Tales from the Cabin
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Lights Out: Case of the Missing Shoe

Little did I know when I built that deck that it would become the scene of a great mystery.

By Rodney P Stearns
Published: February 1, 2005
Photo by Rodney P. Stearns
The clay outside our northern Wisconsin cabin makes rainy days a bit like walking a greased trail. So when I – under my father’s tutorage – was building the family cabin in the late 1990s, I built a deck across the entire front of the structure. The deck is only about six inches off the ground, but it keeps mud from making its way into the cabin. And during those wet days when clay sticks to shoes like peanut butter on a spoon, we take our shoes off on the deck.
Little did I know when I built that deck that it would become the scene of a great mystery.
The strange happenings started in 2001. My 14-year-old son – a stout 200-pound, nearly six-foot lad with size 13 shoes – lost one of his black leather laced boots. He swore he left it on the deck with his other shoe and we looked everywhere for it without success. We assumed a bear or a small cub had decided it was a plaything and snatched it up.
During 2002, another shoe – this time one of mine – went missing from the deck. I was amazed that the bear had enough nerve to come by a second time. It would have had to get onto the deck to take that shoe, yet nothing had awakened us. The mystery deepened.
The next year, it happened again! My wife and I along with our daughter, son and his girlfriend had spent the day exploring ATV trails. We all came back with mud-caked clothes and shoes. I asked that everyone leave their shoes on the deck and jokingly added that they might lose them by morning to a pesky bear. At the time, though, I assumed the suspect bear had come and gone and would not be back.  
I awoke about 5:30 the next morning to a beautiful day and made my way out to the deck. I immediately noticed that one shoe was missing from where we had lined them up – from right smack in the center. I laughed about it and went back inside for my morning cup of coffee.
A little while later, coffee in hand, I headed back out to the deck –  and gasped! Jumping off the deck with one of my wife’s brown tennis shoes in its mouth was a slender brown animal, about three feet in length, with a long tail and small head. I gave chase as it headed for the woods, dropping the shoe before darting under the thick canopy.
I racked my brain, trying to identify this weasle-like animal. Finally, it came to me. A fisher.
I had only seen a fisher once before in my life – more than 15 years ago. It resembled a cross between badger and house cat. My father, who worked for the state Department of Natural Resources, helped me identify it.
Fishers are rarely seen. Generally nocturnal, they avoid open spaces with no overhead cover. They prey on small game and are the only natural enemy of the porcupine.
But why would a fisher become a shoe-napper?
I called to ask my father. He, too, was baffled. I asked a few other cabin owners in the area if they had ever experienced a shoe missing. Sheepishly a couple admitted they had had shoes stolen from their decks or outside their cabins. They were all shocked at what I had observed.  
The fisher does not usually have a permanent den, and its home territory will not usually exceed four square miles. I can only speculate that this fisher makes its home near our cabin and uses the stolen shoes for nesting. Or perhaps he likes the smell or the salty taste. We may never know.
During a spring break at the cabin in 2004, my son and I were victimized again: This time a black leather army-style shoe disappeared. Later in the summer, I left an old pair of brown leather shoes on the deck to experiment with the fisher’s fetish. The boots stayed on the deck for five full days before the first one was removed.
No one has ever found those missing shoes. For all we know, they may be in the same place where missing socks end up.
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