I am out of soap.

This is an unusual state of affairs in my household. We rarely have less than a dozen or so blocks of the old-fashioned stuff. Usually bars, that liquid bottled variety only when my husband insists upon it, and definitely not the antibacterial products. I believe in dirt and want our immune systems buoyed by exposure.

Our family appreciates quality soap. We give it for holiday gifts, occasionally make it ourselves, and buy it on trips as a souvenir that supports regional producers and doesn’t add house-cluttering mementos. Because we are surrounded by two West Tisbury farms that specialize in soap making, we are also lucky enough to purchase local products freshly and lovingly made by our neighbors.

The dearth of soap in my house cannot be blamed on a compulsion for cleaning — showering and bathing until we are scrubbed and shiny. It was, in fact, a mystery of monsters at the outdoor shower that led to our lack of lathers.

Day after day and week after week our outdoor shower soap would disappear. I would no sooner put out a new bar than it would be found missing at the next shower. Occasionally, I would find it on the ground, but usually it was gone and no amount of sleuthing in the scrub could salvage the scented soaps.

And, no, it wasn’t that it was melting in the sun or being washed away by the rain. There were clues occasionally to be found that would dispel those theories. 

In a few instances the soap would still be present in the dish, but was covered with pock marks or scratches. Those signs would help narrow the focus and be instrumental in determining the fate of the vanishing suds. Strangely the disappearance happened both during the day and at night — further clues. I finally had to resort to bringing in the soap after showering to deter its disappearance.

Turns out, soap stealing was not specific to my locale nor was it uncommon, and by reading the signs at the scene of the crime, I could pinpoint the pillagers. The scratches were clearly teeth marks and were likely from a mammal. With the size of them, options were mice, rats or chipmunks, all of which are known to share my yard. They were too small for raccoons or skunks which were also suggested as suspects. The pock-marks were at first inconclusive, but the regular cawing outside of my window in the mornings evidenced that crows were also partaking. There were several soap thieves.

Wildlife seem to have a love-hate relationship with soap. Sometimes it is a deterrent. Consider, for example, the suggestion to use scented soaps like Irish Spring to dissuade deer from the garden. Other times it is a feast for animals that crave or need the solid fats and oils that the soaps provide. And crows with their smarts might just be stealing it for fun or for gifts to their family flock.

Whoever it was and whatever the reason, I resorted to hording my soap inside in the safety of the house. With the outdoor shower season over, the critters will now be on their own. At least the wildlife will no longer be burping bubbles.

Suzan Bellincampi is director of the Felix Neck Wildlife Sanctuary in Edgartown, and author of Martha’s Vineyard: A Field Guide to Island Nature and The Nature of Martha’s Vineyard.