Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Archive for the ‘Pets and Other Fauna’ Category

Pudgy

Some dogs have a heightened instinct to protect home and family. We think of breeds such as Dobermans, German Shepherds, Boxers, Rottweilers, etc. as being natural guard dogs.

When I was a kid, I had a dog named Pudgy, a certified mongrel, who was in no way the guard dog type. But on one occasion, he surprised us. It happened over the Christmas holidays in 1952, just after my brother Danny was born. Pudgy was a puppy then.

Let me begin by noting that my pal Jake, who has been with me for almost a year now, is my eighth* dog. Before him was Paco; before Paco was Kelly; before her were Dinah and Murphy; before them was Frederick the Bassett Hound; before him was Kimo; and before him was Pudgy.

Seven of them entered my life after I was an adult. Pudgy was the dog of my childhood.

Pudgy-1

Pudge was a happy, lovable little guy. Technically, he was the family pet, but everyone understood he was my dog.

He was born to a litter of generic mutts at a neighbor’s house when my family lived in Falls Church, Virginia. I was seven years old, maybe eight.

I remember going to see the pups one cold evening with Mom and Dad. Snow was on the ground. The pups were in the garage in a blanket-lined cardboard box, wiggling and yapping. A kerosene heater was nearby.

To get you oriented, think of the movie “A Christmas Story,” which takes place in the late 1940s. Ralphie’s world in Indiana and mine in Falls Church were remarkably similar. The people, neighborhoods, schools, communities — all essentially the same.

That night in the garage, the dads chatted, and the moms fawned over the darling puppies. Then they told me to choose any pup I wanted as long as it was male. Pudge was the most active of the litter, and he was rather striking with a white body, black head, and tan eyebrows. He was my choice.

We named him Pudgy because he was round and plump. Most puppies are, but the name turned out to be appropriate. He grew up to be low to the ground and stocky.

A month or so after we got Pudge, a few days before Christmas, my brother Danny was born. Mom brought Dan home from the hospital right after Christmas.

Dad was a disaster when it came to cooking, cleaning, and other domestic tasks, but we got by, and we managed to assemble a crib in Mom and Dad’s bedroom. Mom took care of the baby and slept a lot. New routines took shape. Little Pudgy ran around joyfully, soaking it all in.

A few days later, the first relatives arrived to see the new baby: my paternal grandmother, universally called “Honey,” and Aunt Betty, who drove them up from Savannah.

I recall the scene well. After hugs all around, Honey set down her purse, removed her pillbox hat and veil, and asked to see the baby.

Mom and Dad escorted her into the bedroom where Dan was asleep in the crib. Honey tiptoed up to the crib and peered over the rail at Danny.

Suddenly, Pudgy shot out from under the crib and confronted my grandmother, barking furiously, bravely protecting the new human.

Honey hastily jumped backwards. I’m not sure if she and Betty even knew we had a dog.

“Wal-tuh?” she said with alarm. “Wal-tuh” is the Geechee way of saying “Walter,” namely her son.

As my grandmother retreated, Pudgy advanced, barking like a small fiend. One of us, probably Dad, scooped him up and tried to shush him. He was slow to calm down. His puppy growls were almost comical, like the purring of a cat.

With Pudgy restrained, Honey and Betty were able to see Danny properly. Dan, of course, had been awakened by the barking and was bawling robustly. The scene was chaotic.

Pudgy soon calmed down and was himself again. But over the next few days, he continued to object loudly whenever Honey approached the crib.

Curiously, his problem was only with my grandmother, never with anyone else, and only when she came near the crib. No one had a clue what was going on in his brain.

You had to feel bad for Honey. She was a dignified woman, very straight-laced and proper by nature. She was a fine person, but, as the saying goes, she was standing behind the door when the humor genes were handed out.

Honey’s default demeanor was serious and formal. I remember her as a matronly lady always clutching a hanky. I recall no evidence that she had a relaxed and casual mode.

