Thursday, August 23, 2012

Country Critters



We live in the rural areas of northern Okinawa, away from the bright city lights that my wife is used to and loves. The house is the one that her grandparents lived in from the mid 1960’s till they went on to their rewards a few years back. They passed on about five years apart but both of them lived to ripe old age of 99. Gramps probably would have lived longer. He had genetics working in his favor as his mother lived to be 106. But, he decided that he didn’t want to live that long so he took up drinking and smoking when he turned 90 and finally retired from full-time farming. I think that may in part be what drove Granny to an early gave. FYI, in Okinawa, it seems that anyone who dies before reaching their 100th birthday is thought to have died young!
(Note the Shisa on the roof (upper left). The AC and Satellite TV were added by us after moving in)

The house is built in the traditional Okinawan way with pitched roofs on four sides and a big old Shisa or Lion Dog statue placed on the roof to ward off evil spirits. It was one of the first in the neighborhood to be built on a concrete slab with steel reinforced concrete walls. So unlike your typical wood framed house, this baby is stronger than North Korea’s Kim Jock-Itch’s “Fuhrer bunker” and will stand up to the fiercest typhoons. BTW, one is bearing down on us as I write this post. All that being said, in keeping with the Okinawan tradition, the house is open and airy by design with one fatal design flaw. The roof isn’t vented so summertime temperatures inside the house can soar. This makes it problematic when you want to live economically. Screw that living “green” bullshit! I could care less about saving the planet. I’m a retiree on a budget.
(The backside of the house with the shitter & shower room addition to the left, connected by a breezeway)

When the house was built, it was kept real basic. Amenities were added after the fact to include the plumbing. Originally the privy was out back but, as the infrastructure improved, one was added on to the back of the house that is connected by a breezeway and with water pumped directly into the house, granny and gramps no longer had to run and fetch water for their daily needs. Still, you have to step out back if Mother Nature makes a call on you in the middle of the night. Also, being a middle-aged male with a bladder the size of a hamster and a prostate the size of a Buick, it means some nights several trips are needed.

The electric was real basic. Only 30 amp service which means that if you ran the toaster the same time you did any other electrical device, the breakers tripped. We upgraded it to 200 amps when we moved in and because we just returned from America and were spoiled by it, had to add AC to survive the summer heat. But eventually we got used to it and weaned ourselves off of the air conditioning. Now we keep the windows and doors open at night and with a simple house fan, we’re able to sleep comfortably.

But keeping the house open does create problems with critters. Now mice aren’t usually a problem here as the houses are typically built high enough off the ground to prevent them from getting in easily. That doesn’t mean they don’t get in, it just means they aren’t usually a problem. In addition to using the traditional herbs and incense, we took care of keeping the mosquitoes and bugs out by adding netting to the windows and doorways for a little added protection. So that means the biggest worry we have with keeping the house open at night is with snakes, in particular, the venomous Okinawan Habu!
(This is not the Habu I saw. Just thought you might want to see what one looks like)

Habu’s are not the deadliest snakes on the planet but they have one interesting trait that makes them more dangerous. They are one of the few snakes out there that can strike in a 360 degree radius. They’re also climbers and if their “spidey” senses pick up an edible critter inside the house, they’ll be trying their damndest to get in wherever they can. But because critters like mice and moles tend to travel along walls, it’s not uncommon to encounter one right outside the house.

I just so happened to have had one of those “Close Encounters of the Scare the Shit out of You Kind” just a few short weeks ago. One evening while stepping out the back door to do my duty I noticed something on the slab that just didn’t look right. With this being the first such thing I had seen like this in the seven years that we had already lived here, I wanted to be sure that I wasn’t hallucinating. So I closed the door and went back inside to get my glasses so I could see just exactly what it was that I almost stepped on. Sure enough when I opened the door and looked down there it was bigger than shit about a meter and a half long Habu snake.

With this confirmation I went in and woke up the wife. First cause my adrenaline was pumping pretty hard and I wanted to have someone around to call the ambulance if I went into cardiac arrest or something. Once she was up, we both went to take a look and sure as shit, it was still there. It hadn’t moved an inch or even a centimeter, this is after all Japan and they use the metric system. My wife’s first question was where was gramps old Habu catcher? I knew it was out in the old barn and without a good flashlight to light my path; there was no way in hell that I was heading out there to get it. My first question back to her was where is my camera? If I can’t capture this thing physically, I want to capture it digitally so I can show everyone that I’m not bullshitting anyone with this story.

Unfortunately, by the time we found the camera and opened the back door the fourth time, the Habu was gone! So, with a look out now handy, I went to take care of the business that mother nature had called me to do in the first place, put the camera away and went back to bed for a few more hours of sleep but, I didn’t get too much. I was far too busy thinking about how much it would cost to add an inside the house toilet than to sleep.
(I had to crop this as my better half didn't want to be in the photo but her hand is here so you can see the size)
 
Interestingly enough, just a couple of days later, I was busy surfing the net, a.k.a. screwing off when the wife started called me frantically. The way she was yelling made me think that she just had a close encounter with a Habu of her own and it was time for me to get grandpa’s old habu catcher which is now stationed right next to the back door. Nope, no such luck! This time she wanted to show me the foot long walking stick she just found clinging to the wall next to where she hangs out the wash.
(Another shot with my size 12 "Croc's" included for scale)

 (one more closeup so you can see the chipped paint on the house too!)

But critters are a big part of the fun of country living. Yes, it may be true that the lifestyle of the folks who live here may not be very exciting. But, sometimes the things you encounter on occasion can get your blood pumping just as much, if not more so, as would getting assaulted by flashing lights, making the walls throb ear splitting 1000 decibel techno-beat being laid down by your favorite DJ at the local rave club just as the two hits of ecstasy you just popped kicks in.

Yes, living in the country with all the critters around can be a bit of an adventure!

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