Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Critters

Among the many things I find myself having to get used to again is the sudden arrival of creatures. Now matter what task I undertake, no matter how simple, it seems there has to be some kind of consideration or interruption of a critter.

This morning while my father and I sat on the front porch, he pointed out a large bear sauntering down the rock bank to the creek at the bend in the road. I keep forgetting that I am now deep in the mountains and not deep in the Amish country.

Somehow I prefer horses and buggies to mammals three times my size and, well, buggies. I have been back in Johnson County since the first week in May and have encountered more furry things than my entire 15 years on the Chesapeake Bay. I have seen more snakes, deer, bobcats, rodents and even something that looked like Bigfoot and Martha Stewart had a baby. Of course, the latter was in the check out line at Food Country, so I can only assume that it was a high school football player or the homecoming queen.

Granted I enjoy the hummingbirds, and the chipmunks and the squirrels, but I am not particularly fond of looking out my bedroom window at 3 A.M. in the morning to find a buck staring back at me. It makes me scream like a girl. My parents are in their seventies, they really don’t need that when they are trying to sleep.

The road we live on used to be called Forge Creek Road, because the road followed a creek, duh. They put a new road in 1970 that cut a straighter swath to Mountain City, but bits and pieces of the old road still exist, and we live on one of them.

It is quite beautiful, and visitors love the fact that they can hear the creek in the background of everything. It’s one of those things some of us take for granted and some of us ignore or go postal. They seem to forget that everything beautiful has an ugly side.

In living with a creek close enough to pee in from your front porch, the ugly side is snakes—in the creek, on the banks, in the road, in the yard, curled up on the riding mower seat… There are people who think differently, but I for one am not putting a red ribbon around a copperhead’s neck, naming it Seymour and kissing it on the head every night before I go to sleep.

They are slimy, temperamental and territorial creatures. They don’t like being disturbed or disrupted and if you’ve ever seen one eating they are in dire need of some table manners. And those suckers get BIG!

There is a water moccasin that lives near a big rock from my Dad’s “fishing bench” that would give our garden hose penis envy! He must be dining large on the trout and horny heads because he is grossly overweight. Then again, most creatures in this neck of he woods are.

Obviously Walt Disney never lived in the Appalachian Mountains. If he had Bambi’s mother would have been wearing a tube top barely covering 75 pounds of extra cellulite causing the audience to stand up and scream, “Shoot her again! Shoot her again!” I digress

And the bugs, Lord the bugs! I saw a “Jeopardy” question/answer that the population of the Earth was equal to the population of insects per square mile. I think that has to be per square yard here on Forge Creek. Everyday I sweep down spider webs, beetle carcass and dead insect of some kind. You’d think that since all the snakes are squatting the least they could do is eat more of the squirmy flying things in the yard.

At least the snakes and bugs don’t poop in the yard, unlike the rabbits, deer and the neighbor’s potbelly pig. Mom and Dad haven’t had a dog or a cat in years, but we still have to check our feet before we come in the house. You cannot imagine how difficult mountain critter feces is to get off your hardwood floors!

Oddly, we don’t have ticks. I think if you go way up in the ridges you’ll find some, but it’s not like in Maryland where you have to do a tick check after walking to the mailbox. (See my blog “A Good Old Fashioned Roll In the Hay” for more on tick checking.) This does mean that most in this area do not have the Lyme’s Disease excuse for everything. People here tend to blame everything on the Democrats, liberals, and Obama.

I don’t see many skunks or foxes either. We can blame that on the bears. Either that or the skunks and foxes being smart enough to move to the burbs. Now I do see more of those as you head down the other side of the mountain towards Boone. Perhaps this has something to do with ol’ Dan’l who wore a coonskin cap. Since it was made of raccoon, perhaps the foxes and skunks all migrated toward his settlement thinking it was a safer place to raise their young.

Boone also has ticks. Perhaps since Boone has become a university town, the tick is more intellectual. It makes sense. I can just imagine a couple of ticks discussing cyclical and linear configurations while chowing down on some college student/hiker thigh. Foxes and skunks are pretty smart, too. Hey, they’re smart enough to not be here.

In fact, personally I think skunks get a bad rap. If it weren’t for the whole stink bomb thing, I think they are pretty cool. I once had a litter of skunks born in a little fenced off portion of my yard when I lived in downtown Rising Sun. Of course, I thought they were kittens for a few days, but that was my mistake not theirs.

The babies were very sweet and extremely social. As long as I didn’t try to pick the babies up, the mother seemed to be cool. Of course, she liked the tuna fish I fed her every day, so that may explain her toleration. After about three weeks they all disappeared. I wonder if maybe I should look for them on my next visit to Boone?

As for the bear, they tend to be harmless, of course I’ve never gotten close to one either. I doubt they are cuddly and cute like, say Gentle Ben or that guy who answered the phones on “ER”. Bears always leave a rank smell behind as well. Obviously they have some hygiene issues. They don’t often come down from the mountains, but my assumption is our creek is like a Chinese restaurant to them. “Hmmm, I’m in the mood for some sushi tonight, how bout if I meander down to Forge and see if I can rustle up some?”

My mother thought she just saw that bear laying in the road. She came dashing in for her camera. Obviously the bear and I have something in common. If the poor bear is just laying down in the road, he is suicidal. Living here has just gotten to him. I dashed out with Mama hoping to do an intervention as Mom took pictures. Alas, it was just a shadow.

There tend to be more bear up at the cabin, which is on a very small bald knob on the mountaintop. My uncle has planted Christmas trees all around it and apparently bears love evergreens. Everytime we go up there is evidence of bears, rubbing on the trees, branches broken off and yes, bear poop; which is no picnic to get off hardwood floors either.

I actually saw less animal invasion in Africa than here in the Appalachians. I only saw monkeys, a very scrawny cat and lots and lots of lizards. That was disappointing. I remember being glued to “Daktari” as a child and imagined West Africa to have lots of lions, elephants and rhinos. Nope, just lizards and missionaries.

Well, it’s time to do some weed eating. Invariably I will run across a snake. The loud sound usually sends most of them slithering off, but being in inbred territory at some point during my chore one will decide to hold his ground and tangle with my weed eater. They never learn, snakes can’t win against a weed eater. Many have fallen and none survive.

My Walt Disney dreams of whistling a happy tune while all the woodland creatures join me in harmony are long gone. I have met most of the woodland creatures here and prefer they not join my glee club. I have no problem sharing space. I’m just tired of having to clean up after them.