Stella Ham Smith (Honey) at 201 Kinzie Ave., Savannah, Nov. 1951.

Which was a shame. It might have allowed her to see the humor in Pudgy’s behavior and laugh it off. Instead, she reacted with concern and bewilderment.

After Honey and Betty went home to Savannah, life returned to normal, if having a new baby and a new dog can be normal. For a while, Pudgy slept under the crib, presumably guarding Danny. He launched no more attacks.

In 1957, the Air Force transferred us to Europe, and Pudgy couldn’t come along. He went to live with my maternal grandparents in Suwanee, Georgia.

Naturally, he quickly bonded with them. And, when we came home from Europe in 1960, it was clear that Pudgy was their dog, not mine.

To my knowledge, the guard-dog behavior he exhibited in Falls Church never resurfaced.

Pudgy-3

The Smiths suffering through a photo session, Falls Church, October 1953.

Pudgy had a good life in Suwanee as a country dog. Frank’s assorted hunting dogs lived in a backyard pen, and Leila’s cats were largely feral, but Pudgy was a pampered house pet.

His end came abruptly when he was about 13. I was home from college for the weekend, and Mom had asked me to stop at Leila’s to pick up some tomatoes.

When I backed out of the driveway, I didn’t know that Pudgy was under the car. He wasn’t run over, but he took a blow to the head that left him dazed and staggering. He was glassy-eyed, gasping for air.

I put him on the passenger seat and zoomed off toward the vet’s office.

On the way, suddenly, he snapped out of it. The old Pudge was back, relaxed and normal.

But it didn’t last. By the time we got to the vet’s office, he was in distress again, rigid, his breathing labored.

He died overnight at the clinic.

Pudgy was a good boy, loyal and faithful. A delightful friend. A credit to the family.

I still miss him.

Walter Allan Smith (Rocky) and Pudgy, June 1956.

Pudgy and me, 1955.

* Actually, I had a ninth dog, but only for about three days. When Deanna and I got married, she had a poodle named Loser. Loser always hated me anyway, but he went bonkers over the new living arrangements. After he bit me a few times, Deanna gave him to her grandparents.

 

Read Full Post »

More about my daily walks with Jake…

———

Of all the walkable places we frequent, the green space at the Jefferson Clubhouse and City Park delivers the most action.

Walkin-5

The Clubhouse, which the city makes available for parties and meetings, sits atop a hill adjacent to a large woods. At the base of the hill are the Boy Scout building, the peewee league ballfields, and a large duck pond.

Walkin-6

Walkin-7

Much of the area is grass-covered and under a canopy of trees. The city keeps everything nicely maintained, so it’s a pleasant and picturesque spot.

Better still, Jake and I usually have the place to ourselves. Unless an event is taking place at the clubhouse, or the Scouts are meeting, or the playground is occupied, all is quiet.

For that reason, we often come upon deer grazing on the slopes. Sometimes, we will emerge from behind the Clubhouse building and there, mere yards away, will be a few whitetail deer looking at us.

For a few seconds, time stands still. Then Jake reacts and strains at the leash, and the deer scamper off into the woods.

Deer sightings are a special treat for Jake, even though they happen all the time. Once or twice a week, he watches groups of them pass through the woods beyond my back fence.

Inevitably, he gets excited, and running ensues. Seeing deer, like encountering fellow canines around town, never gets old.

The situation was different with the ducks at the city pond. For a while, Jake was excited and curious and wanted to approach them.

Although he’s a herding dog, his intention when chasing cats and squirrels clearly isn’t to herd them. I’m always careful to keep him restrained.

But with the ducks, the novelty soon wore off. A duck isn’t a deer. Now he ignores them.

When we arrived at the Clubhouse one morning recently, a light rain was falling. The rain gear came out, and we started down this slope behind the Clubhouse.

Walkin-8

Simultaneously, from deep in the woods, came the baying of hounds.

