Skunked!

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If the fish in your backyard pond kept disappearing, you’d get tired of replacing them. You’d start focusing on getting rid of the character who was eating them, most likely a raccoon.

That’s why Debbie and Jerry bought a large Havahart live trap, set it up near their pond, baited it with tuna fish, and waited. Several mornings later Jerry stepped out the back door, saw they had something in the trap, and was immediately disappointed to realize they had apparently caught someone’s black and white cat.

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Fortunately, Jerry was approaching the trap from the rear when he realized what he really had in that wire cage.

 

The back end was all Jerry could see of the little skunk. That was good. It meant the skunk could not see him.

Quietly, Jerry backed away from the cage. He would much rather have dealt with a thirty-pound snarling raccoon than a five-pound skunk. He needed advice.

Clackamas County Fish and Wildlife said, “You have to release it. Take it five miles past the Oregon City limits and let it go.”

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“Don’t you have someone who can come out and help me?” Jerry asked.

It’s a skunk in a large wire cage. I won’t be able to get anywhere near it!

“We don’t do that, sir. You have to take it out of town.”

How about a humane way to get rid of it without getting close?” Jerry asked.

“No! You are required to take it five miles out of town.”

Jerry was running short of patience by then, “How about I take it to your offices and release it there?”

“No! Do not bring it here, sir and do not do anything to that skunk! We may send a officer out to your house and make sure you properly release it!”

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Jerry had to work that morning but he came up with a plan.

Debbie grew up on a farm in Colton. She knows skunks and she says, “If a skunk can’t see you, it won’t spray you.”

Holding up a large tarp so the skunk couldn’t see him, Jerry tip-toed quietly through the tulips, past the pond and right up to the wire cage. Still hidden, he carefully covered the entire cage with the tarp. Then he used several bungee cords to make sure the tarp was tied down tightly. Next, Jerry lifted the large cage to the back of their small Chevy pickup. The skunk was quiet.

Jerry planned to park the truck in a shady spot at his office and then, after work, take the skunk out of the city and release it.

Sailing down I-205, with the skunk in the back of his truck, Jerry was feeling pretty confident.” So far so good,” he thought!

It wasn’t long before Jerry noticed honking, a lot of honking. Then the driver of a white Toyota flew by and scowled at Jerry. Suddenly Jerry picked up the powerful scent of skunk. Panic took hold of him when he looked in the back of the pickup and saw the tarp flapping in the wind. People in the lane next to him flew by as fast as they could, some of them were gesturing toward the back of the truck. Many were making obscene gestures. Those who passed carried with them the scent of a terrified freeway-riding skunk.

They say that a skunk can spray about six times in a row to a distance of ten feet. But this skunk was really terrified and Jerry swears the skunk never stopped shooting until they arrived at Jerry’s work. In any event, the ten-foot range must have been extended to hundreds of feet behind the truck – what with the wind produced by the freeway speeds.

Jerry made it to work and parked in a shady spot far away from any other vehicles. He told his work buddy, John, the tale of his morning adventure.

“Skunks have never bothered me,” John said, “I’m a single man with a cabin in the woods. Bring the skunk out to my place and let him loose. He’s welcome!”

After work, Jerry carefully tied the tarp down again and followed John out to the cabin. In a pleasant wooded spot they slowly lifted the tarp from the front of the cage.

John stood behind the cage, held the tarp in front of himself, and lifted the door of the cage. The skunk could see nothing but freedom.

He waited. And waited.

Jerry couldn’t see any reason to wait for the skunk to gather courage so he went home.

Now it was just John and the skunk.

John continued waiting for several minutes.

Since he was hiding behind the tarp, John couldn’t see the skunk but he was pretty sure it hadn’t left the cage yet.

He continued to wait.

After a while, John peeked over the tarp, just barely, he was too nervous to pull it back far enough to see the cage.

He continued to wait. There seemed to be no movement from inside the cage.

Then he thought, “Maybe I looked away for a second, the little guy ran out, and I missed it completely.”

