally hundreds of baubles, and so are the various sitting rooms in the house. You can go a bit over the top with Christmas decorations, though. Word has it that Alfie the goat is now sporting multi-coloured glitzy pom-poms on the tips of his horns. The 'official explanation' is that he's a little too careless with his horns and so they've been padded at the ends to prevent damage to man and beast. Poor devil looks as if he is wearing the latest fashion in deeley-boppers!
The Royal Scots Raccoon Guards have settled in for their usual Christmas routine - sleeping! The long hours of darkness bring on a sort of doziness for them. It's a relief to not have them running amok, washing everything in sight, stealing everything out of people's pockets or trying to flush us house ferrets round the U-bend. It's the one good thing about winter - peace from the masked pests!
So here's hoping you have a happy and peaceful Christmas - with or without North American raccoons as guests!
From all of us up here in the Highlands, a very joyful, Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year to all ferrets and their people everywhere.