Apparently, several dogs were in pursuit of unknown prey. For a time, their vocalizing moved steadily through the woods from right to left.

Then, abruptly, the baying stopped. We could hear the dogs crashing and snuffling in the undergrowth. They had lost the scent. The prey had eluded them, probably doubled back.

An image came to mind of a fox being pursued by hounds. I imagined the appearance of men on horseback and cries of “Yoicks and away!”

Well, no hunters appeared, but a fox did.

He had, indeed, eluded the dogs and doubled back. He popped out of the woods not 10 yards from us.

He was a large, yellowish-red adult, sleek and healthy. He briefly looked us over, but we were a secondary matter. His first priority was losing the dogs, who were not far away.

He turned and sprinted back to the left across 20 yards of grass, veered into the woods, and was gone. This was a fox with strong survival skills.

I thought Jake would want to take off after the fox. But, like me, he simply watched the drama unfold. We could have been watching television.

The fox was gone, and we heard no more from the hounds. The rain had let up a bit. We continued on to the duck pond to see what we could see.

A few weeks ago, we had arrived at the pond to find a dog on the loose, barking hysterically and chasing the ducks. Feathers flew as they flapped and quacked in panic, but the dog never came close to catching one.

As we watched, a man came running from the adjacent neighborhood. Shouting and cursing, he herded the dog back home. The ducks calmed down, and the pond was its pastoral self again.

Another day, another adventure.

Walkin-9

Happy New Year.

 

Read Full Post »

Every day, my dog Jake and I go for a morning walk somewhere around Jefferson.

The walks last about an hour, and Jake proceeds at a faster clip than I prefer. On the positive side, I need the exercise. That, and he pulls me up hills.

The walking habit developed last spring when I adopted him, and it’s irreversible now. Which is fine. We go rain or shine. We both have rain gear.

As you might expect, this ritual is the high point of Jake’s day. He is delirious with joy about every aspect of it: putting on the walking harness, riding in the car with his head out the window, seeing all the people, patrolling for cats and squirrels, the wonderful sights and smells.

Walkin-1

And we walk all over the place. Jefferson is a small town, but it consists of many miles of streets, sidewalks, medians, parks, church and school grounds, etc. We have plenty of choices.

We walk various loops downtown and around the historic districts. We walk at the city reservoir, the civic center, the baseball fields, and the cemeteries. On weekends, we walk around the school grounds, which are sprawling, green, and nicely-maintained.

Walkin-2

We found a grassy path that runs behind the baseball fields.

Being on foot instead of in a car gives you a unique perspective. I’ve learned more about Jefferson in the last few months than in the previous decade.

I’ve had occasion to walk down streets I didn’t know were there. I’ve exchanged pleasantries with numerous strangers — joggers, bike riders, fellow dog-walkers, and people we encounter on their porches.

Jake and I know which houses have dogs and whether the dogs are friendly. We know where various cats live, which of them will flee, and which will stand their ground and give us the evil eye.

We know a house where three parrots live in a cage on the front porch. The parrots ignore passing cars, but not Jake and me. When we come into view, the chorus of squawking begins and continues until we are out of sight.

When the cage was moved indoors for the winter, Jake was baffled. He looked at me as if for an explanation.

High on our list of walking spots is the Shields-Ethridge Heritage Farm, located a few miles outside of town. The farm is a collection of historic buildings preserved to illustrate life in the late 1800s and early 1900s, in the days of a farming economy.

In addition to the usual barns and sheds, the farm includes a cotton gin, grist mill, blacksmith shop, sawmill, schoolhouse, and other buildings, all from the old days. An ideal spot to wander for a while.

Walkin-3

To Jake, the farm’s resident horses are of special interest.

Walkin-4

The first time he saw them, he was frightened and wanted to be somewhere else. What the heck are those giant beasts? All it took was a sudden whinny, and he bolted. Almost yanked the leash from my hand.

But, after a few visits, he understood they are not only friendly, but fenced in. The fear dissipated. Before long, I expect to see them greet by touching noses.