So he lowered the tarp a little bit more, peeked further over, and looked into the shiny black eyes of one mad and disoriented skunk. Before John could think, the skunk turned, fired, then proudly waddled off.

Too late John dropped the tarp and ran to his cabin.

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The skunk was never seen again.

As Debbie says, never let them see you!

 

Temptation

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For two week I’ve been walking by blooming lilacs, bushes loaded with fragrant blossoms. Their sweet smell reminds me of being a child in Spokane (the Lilac City), sitting in the back yard with my little sister, Christine, and sucking sweet nectar from tiny purple blossoms.

It should be enough to inhale deeply as I walk by those blooms every morning; but no, I’ve wanted a branch for myself, sweetening the air at home. There are places I could pull off a branch without leaving a hole for anyone to notice. But early morning walking means I can’t get permission from sleepy homeowners. It wouldn’t be right to take without asking.

For two weeks every purple bush I pass seems to be telling me it’s okay to take a small piece. Yesterday I lost a battle with my conscience – or did I win? I passed by a particularly huge blossoming lilac. I remembered the homeowners are friendly. I imagined asking them for permission to take just one small blooming branch. In my imagination, they said, “Of course!”

I stole a low branch hanging so heavy and rain-soaked  that it nearly touched the pavement. Nobody was around and nobody would ever notice anything missing.

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My kitchen smells wonderful! I’ll confess to those friendly people when I see them. I’ll thank them for sharing an intoxicating piece of spring.

I won’t say I’m sorry though!

 

Thank You!

 

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Bruce, a dear family friend, recently asked me how it’s been since I started my blog.

“Have you enjoyed it?” he said.

At the time, I wasn’t prepared to reflect. I expressed myself in a way that didn’t at all convey what this experience has been.

“It’s been ok. People have been kind,” I said to Bruce.

As if the experience hasn’t been so much more than that.

The truth is the last six months have flown by and it’s been wonderful.

When I imagined exposing my small essays to the public, even family and friends, I was sure it would mean constant grammar and punctuation correction. Sometimes I change tenses in inappropriate places, and I don’t even want to talk about how full of conviction, yet convoluted, my logic can be.

But the critics have been kind. Those of you who have responded to posts and those I have met have been delightful, open-minded, and engaging.

Sally must have recognized Teddy one day when we were walking. We stopped and talked for a while. Sally has an infectious spirit, and she shared some of her adventures with urban wildlife. Now I look for her beautiful smile when I’m out in the neighborhood. Sally is just one of the amazing neighbors I’ve met and had a chance to talk with.

Claudia is a writer and introduced herself with a beautiful comment on one post. In an email she once described a colorful picture of chickens as a ” bouquet of chickens.” Claudia makes a wonderful Monday morning walking companion and she’s not afraid of the rain.

Writing about my dear friend Marlena and her lifestyle helped me to know and appreciate her even better than I already had. She was so generous with herself. It was a joy to write. Debbie generously spent a couple of hours filling me in on skunks – yes, skunks. I can’t wait to share her story!

Many of you have written kind messages. Every one of you has refrained from offering the good advice I should probably listen to.

This is my thank you. Thank you to my writing partner, Cindi, who encouraged me to trust you. Thank you for taking time out of your busy lives to read. Thank you for your tolerance. Thank you for sharing yourselves and reminding me that there are a lot of great people out there.

Please consider allowing me to write about your urban wildlife adventures. It will be a privilege, and I promise to be as kind to you as you have been to me.

 

 

Blooming Bunnies

This week’s Wild City post is a gift from guest blogger, Cindi Brown.  Cindi is a professional writer and editor, my dear friend, and my writing partner. She is also the author of  the book, Poverty and Promise, the moving story of her time as a volunteer in Kenya. Cindi and her husband live in New River, Arizona near Phoenix. Check out her blog  it is a work of art.

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Spring has sprung baby bunnies across the desert. They’re more than adorable, the size of a dove, their tiny ears pointed skyward.

