This is a good house for winter sleeping. It hasn’t always been this way.

Before we got new improved valves on the radiators, they would sing like tea kettles unless they were periodically bled of air. Since there is at least one radiator in every room, it took a long time to do that. And too often, the operation would make a substantial contribution to my nascent hypertension.

I’d open a little valve (known somewhat informally as a “pisser valve”) with a gadget that looks like a skate key and hold a pan under it to catch the stream of hot water that would gush out without warning after the trouble-making air was released. Just a turn or two would start the process. More than that, and the valve would come apart, and one bit would fall into some place almost totally inaccessible. After I finally recovered it, it had to be fitted back on in the stream of hot water. Not scalding hot, but hot enough to be uncomfortable – you wouldn’t put your hand in it if you didn’t have to. As I worked and cussed, nasty water turned the newly carpeted floor into something resembling a muddy Texas stock tank.

Releasing air from radiators got in the way of my vocation. Anyway, even on the few occasions when it was without annoying incident, bleeding radiators was tedious – like scraping paint or cleaning shower grout.

So I would attempt to get it over with quickly by opening several valves at the same time. That could work in theory, but in practice it was problematic. In the first place, the containers that caught the water had to be big enough to allow for the occasional larger-than-usual flow. But too big, and they wouldn’t fit in the spot where the flow would hit them. To my regret, I’d sometimes take a chance on a smaller one.

With three or four open and relieving themselves at the same time, things would get a little tense. A fair amount of running from room to room would ensue. Even so, the drama was often not compelling enough to keep me focussed, and I would sometimes forget about one. The valves were less than half an inch in diameter, but left open, the flow could continue for a rather long time, i.e., until the village water supply ran dry. The system would refill itself from the main supply as quickly as it emptied. On one occasion, the wall of a room below required repainting.

After a couple of years of doing this dance, I began to neglect radiator maintenance, and night-time whistling became a part of life in this house.

Automatic air bleeders have improved my life generally and contributed to peaceful sleeping specifically.

There are, however, other night sounds, which have yet to be successfully addressed. For several years, squirrels have been having a party in the rafters between the ceiling of the master bedroom and the floor above. Why they picked that spot, I don’t know. They have lots and lots of other choices. But they did, and it’s like having a garage band up there.

No matter what barriers are erected, in a cold climate, squirrels will find a way into warm houses. When neighbor Peter discovered a hole in a soffit, he replaced it. In no time, the squirrels gnawed a new hole.

Usually they enter at some point under an eave and spend winter in an attic like snowbirds go to Florida. That’s not such a problem. They can be trapped or killed easily in an attic. But as I said, at my house they’re not in the attic, they’re between the second and third floors directly over the Squire’s and Lady Ann’s bed.

The obvious way to deal with them would be to find where they get in and put up a barrier made of something harder to gnaw through, such as diamonds. But that would probably be no more effective than Trump’s Great Wall; they’d still find a way in. Anyway, we haven’t been able to find the entry point.

Last year, we called in a hired gun. The guy stepped down out of his pickup, pulling on serious-looking work gloves, casting a baleful eye up the side of the house, looking as fearless as a new Marshall who’d been called in to make hash out of a bunch of outlaws. His first move was the same as that of all nuisance-animal specialists; he took a close look under the eaves.

In our case, that meant climbing a ladder that extended up through the clouds to a point where the air is thin. Two kinds of people – both deranged – will perform that stupid act; those who carry no Workers’ Compensation insurance (unthinkably risky for us) and those who do (unthinkably expensive). We saved up and hired one of the latter. He failed to solve the problem.

We turned to Google, where we learned that sprinkling moth flakes around the attic was the preferred remedy. (Are we the only people whose squirrel problem is not in the attic?) We tried to learn from it, even if the suggested solution was not exactly on point.

Apparently, squirrels don’t like moth flakes. It was unclear what their dislike was based on, though. Not smell. The instructions called for odorless flakes so as not to stink up the house. Did the squirrels eat the moth flakes, then? Get sick and die? But dead squirrels in the attic would smell worse than moth flakes, and no one would recommend that. Anyway, I doubt if a squirrel would eat moth flakes. To this day these questions remain unanswered.