In my next post, more about our adventures afoot.

 

Read Full Post »

Last spring, having lived without a dog for two years, I began looking for a new co-pilot. After passing up a lot of pooches, I adopted Joliet Jake. Patience is a virtue, my friends.

Jake is happy, healthy, and a very good boy. He has a few lingering bad habits, but, hey — who doesn’t?

As for me, the sense of well-being you get from having a pet around the house is back. I’ll probably live longer as a result.

Anyway, at this point, it seems time for a Jake update.

For the two of us, the daily routine is now pretty well established…

Every morning, we go for an hour-long walk, usually somewhere in Jefferson, sometimes at a park in Athens or Gainesville.

I carry two doggy bags in my wallet. Bag #2 is for when bag #1 got used and I forgot to restock.

The back seat of the car belongs to Jake, who rides joyfully with his head out the window, tongue waving in the wind. It’s important that both windows are rolled down, so he can dart from side to side as conditions require.

During the day, he often gets on the bed to play with toys or take a snooze. At night, he prefers to sleep on the floor.

A few weeks ago, I installed a dog door to the back yard. Now he isn’t stuck in the house while I’m gone.

Jake-5

So, you ask, what about Jake’s personality and behavior? How is he adapting? Is he a good boy all the time?

No, not all the time. He has a few problem areas.

THE GOOD

When I adopted Jake, he was already housebroken, and he knew the “sit” command.

He is everybody’s pal, dog and human. He hasn’t shown any aggression, nor is he protective of his food or toys.

He doesn’t beg at the table or surf the kitchen counters.

Usually, he understands that my belongings and furnishings are off limits. See below where I elaborate on “usually.”

He is a natural for the dog parks. He engages in friendly play with the other dogs and, if alone, is happy to explore. He is fit, athletic, and could outrun an impala.

THE NOT SO GOOD

My car windows are perpetually decorated with nose art.

I’m living with dog hair again. I bought an electric sweeper and am obliged to use it daily.

Jake seems to prefer about seven hours of sleep per night. Unfortunately, I prefer eight. Going to bed earlier is pointless, as he simply will get up earlier, so I am doomed to be sleep-deprived.

He is full of energy and is compelled to jump up and plant his paws on you. This is a problem when people visit. It’s a tough habit to break.

Thunder scares him. In a storm, he retreats to the back of my bedroom closet. Squeaky toys also unsettle him.

Early on, he developed the habit of occasionally stealing paper from wastebaskets. When I fussed at him about it, the behavior stopped, but only temporarily. I finally bought lidded wastebaskets.

Now and then, he steals items from the clothes hamper. An extreme example:

Jake-6

So far, nothing has been damaged, but the habit persisted until I put a lid on the hamper.

THE EVEN WORSE

Back in August, we had three traumatic incidents with bed linen and pillows. Total losses: one fitted sheet, one mattress cover, two pillow protectors, and one pillow case.

The damage occurred, it appears, during frenzies of digging on the bed. Maybe it was canine exuberance. Or maybe he was flipping back the sheets to get to the pillows. Apparently, he thinks pillows are fun to grab and shake. I guess it’s a dog thing.

Here is the first of the three incidents, resulting in the loss of a sheet and a mattress pad:

Jake-7

I’m not sure if he did the damage with his claws or his teeth. It’s probably academic anyway.

Two more incidents followed of a pillow being taken from the bed and the cover torn. After epic rants by me, I think he got the message. He hasn’t messed with pillows or bedding in a month.

IN SUMMARY

Jake is young and a typical Border Collie: smart, observant, and energetic. I expected that when I adopted him. I knew we would have a period of adjustment. Maybe a lengthy one.

On most days, he is quiet for long periods and then, without warning, enters wired mode. What makes him change from calm and serene one minute to chasing his tail the next? I wish I knew.