Apparently, baby bunnies go out on their own when relatively young. Brent spots one on the walkway in our courtyard and excitedly yells out, “Cindi, come here! Quick! It’s a baby bunny.”

We watch through the front window as the baby nibbles the only few blades of grass in the courtyard. The ground is dirt, but will soon be landscaped.

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In a minute, the baby runs under a large rock. If it stays in the courtyard, it might be safe, I think.

The next day, when I open the garage to go to work, I sneak out to the courtyard, practically tippy-toeing, to see if the baby is out and about. No signs. Crossing the driveway, I look at the yard between us and our neighbors. A large bunny sits quietly. Two babies scurry along their trails, oblivious to me. I watch them frolic.

In the evening, a baby bunny comes onto our back patio, under the table, while big bunnies and doves and quail peck away at the bird seed I just threw out. Brent and I watch the baby from the door leading onto the patio from our bedroom. We softly chant for the baby to get into the fray and eat some seeds. But instead, she hops into the little forest of potted plants that make up our nursery.

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For 20 minutes, we watch her move between the pots, sometimes looking out at the big bunnies and birds. Then she stops in front of our antique potbelly stove. Then she’s on her hind legs peeking into the lower open door of the stove.

“She’s going to get into the stove,” I say.

“No way,” Brent says.

She’s up and her little back feet pump up and down a couple of times before she is safely inside the stove. We’re giggling.

She hops out of the stove, and then back in, in one brave bound.

“I hope she nests there,” I say. “Then she’ll be a little safe.”

“A coyote could pull her out of that thing,” Brent says. Maybe. But several potted cacti sit very close, blocking the entrance to the stove.

“Put some strips of cloth in the stove,” Brent advises. “Natural cotton is the best thing for bunnies and birds, but since we don’t have any, the bunny can make a nest with cloth.”

“When they’re finished eating,” I say, “I’ll water the plants, fill their trough and throw in some cloth.”

I find a few quilt scraps of white and pink cotton fabric and place it carefully in the stove, after removing a rusted grate. The stove isn’t big at all, and the baby is climbing in the little compartment at the very bottom, not even able to get up to the larger door of the stove’s main compartment.

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For this morning’s 6:30 feeding, I scatter the bird seed on the lower patio and then drop a couple of tablespoon of seeds just outside the stove. In a couple of hours I check to see if the stove seeds are there. In the process, I scare the baby, who is at the back wall. But all the seeds near the stove are gone, and the fabric in the stove is flattened, as though she scooted the cotton around to suit her.

I follow the baby to the other side of the house and she is sitting in the dirt.

“Hey, baby,” I goo-goo. “Don’t run away. Come back and see me.”

She runs under a nearby board, still fully visible, and I continue to talk until she lights out for the bunny trails in the side yard.

Back inside, Brent is making pico de gallo and has shaved corn off a cob. “Throw this outside, will ‘ya,” he asks, handing me the corn cob. But he pulls it back quickly and cuts it into five smaller pieces. One piece I sit on it’s end just below the potbelly stove door. The others are tossed into the yard. Bunnies love gnawing on the cobs as much as they love apples.

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I’ll keep making sure there’s food and plenty of fabric for the stove, as long as the baby can fit into the door. I hope she stays in our yard and remains covered, safe from hawks, owls or coyotes. I wish all the babies could come into our yard and live in the stove.

Safe. At least until they’re a little bigger.

 

 

 

The Land Turtle

In chapter three of The Grapes of Wrath, Steinbeck describes dry vacant land along the highway, grasses and weeds, ants, grasshoppers and sow bugs, “…like little armadillos.” But the land turtle has the starring role in this chapter.

I’m haunted by the turtle, by Steinbeck’s writing. In bed, before I go to sleep, the chapter comes back to me. When I’m making beds or vacuuming, I think of Steinbeck’s words. On my daily Wild City rambles with Teddy, I think of the little turtle.

