Published in the Rains County Leader on June 14, 2016:
One of the attractions of country life is the peace and quiet – being able to sit out in the yard and see only an occasional neighbor driving by or to sleep with the windows open on a cool spring night and smell the fresh air instead of pollution. Another thing I really enjoy on our little country homestead is the wildlife. We’ve sat at our dining table and watched the squirrels, rabbits, and all kinds of birds play and forage for food. One season an owl joined us for dinner every evening, and for two seasons, a pair of hawks were frequent visitors. Before we cleared the back part of the lot, we saw lots of deer grazing among the honey suckle and poison ivy, and even now a doe and her fawns will wander across occasionally. On special occasions, we’ve seen two foxes, an armadillo, a skunk, and more buzzards than people of our age need to see.
Looking out into our back yard is a little like looking at our own personal zoo. I’m not enough of a city girl, though, to think it’s really as peaceful and quiet as it sometimes looks. I’ve seen enough animal shows on The Discovery Channel to know how the food chain works – and even though I prefer my chicken skinless, boneless, and wrapped in clear plastic, I know where it comes from. Still, I don’t want to see it happen.
A few years ago, when our yard was still a deer hangout, a neighbor asked if he could set up a blind out close to the creek when bow season came around. I didn’t even want to be involved in the discussion, so I deferred to David. David was raised in a hunting family, so he doesn’t have the same emotional responses to the subject that I do. He told the guy he was welcome to hunt as long as he shared a little bit of the meat. The hunt was successful, but I was glad it happened when we were visiting with David’s family in Louisiana – and I enjoyed the venison, but I was glad it arrived frozen and wrapped in plastic.
There have been other deaths around here, especially since Kitty has decided to become a hunter. I have to admit that I don’t feel the same sympathy for her victims that I did for the deer, but frogs and lizards don’t have the same cuteness factor. Even so, I’m still enough of a city girl that I don’t like to come face to face with the reality, so I make David deal with the remains.
Something happened this past weekend, though, that brought me face to face with the life and death struggle that goes on around me every day. I was working in the garden and had stopped in the shade for a breather. The garden is very close to the lot next to ours. The lot is owned but unoccupied at the moment, and the weeds are tall enough to be baled. It was very quiet, and then I heard rustling about twenty yards away from me. Suddenly, a rabbit burst out of the weeds with a large fox in hot pursuit. The two raced past the storage shed out of sight and almost instantly reappeared only to disappear into the weeds. Another u-turn brought them back into sight, this time racing toward the shed which is set up on concrete blocks. I heard a metallic thud as if one or the other had hit either the wall or the wheel barrow that leans up against it. I assume it was the rabbit, and that it was stunned enough to allow the fox to catch up. I heard a soft squeal, and a moment later, the fox emerged on my side of the shed with the limp rabbit in its mouth.
The entire drama took less than five seconds, and I was stunned. I let out in involuntary cry of sympathy for the loser – I’ve always been a sucker for the underdog, especially if it’s small and furry. The fox must have heard me. The victorious look on its face disappeared as it froze in place with its ears perked and its eyes wide. I don’t know if it saw or smelled me, but either way, it took off to the other side of the yard, heading home with dinner. Another fox appeared from the weeds, but since it wasn’t distracted by the chase, it saw me right away and ran away toward the creek.
I’ve thought a lot about what happened since then. The event wasn’t life shattering or even unusual, but it has led to a few changes around here:
- Foxes, while still beautiful animals, have switched from the cute and cuddly column to the possible predator column.
- There’s one less bunny to steal produce from my garden.
- I’m not nearly as willing to let Kitty go out and play unsupervised.
- The frogs and lizards around here may be a little bit safer.
A LONG AND WINDING ROAD: A Caregiver’s Tale of Life, Love, and Chaos