Call me Leatherstocking. Davy Crockett. Even Carole the Wildlife Tracker.
For two years on daily walks with the Boston Terriers on our forested hill three miles from town, I’ve enjoyed fresh air, exercise and views. I have felt safe, blessed and energized. I have even entertained plot points for my latest writing project while the dogs gamboled off-leash up and down the hillside.
Almost every day, rain, ice or shine, while the dogs sniff and mark bushes, I check wildlife tracks and scat on our paved drive and decomposed-granite slopes. I identify what critter left the muddy tracks, which way it traveled, and whether it met its end the prior night. (Tufts of feathers or fur are a dead giveaway.) Ever and always, I hope for a close encounter of the wildlife kind. But not too close.
My reward: Glimpses of the odd deer, flicker, hare or wild turkey. Also, limited conversations with towhees, ravens and hawks. As befits a true Girl of the Limberlost.
We’ve always known that, in addition to the omnipresent birds, we share the lovely hill with raccoons, coyote, skunks, hares, turkey, and deer, to say nothing of those omnipresent squirrels, moles and rats. Mostly these critters mind their own business and we mind ours. Mind it, that is, unless they chew up our wiring or tunnel under our lawn. Then we haul out the traps.
As I say, it’s usually peaceful. But lately, to our growing discomfort, things have taken a turn toward the wilder side. We’re not sure why. Maybe because it’s winter. Alternatively, global warming?
Two months ago as the dogs romped with me in our cul-de-sac, something drew my attention on my left, just past the garden shed. Beady eyes in a very large coyote-head stared hard at Georgie, the youngest of the dogs, as he sniffed around our drive some thirty feet away.
Panic City! I shifted into Full Mad Mama mode, yelled for my dogs to come, and made with them for the safety of our back yard, enclosed by a six-foot-tall cyclone fence. Now all our dog walks are on-leash, thank you very much. No stinkin’ coyote is going to breakfast on MY precious fur babies.
One night near Thanksgiving, a black bear wandered onto our hill. We know this, because neighbors’ and our own heavy trash cans were gnawed, clawed and turned upside down, contents strewn hitter and yon. An empty dogfood can bore teeth punctures. One neighbor caught the un-bashful bruin on his security camera, and figured that when standing upright, the bear was taller than he! Tightened bungee cords have since been applied to garbage cans, or cans have been stashed in garages, to discourage the bear and drive him away.
On my walks I continued looking for bear prints — I’d already spied scat thick as bratwurst, but no tracks. Nothing. Our strategy must have worked. Or so we hoped.
Then today, during my morning walk — Score! I guess. If one likes that sort of thing. There lay four or five large, muddy bear-paw prints headed straight up our drive. Our trash can was secure. However, clearly that bear was not going away.
Night before last, there was a coyote sing-off like I have not heard outside of the outback. In the dark, right in front of our house, the frenzied barking and screaming pimpled my flesh. I opened a window and yelled, “Hey! HEY!” But the howling continued, and grew to involve more animals. The victory cry, the killing song: “Y’all come! Buffet!”
After checking to make sure all our dogs were in the house and the cat was safely in the garage for the night, I grabbed my S&W Crimson Trace .38 revolver. I dashed onto the porch. I braced my shooting arm, and I squeezed the trigger, firing one high-aimed shot out into the night.
A flash of fire, a ringing blast, and then total silence. The coyotes are keeping mum. For now.
I am rattled, to say the least. I hope I don’t get any closer than these encounters to larger carnivorous wildlife on our hill. But I guess from now on during morning walks, I will be packin’. At least for a while.
Call me what you like. Deadeye. Annie Oakley. Calamity Jane. Just don’t call me bait.