Steinbeck’s writing is gorgeous, rich, lush, full of metaphor, and brutal. Rereading the chapter this morning made my heart beat faster, just like the first reading.

We don’t know where the turtle is going, or why, but he is single-minded, intent on heading one direction. Carrying his heavy, awkward shell, he struggles up a steep embankment, slips back, but continues relentlessly in exactly the same direction. He tackles a four-inch concrete curb – a formidable obstacle for a creature with short legs and the heavy burden of a shell. He never thinks of taking an easier route.

The poor thing suffers from an encounter with red ants. Still, he forges ahead. He becomes entangled in weeds, frees himself, and continues to the highway – a smooth concrete highway that could make his travels easier. A car passes and swerves to miss him. A truck follows and attempts to run over him. He hasn’t been killed, but he is flipped on to his back and must struggle to right himself. As this chapter ends, the turtle is continuing his slow and perilous journey.

In chapter four, Tom Joad picks the turtle up, wraps it in his coat, and plans to give it to his young siblings as a pet. But Tom, who is just out of prison, finds the family gone and the home abandoned. He puts the turtle down far from where the creature was picked up. Undaunted, the turtle begins his journey anew, turning toward the southwest direction he’d been headed all along.

The harrowing journey of the little turtle foreshadows the dangers of the journey the Joad family is about to take as they leave a hopeless life in Oklahoma toward dreams of a better life in California. It’s a journey that could be a metaphor for my life…and maybe yours.

But Chapter three is something else too.

Chapter three is a beautiful thing by itself. It’s a perfect symphony, Debussy’s Clair de Lune, the Moonlight Sonata, or any painfully beautiful piece of music.

You don’t need to know the words to have the music bruise your heart.

Steinbeck’s words tell a story, but they are also one note following another, each note exactly where it should be in the composition. If you didn’t know English, I could read chapter three aloud and you would hear the melody, one note following another. You would instinctively respond to the major and the minor chords.

Through the music of Steinbeck’s language you would understand the courage of the small creature and the near-impossibility of his journey.

In the end, you might be just a little bit broken-hearted.

Just the same, you would say, “Thank you for the music.”

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Listening to the Season

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Several mornings lately I’ve taken my early morning walk intending to experiment with listening more. I wanted to pay attention to the sounds of spring.

As I walk, bird song and other natural sounds often fade behind everyday preoccupations. Last Tuesday I found the concentration to  sharpen my listening. It was a wonderful exercise.

I stood at the top of a hill and marveled at the variety of birds I was hearing.  Many of the songs and calls were easy to identify.  All of them together were wonderful.

Bird song was coming from four directions. Some was produced only a few feet away and some was coming from at least a half-mile away.  Using my phone, I began recording. I made four 30-second recordings.

All four recordings establish, without a doubt, that I breathe. I had held the phone near my right ear and the sound of my heavy breathing (I had just climbed the steep hill) drowned everything else out. A rookie mistake.

Never mind, I tried again. This time I held the phone as far away as my arm would reach. Playing that recording I heard a small quartet, not the symphony that was actually going on. I decided to simply enjoy the music and try to record another day.

On my way home I was able to capture the love song of a Song Sparrow . Turn the sound up!

 

A day or two later I stepped out our back door and captured the music of the

flicker, robin, bush tits, chickadees, crows, and many more. There was the symphony I’d been looking for– in my own back yard.

(Turn the sound up and pay no attention to the little red dog – he has a dog’s sense of decorum)

 

 

 

Misplaced Priorities

It’s twenty years since we built the pond and this was the first winter we’ve had a net over it. The net was great for keeping fallen leaves out, but we were mostly trying to protect our ten-for-a-dollar feeder fish from the Great Blue Heron.

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This makes no sense. We built the pond for the heron, not for the fish. The fish are food. We throw the tiny things in the pond every spring and they spend a relaxing summer eating and growing.  The heron always gets most of them before the next spring.

And when he does, I feel bad.

