Sunday, August 9, 2015

Sunday Afternoon

I don't usually post twice but here goes-
   First, I ventured out into the back yard to take a look around. I saw nothing that would indicate any sort of confrontation and disturbance had taken place in our yard last night.  Because Dave has his compost pile where the timber rattlesnake was observed a week or two ago by John while he was out mowing, so close to the end of the shrubs I was leery of going around to peek into his backyard. From the glimpses of his backyard I can see through the arbor vitae shrubs, I didn't see any clumps of torn fur, grisly bones or anything. Whatever happened, the beast took it's "catch of the day" with it into the woods. Good- I really don't want carcasses in my back yard!

  Second, John and I took a drive this afternoon. I thought the Whiskers & Wheels antique and vintage car show was this weekend, but I guess it's next weekend- my mistake. Anyway, we were driving down North Road, a road I've been down a thousand times and Kelly used to travel daily to high school once she had her first car. We're coming up to a house on the left just past Armbrook Village and the White Oak school and I see this huge, what I think is a lawn statue of a black bear sitting in this guy's front yard. It's extremely realistic. John never looks at anything but the road when he drives, so as I open my mouth to say, "Look at that guy's huge lawn ornament!" the lawn ornament moves it's head and then gets to its feet and starts shambling down the front lawn, and what I actually say is, "Holy @!*!, that's a real bear!" I twist around in the passenger seat to look back because the bear is now loping down the lawn and there is a car behind us and I'm afraid it's going to get hit. John slams on the brake and stops in the middle of the road. The car behind us, several car's lengths back, also stops. The bear makes it safely across the road and into the woods. John saw it in the rearview mirror. I think this was the first time he has actually seen a real black bear in nature- he was kind of rattled and awed. I was more, "Okay, he made it across the road, the other guy stopped. Let's go." We
     We have black bears here on the mountain where we live on the north side of the city and had one climb our old back deck one night to steal the bird feeder while Kelly was sitting just on the other side of the window at the dining room table doing her homework. I had opened the back door because the cat had been pacing around and I thought he wanted to go out. When he froze in the doorway and did not step foot outside I was going to give him a little shove with my foot, but a noise off to the left stopped me. I turned my head and saw something between the deck posts. I thought it was the raccoon climbing up rather than taking the stairs as usual-uh, no! It was a huge bear paw! I pulled the cat back into the kitchen, swung the door shut, flipped on the back light and we watched Mr. Black Bear grab the bird feeder from the hook on the deck post and disappear. That was the last time I fed the birds. Smart cat had heard the bear and was agitated, pacing near the door, probably thinking he was going to protect us from the wildlife danger, and there I am trying to boot his ass out the door! Cat got a hug and I always look all around now before I open the screen or storm door- and our cats do not go outside anymore at all!

     Which brings me to my other close encounter with the wildlife up here story. This occurred at the one and only birthday party we had for Kelly, during a hot summer with no rain. She was celebrating her 6th birthday. My parents had bought an 8X8 garden shed at Sears and built it in our backyard as a playhouse for her that we'd painted and decorated to look like a one room schoolhouse for her. My parents, at the time, still owned a real one room little red schoolhouse up in Wheelock, VT that they used as a vacation cabin. We were always taking Kelly up there-she loved riding her tricycle around the furniture in the main room. So- we had about a dozen little girls, including my friend Carol's two little girls who are like cousins to Kelly, two and four years younger than she was, all playing in the backyard-all kinds of water games. The lawn sprinkler was on, we had the Twister game with water that squirted from the colored circles as you leaned on them. Everyone was running around in the backyard for a few hours from lunchtime until two thirty or so, then the parents came and the kids left, leaving just Kelly, Katie and Emily at the house. They were playing in the schoolhouse. Carol, John and I decided to take them to the Whistle Stop for ice cream, so I went out to get them inside to go to the bathroom and wash their hands. As I'm going down the back walk I hear this loud hissing noise from the vicinity of the driveway. I'm thinking some sick soul got ticked off because the party had been a little loud, and they'd come in the yard and punctured a tire on one of our cars, or Carol's. So I veer off to look to see what's happened. The sidewalk runs between the back corner of the house on one side, and the fence on the other. It's maybe 3-31/2 feet wide, 4 feet at most. I stop and look at the cars, and as I am standing there beside this little Alberta spruce tree in front of the fence it occurs to me that the hissing noise is not coming from the driveway, it's now in my left ear coming from behind the little tree. I turn my head and look down, and there, coiled up behind the little tree is a humongous timber rattlesnake. The hissing I now realize is it's rattle- in western movies you always hear a slow rattle, like beans in a gourd. This snake was agitated because the three girls were running in and out of the schoolhouse on the other side of the picket fence and it could sense their movement- it wanted water, which was in the backyard- the grass still soaking wet. I was less than two feet away from it-and I don't know why it didn't bite me, but it didn't.  I took several huge steps backwards, veered left, went to the door of the schoolhouse and got the three girls together and we all walked in a wide arc past the fence, then up the cement stairs to the deck stairs. I get them safely into the house and I'm yelling at John that we are NOT going out the back door and probably should wait to leave the house until the rattlesnake is gone! Next thing I know, Carol, whose husband grew up in Texas and hunted rattlesnakes, grabs her camera and runs out the door. I am then yelling at her to come back inside, this is an agitated eastern timber rattler, a dangerous snake! Crazy girl! We were delayed leaving for ice cream, and for the past 18 years I always look behind the little tree when I approach. I'm not anxious to have another close encounter with a rattled rattler!!