Of his problematic habits that persist, I manage them the best I can. He still gets into some kind of minor mischief every few days, but his behavior has improved considerably. He’s learning the rules.

His good qualities, of course, easily win out. He is a good-hearted pooch, fully devoted to me as the pack leader. Like all good dogs everywhere, he is completely without guile.

And, in the end, I find it hard to resist this handsome face.

Jake-8

 

Read Full Post »

Joliet Jake

Hello. This is me:

Jake-1

This is to let you know that I have a new home, a new human, and a new name.

My new human is an old guy with a beard. He calls me Jake. Joliet Jake.

The living arrangements at the new place are pretty great. It’s just me and the new human. The house is nice, and I have plenty of dog toys at my disposal. I get treats all the time, without even asking.

Plus, the house has a fenced yard that backs up to a big woods. I see a lot of critters out there — birds, squirrels, cats — all ripe for herding. Not to mention frogs, lizards, and even deer sometimes.

And the food — wow! The new human feeds me this crunchy kibble stuff three times a day. What a sweet deal.

Yeah, I do need to put on some weight. Back when I was on my own, I missed too many meals. Seemed like I was always hungry. Not any more.

Speaking of my previous life, the new human knows nothing about that. You see, he rescued me from a dog prison, where I was locked up for, like, a week.

But I’m getting ahead of myself. Let me explain how things went down…

One day, I was wandering around as usual, exploring, checking things out. I was what you call footloose and fancy free.

Then I surprised a couple of cats in somebody’s back yard.

Boy, those cats could run. Naturally, I took off after them. They’re cats, right? They’re made for chasing, right?

Anyway, I treed the cats, and while I sat there keeping an eye on them, this white truck drove up, and a man in a uniform got out. He seemed friendly, so I went over to him to get petted.

Oh, he petted me, all right. But then — oldest trick in the book — he slipped a noose around my neck. Game over, man. I ended up in the back of the truck in a cage.

Then the man in the uniform took me to that dog prison I mentioned. What a terrible place! It was a giant room full of cells, one dog per cell. I couldn’t see the whole thing, but I could hear and smell all the other dogs. It was nuts in there.

Now and then, a human would walk past my cell. Some wore uniforms, some didn’t.

The routine, I figured out, was to feed us in the morning and hose out our cells in the afternoon. Other than that, we just sat there with nothing but a water bowl.

I tell you, being in that prison was awful. It shouldn’t happen to a dog.

Jake-2

My prison mugshot. I was plenty scared.

Well sir, after a few days in the lockup, I saw my new human for the first time. He was walking slowly past the cells, looking at us dogs one at a time.

He stood in front of my cell for a long time, talking real nice to me. I had no way of knowing he’d be the one to spring me, but he was. And look at me now.

On my last morning in prison, one of the uniformed guys took me out of my cell and drove me to a vet clinic. I’m not sure why.

The humans there seemed nice enough, but they gave me something that made me sleep.

When I woke up, I was dizzy, and my private parts hurt. But, when I tried to lick myself to make it better, they stuck a plastic cone on my head so I couldn’t!

After that, it was back to the dog prison and into my cell again. That’s when the new human appeared and got me out of there for keeps.

That was about a week ago. I’m settling in now, getting familiar with the house, the yard, and the new human’s routine and habits.

Jake-3

One of my favorite things we do is the morning walks. Most days, before it gets hot, we go for a stroll somewhere around town. I like that.

So, that’s the story. Things are going fine here. It looks like I got lucky — wallowed in something and came up smelling like a rose.

And the new human finally stopped making me wear that stupid cone. Good riddance, I say.

Cheers, and I’ll see you around.

Joliet Jake Smith

Jake-4

Hello. Rocky here.

Jake is either a Blue Merle Border Collie, an Aussie, or a mix. He was picked up by Jackson County Animal Control wearing no identification. Nobody showed up to claim him, so I adopted him.

The vet says Jake is about three years old and in good health, needing only to gain a few pounds.