The moth-flake treatment is reminiscent of the defense against lawn-destroying skunks that I’d tried once. The way to keep skunks over in your neighbors’ yard is to spread fox urine around. It’s available for purchase online. The mind turns naturally to methods of collection. Doesn’t sound like a very good job to me. One hears little Jimmy explaining at school that his daddy makes his living collecting fox urine. It’s comes in dried form too.

Back to our squirrel problem. We got contractor/caretaker John to open up a couple of spots that seemed to be on the route from outside to the master bedroom ceiling and sprinkle moth flakes there. To little effect. Maybe moth flakes are effective against attic squirrels only.

Mercifully, the squirrel problem is not constant. Lately, we’ve had some fairly long stretches without them disturbing our sleep. The best I can figure, that’s because we’ve had an exceptionally mild winter up till now, and they’re happy to play outside, demonstrating thereby that global warming is not totally objectionable.

Not seeing as many mice this year either. That too makes for better sleeping. Normally, they start finding their way inside around All Saints Day. From then until about Christmas, Baby Kitty pounces on them down in the pantry. Then she brings her victims up live and struggling to the bedroom to play with them and torture them before killing and eating the good parts. It’s a grisly business punctuated by BK’s galloping pursuit and pitiful mouse squeaks.

In this warm year, there has been less of that. But to stay in shape, BK plays noisily with her toy mice, and the sound is about the same as during a normal winter. Just no cries for mercy. Other night sounds are of unknown etiology. Some people find them scary; others interesting. They strike me as in the natural order of things; the old house is alive, and it murmurs from time to time. What it’s saying, though, is not clear.

Less fancifully, strong winds can move the house around a little – not much, but enough to cause old joints to rub and creak. Nothing unusual about that.

The living room and dining room have maple floors. Walk across them after they’ve not known footsteps for a while, and they creak and talk. Not only immediately underfoot either; all around the room. It’s a kind of grumbling sound. The first few times that happened while we were sleeping, we thought someone must be down there. But we never discovered anyone, so we don’t remark it much anymore.

Most likely, it’s Sister Johnna or one of the other nuns who lived here and died in such peace that even in death they will not leave. They are welcome, and so are their angelic sounds. I don’t understand how incorporeal beings can make sounds, but in the season just past, we were reminded that archangel Gabriel had a conversation with the Virgin Mary and an angel spoke to a bunch of shepherds and other angels sang “glory to God in the highest.” So it seems plausible that our resident ladies make sounds.

We’ve been using the fireplaces more in this mild winter. (With less boiler-generated heat being sucked up the chimney, wood fires don’t cost as much.)

Having fires has been a little challenging, though. We didn’t plan well, the supply of seasoned firewood is running low, and we have to burn some that’s still a little green. To have a respectable fire requires finding the right combination, getting a good initial blaze going with minimal dry wood, and adding green that has been split into smaller than usual pieces. (Lady Ann is pretty good at splitting wood – real North-Country-Girl about it – except that she won’t wear Carhartts. I don’t know why.)

But once the fire is right, good whisky or tea is in hand, chairs are positioned just so, and Baby Kitty is on one lap or the other, life takes on storybook peacefulness that segues easily into sound sleep. It’s six medium-size steps from hearth to bed.

If incidental noises are noticed at all, they’re mostly acceptable, some even welcome. In either case, until the snowplow scrapes by just before first light, the monastery night is ruled by the cold-climate, mammalian urge to get into a warm place and sleep until spring.



  1. BC

    As usual Paul, you never fail to make it like really intriguing; heart pumping scary; mind boggling scenarios; peaceful lamentations and awesome contemplations. I look forward to reading about the continuing happenings of the Monastery and what seems like the conquering of them like Little Kitty and the rats! Amazing!! Thanks mate for the roller coaster emotions…


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