The problem is that the fish become pets. By the end of summer they have come to expect to be fed when they see us near the pond. We take pride in their beauty, their health, and their growth. Some of them have interesting and distinctive markings. This is where our priorities get confused. We start with the intention of nurturing wildlife but end up nurturing the food.

Dave wanted to protect the fish this spring and summer, but I thought we should stick to our original intent – welcome the heron and his appetite. Then we took the net off last week and I saw the fish! Tiny babies from last spring have grown. Some of the babies actually hatched in our pond. I recognized the gold one with the large black oval on his back and I saw the white fish that has been around for three years.

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I just couldn’t do it. I couldn’t let them be eaten.  The last several years I’ve been lashing four long pieces of bamboo together forming a tic-tac-toe grid. I toss several of the bamboo structures in the pond and hope they discourage the heron. It hasn’t worked so far.

I’m trying something new this year. I attached the bamboo to stakes in the ground near the edge of the pond. That way the heron can’t use his trick of pushing all the bamboo to one end of the pond while he dines.

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This morning we were delighted to admire a flock of robins bathing while standing on the floating bamboo.

When the heron comes, it’s a wonderful thing to see. He makes a deep croaking sound as he stalks around the pond. It’s a prehistoric noise straight out of  the Jurassic Park sound track. Once in a while one of our clever ideas slows him down for a while, but eventually he will outsmart us. He always does.

Until then, the fish are happy and the robins are loving the bamboo!

August 2015

Celebrate the First Day of Spring!

It was nearly freezing this morning, but it was the first day of spring! So I spent a few hours  on “safari” at the Oaks Bottom Wildlife Refuge.

I missed getting a picture of a couple of deer and the Blue Heron were huddled together in the sunshine – too far away to capture with my phone.

Wishing you a beautiful spring!

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This is a favorite of mine because it’s a bit of old Portland and today’s Portland in the same picture.

 

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Under the Influence

Last Saturday morning I drove to my daughter and son-in-law’s home in Newberg. The sun was shining, the sky was a brilliant blue, and the thermometer was edging toward 65, warmer than it had been in months. I flipped the car radio from NPR to KMHD, my favorite jazz station and rolled my window down. I turned up the volume, and sailed down the highway under the spell of a beautiful early spring day.

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When I got to Josh and Laura’s house, I was a little bit high on the idea that spring had arrived, and I couldn’t wait to get out in the sunshine. I took Laura and Josh’s little dog, Oz, and my own small dog, Teddy, for a long walk.

Everyone seemed to be outside; walkers, joggers, and  some folks standing in their yards visiting with neighbors. One woman knelt in her front yard planting pansies. The air was filled with friendly good will. People smiled broadly and said, “Good morning! Isn’t it a Beautiful day!”

We were all just a little bit giddy.

As I passed a man and woman smiling and chatting in their front yard, the man looked up and said, “Good morning! Nice job you did ordering the weather today!”

“Thank you!” I said.

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Sunday was as beautiful as Saturday had been. Laura and I decided to visit Al’s Garden Center in Sherwood. We wandered the aisles for quite a while, enjoying the plants and flowers, inhaling the sweet, earthy smells, and sitting on nearly every patio chair Al’s was selling.

As we left Al’s and headed to the car we were startled by the loud honking of thousands of low-flying geese. They weren’t Canadian Geese, but neither of us could identify them. In dizzying waves, they passed overhead and spread out half of a mile in every direction.

We could have sought protection in the car but we just stood there in awe, directly under the large birds, taking our chances at what they might drop on our heads. I doubt I will ever again see so many geese flying at once.

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This picture was taken a few weeks ago. Imagine this sky filled with thousands of geese – that is what we saw last Saturday (I was too stunned to think about taking a picture).

When the birds had passed, Laura said, “If we had left three minutes earlier or three minutes later, we would have missed the entire thing!”

Later that afternoon I drove home from Newberg with the window down and the music playing.

With the sun, a fresh breeze through the open car window, the music, smiles from strangers, the urge to visit Al’s, and wild geese flying overhead, this must be spring fever.