Jake is happy, friendly, and housebroken. He never messes with anything in the house, unless he mistakes it for a toy. For example, I kept Paco’s old dog toys in a wicker basket until Jake decided the basket was a toy, too, and I had to put it away.

Most days, I leave him at home, loose in the house, while I run errands. When I return an hour or two later, nothing is out of place. Knock on wood.

Typical of a herding dog, he’s very quiet. I’ve heard him bark only once, at something in the woods.

About every other night, he wakes me up to go outside for a potty break. I have no problem with that.

On his first vet visit after I adopted him, he encountered several kids and dogs in the lobby, and he showed zero aggression.

On his 2nd day here, he escorted a cat out of the back yard. It happened in a blur lasting about half a nanosecond.

He also treed a squirrel and routed some birds from the feeder. He spends a lot of time patrolling the back yard, alert for any movement.

Paco has been gone for two years. That’s a long time. It’s good that dog is my copilot again.

 

Read Full Post »

You may be familiar with an experiment involving five monkeys in a cage, a bunch of bananas on a string, and a ladder. The story has been around for many years.

Sometimes, it’s presented as a scientific study that actually happened (apparently not true). More often, it’s used as an allegory — a parable, fable, cautionary tale, or whatever — that equates the behavior of monkeys to that of people.

The point is to illustrate the absurdity and the dangers of passive thinking. Of mindlessly following the herd.

First the story, then we can discuss.

———

Start with a cage containing five monkeys.

Inside the cage, suspend a bunch of bananas on a string, out of reach. Place a ladder under the bananas. Before long, one of the monkeys will try to climb the ladder to reach the bananas.

As soon as he touches the ladder, spray the other monkeys with cold water.

After a while, a second monkey will make the same attempt. Again, spray all the other monkeys with cold water.

Soon, when any monkey tries to climb the ladder, the other monkeys will act together to forcefully prevent it.

At this point, stop using cold water to punish the monkeys.

Remove one monkey from the cage, and replace it with a new monkey. The newcomer will see the bananas and try to climb the ladder. To his surprise, the other monkeys will attack him.

After another attempt and another attack, he understands that if he tries to climb the ladder, he will be assaulted.

Next, remove a second of the original five monkeys, and replace it with a new one. Newcomer #2 will try to use the ladder to get the bananas and will be attacked. Note that Newcomer #1 will participate in the group attack.

Replace another of the original five monkeys with a new one. Newcomer #3 will try to get the bananas and also will be attacked.

At this point, two of the four attacking monkeys have been sprayed with cold water, but the other two have not; newcomers #1 and #2 have no idea why they aren’t permitted to climb the ladder and no idea why the group attacks Newcomer #3.

Continue this process and replace the fourth and fifth original monkeys. Now all five monkeys in the cage are newcomers and were never sprayed with cold water. Nevertheless, no monkey will approach the ladder. Why not?

Because, as far as they know, things always have been done that way.

———

This story is especially interesting because of it’s similarity to the beliefs of behavioral psychologist B. F. Skinner (1904-1990). Skinner made the controversial claim that “free will” does not exist. He said people inevitably act and react based on previous experience — based on whether a previous action had good or bad consequences.

Skinner believed this opens the door to controlling group behavior, which he called “cultural engineering.” He saw this as a good thing, a means of creating a benevolent utopian society.

Maybe so, but the concept also has ominous Big Brother and 1984 overtones.

Personally, I’m a big fan of critical thinking. Objective analysis. A rational evaluation of the facts. In short, the scientific method.

That approach works pretty well everywhere, not just in the realm of science. For example, in the Marine Corps, in addition to the official motto “Semper Fidelis” (always faithful), many units have adopted the unofficial mantra “Improvise, Adapt. Overcome.”

Excellent advice. But probably not in the lexicon of the average monkey.

Five monkeys

 

Read Full Post »

Here are three stories about animal behavior that, to me, seems odd and unexpected. Presented with the stipulation that I’m a Journalism major, not a wildlife biologist.

