I love the country and living the country life. Gardening, chickens, the great outdoors, and everything that goes with it (except maybe for the dust and intense spring winds) all feels so natural and simply right to me. And wild animals go right along with everything else that is country living. Last week the neighbor called to tell us a mountain lion had been spotted just up the road from us. My first thought? “Oh wow, how cool!” Now I’m not a stupid woman and I have no wish to come face to face with the big cat, but I must admit that I think it’s pretty awesome that I live in a place that bobcats and mountain lions also call home. I’m originally from the suburbs, so that’s not the sort of thing I would normally come across. Granted, I had possums, raccoons, deer, bunny rabbits, and other critters that used to wander through my yard, even when I lived right next to a highway, but that was mostly due to the destruction of their habitat. Those poor creatures had nowhere else to go. During the years I lived there (from childhood until my 30’s, basically) I watched the woods, meadows, and wild places disappear as shopping centers and homes were built in their place. While it might have been frustrating to have the deer eat my Hostas down to nothing I understood that they were merely trying to survive and adapt to the environment they were now forced to live in. Generally speaking, wild animals don’t want to be in such close contact with humans.
I’ve actually seen fewer wild critters since I moved out here than I used to when I lived in the suburbs. Out here they have plenty of wide open spaces to roam. However it’s been very dry and the weather has warmed up quicker than usual (it’s about 90 today). I think that’s bringing more animals down from the mountains searching for food and water. The other day I found this beautiful corn snake gliding through the flower bed as I was watering.
He was about 6 feet long and didn’t even object when Sal gently moved him to the nearest pack rat nest. I welcome these guys around here. They’re non-venomous and not at all aggressive and they help control the rodent population. One this size is big enough to eat the large pack rats too, and those rats can cause a lot of damage to the crops. Normally you wouldn’t see one of these guys so close to the house and so active this early in the season though. I’ve also seen quite a few snakes squished on the road, which always makes me sad. I’m not scared of snakes or any animal, really. I respect them and am cautious, but I’ve also educated myself on their behavior. Generally speaking, if you leave them alone, they’ll leave you alone. Since we also have venomous snakes out here I never attempt to handle any of them or get within striking range. I knew this guy wasn’t poisonous since I’ve seen several of these since I’ve been here. I still let Sal move it to a better location though, since he’s got more experience handling snakes (and it doesn’t hurt to let him feel manly 😉 )
Then today, while I was washing the breakfast dishes I heard the birds making an awful racket. Something obviously had them very upset. I always pay attention to the sounds of nature, and birds tend to be the early warning system for all the critters. When there’s something dangerous in the area they give the alarm so every creature in the area knows there’s a predator lurking about. I looked out the window and saw a large coyote prowling around in the bushes. He was about as big as Ziggi, who’s 80 pounds. He was very pretty, but it’s not normal to see a coyote so close to the house especially at that time of day. I’ve heard the packs howling at night sometimes, which is a really eerie sound, but I’ve never actually seen one out here until now (except for a few that had been hit on the road). Thankfully Ziggi was in the office with Sal and never even knew the coyote was out there. The coyote might have run off if Ziggi had chased it, but it also might have chosen to fight. They’re both about the same size, and Ziggi’s strong, but that coyote is a wild animal and has to fight to survive. I’m glad Ziggi never saw him, because he would feel it was his duty to protect his territory as well as his “flock”. His “flock” includes me and Sal, the cats, and the chickens, and he’s very protective of all of us. Anyway, after wandering around a bit the coyote seemed to realize that he wasn’t going to catch any of the quail or other birds and he made his way into the brush and disappeared. He was a beautiful creature, but not one that I want roaming too close to the house. I told Calcifer and Ginko that that was one of the reasons they were house cats! I know a coyote would make a quick meal out of them if given the chance. And that’s another reason I only let the chickens free range when I can be out there and keep an eye on them. They’re very secure in the chicken yard that Sal built, which is completely fenced on all sides as well as the top, so I’m not really worried about anything getting in. I can tell you that I was considerably more aware of my surroundings as I went about my daily chores outside though. The simple fact is, out here, you have to be aware of what’s around you. We’ve got snakes, coyotes, javelina, big cats, as well as smaller threats like spiders (some poisonous) and scorpions- things you really don’t want to stumble over, surprise, or put your hand on. In spite of that I wouldn’t change a thing. It’s all part of the wonderful, diverse world we live in, and everything has it’s place and it’s purpose here. I’ll simply have to be more alert when I’m outside, whether here at home or out hiking. Most run ins with wild creatures happen when a human surprises that animal, so I make sure to make some noise as I’m walking so whatever may be out there is aware of my presence. They have as much (if not more) right to be here as I do, and if they’re drawn to houses and more developed areas because that’s where the food and water is, it’s no fault of their own. They’re just trying to survive.