   The last wildlife story I have to share is Jason and the Fox. Jason was adopted in 2006 with Diego from a rescue shelter in Chicopee. He was a handsome tabby cat with the swirl pattern, not stripes. He was a sweet little fellow who was sickly at first, but several visits to the vet greatly improved his "kennel cough" virus and he was soon an active, inquisitive little guy. He was easily trainable. I would walk down the driveway to get the mail or newspaper from the box and he'd walk with me. I'd snap my fingers and he'd get up onto his hind legs and dance for a few moments. He would chase dragonflies in the front yard- we called it Jason Dancing with Fireflies! He was so sleek and graceful! Very lovable little guy. He was an indoor outdoor cat. he would take walks around the block with me and Kelly, and once another neighbor on Joann Drive yelled at us not to steal her cat, who was similar in appearance but lighter in color. I snapped my fingers, Jason jumped up and did his little dance and she shut her mouth-realizing he was not her cat. Anyway, one day I am at the kitchen sink and I see him coming out of the woods on the path that leads down to the brook...and right behind him is the fox! I go racing out the back door, down the deck stairs and across the back yard saying, "Jason, come to me, right now! Come to me!" The fox has, because of my appearance in the yard, veered slightly off the path into what was still a garden area at the time then. It's not running away- it's just standing there watching me and the cat. Jason is in the middle. I have my eye on my cat who is slowly making his way toward me, very nonchalant. I glance at the fox who is just standing there, less than fifty feet away. I say, "Don't even think about it," to the fox, bend over and grab Jason who is now within reach, then turn and hike back across the back yard to the stairs and up onto the deck. Kelly is like, "I don't believe you! You ran out there barefoot and saved Jason and you turned your back on the fox!" Yeah, probably all stupid things to do when I think back on it, but I couldn't just stand there and let the fox grab and kill my cat right in front of my eyes, and hers. Unfortunately, a few years later, something did get him. I got up in the middle of the night. He was in, Diego was outside. I went to let Diego in. He seemed agitated, nervous. Jason slipped outside. I went back outside to see if I could see anything, called for Jason to come back because Diego was so nervous, but Jason was walking down the sidewalk toward the driveway. His tail was up straight, he glanced back at me over his shoulder as if to say, "What's your problem?" I was being bitten by mosquitoes so I went back inside, flipped off the light, then went to use the bathroom before going back to bed. I heard this weird sound from the driveway- sort of a gargling growly noise, very brief. Diego was pacing in the hallway. I went back to the kitchen, flipped on the back lights and went out onto the deck, calling for Jason. Too late- he was gone. No sign of him. When he didn't come home again it broke my heart. We had Diego another three years before he passed away abruptly in the neighbor's driveway across the street- he had a heart murmur, so may have had other cardiac issues. The whole scene of Jason coming up the woodland path with the red fox trailing behind him, so carefree and nonchalant, just ambling home is all so vivid in my mind still.
     Hindsight is 20/20 they say...I wished I'd paid more attention to that. I lost three more cats to the woodland creatures before deciding all future cats would be strictly indoor cats.  Revere and Riley-Beans are both four years old-happy and healthy, although they gaze wistfully out the window at the great outdoors every day. Like they say, much better safe than sorry.

Got any close encounter with wildlife stories to share? I'd love to hear them.

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