Story #1

About a week ago, I was driving north on U.S. 129 toward home. I was in the northern suburbs of Athens where the speed limit is 45 and you encounter a succession of traffic lights. Ahead, a light turned red. We motorists coasted to a stop.

While I sat waiting, movement on the right side of the road caught my attention. I turned to see a possum emerging from the undergrowth. He stepped into the crosswalk and ambled across all four lanes of 129 in front of the idling vehicles.

It was an adult possum, rather portly, seemingly well-fed. He was calm and appeared to be in no hurry.

The cars turning out of the cross street, which had the green light, dutifully yielded to him, as if he were a normal pedestrian.

Just as the possum reached the left side of the crosswalk and disappeared back into the undergrowth, the light turned green, and I drove on. My first thought: wow, that was weird.

Possum

Story #2

The following morning, on my way to downtown Jefferson, I was paused at the stop sign where the road from my neighborhood meets Business 129. In front of me, in the middle of 129, four vultures were squabbling over a roadkill squirrel.

Traffic was fairly heavy. The vultures had to scramble constantly to avoid becoming roadkill themselves.

No one was behind me at the stop sign, so I was able to sit there and observe. Two times, I watched as a scrum of cars went by, causing the vultures to scatter frantically and then reassemble.

Finally, as they were taking flight for the third time, one of the birds grabbed the squirrel’s tail in his beak and carried the carcass aloft with him. He rose to about 20 feet and dropped the squirrel onto the grass, six feet off the pavement.

Whereupon, the four vultures reconverged on the prize, this time in relative safety.

I’ve seen countless vultures feasting on roadkill in my time, but I’ve never seem one remove a carcass from the road. Smarter than the average vulture, it seems.

Roadkill

Story #3

My house in Jefferson is built on a moderate slope that, during construction, made a retaining wall necessary. The wall makes the transition from the hillside to the level ground where the house stands.

The wall is built of railroad ties. It ranges from three to four feet tall and is about 30 feet long. A sidewalk along its base leads to the front door.

Wall

The wall is not only an interesting feature, but also a home to all sorts of critters. There are frog burrows at its base. Lizards skitter in and out of the cracks and crevices. In and around it are crickets, centipedes, worms, moles, ants, spiders, and, yes, snakes.

Most of the snakes are of the harmless variety, although I did encounter a small copperhead a few years ago, sunning himself on the sidewalk. I chased him into the woods.

Sometimes, the snakes use the tight spaces between the railroad ties to help wiggle out of their skins when they molt. The dry skins they leave behind are a common sight.

To the local squirrels, the top of the wall is a good vantage point from which to watch for predators while they feast on acorns. The shells make a terrible mess.

As I see it, the presence of these critters is a positive thing, and I do my best to coexist with them. I try not to bother them. I pull weeds by hand instead of spraying chemicals. The one exception: the time a colony of yellow jackets built a nest in the wall, and I had to call an exterminator.

A few days ago, as I was pulling weeds on top of the wall, I came close to stepping backward onto a rat snake (harmless, easy to identify). I don’t know which of us was more startled.

He was young, but still several feet long. He was backed up against the edge of the wall in a defensive crouch, looking at me, tongue flickering. Every time I moved, he tensed.

Rat snake

This snake was unusually antsy. Maybe he had a recent encounter with a dog or cat. Even though I stood motionless a good six feet away, he was agitated. He slithered rapidly along the lip of the wall in both directions, looking for a passage to safety. He found none.

He seemed to be in a genuine panic. And to prove it, he suddenly turned around, glided over the top of the wall, and launched himself into space. I was astonished.

When I got to the wall and looked over the edge, the end of his tail was disappearing into an opening at ground level.

At the spot where he jumped, the wall is four feet tall. That had to hurt.

Frog burrow

One of the frog burrows at the base of the wall. Sometimes, their little heads peek out.

Read Full Post »

Older Posts »