Thursday, July 12, 2012

Close Encounters

One of the challenges, and the joys, of living in the mountains is the close encounters we have with nature.  When we first built our home and moved up here, I couldn't believe the insects.  Huge fluorescent red ants, scorpions, tarantulas and stink bugs.  I was afraid to walk down to the barn without boots.  We've grown accustomed to the insects although it has to be a really hot day for me to wear sandals to the barn.

In the spring, we are overrun with toads.  They swim, and sometimes drown, in the pool.  The hop across the road, like jumping rocks, in my headlights.  They invade the dog area and the garage.  Small climbing frogs appear on the walls of my garden.  One night at dinner we had one land on the middle of table.  He must have been on the ceiling fan.  We both jumped and then I carried him out to the flower bed where I set him free.

Ducks swim in the pool and a blue heron steals goldfish from the horses' water trough.  The other night, the grandkids wanted to swim after dinner, in the dark, with the pool lights on.  Brett took them out to the pool and they were back inside within five minutes.  There was a huge toad swimming in the pool and on the deck, a big hairy tarantula.  That was enough to send them scurrying back into the house. 

We hear coyotes almost every night and it isn't uncommon to see one trotting down the roads of our community.  When they catch something, the howling has a distinctive high pitch that sends shivers down your spine -- and gets all the dogs barking.  Deer are a less common encounter but we do occasionally see them on the ridge road.  Rabbits and squirrels, both tree and ground styles, scurry and scamper across the road, through the gardens and over our boulders.  The ground squirrels like to sit up on the boulders, with their paws in the air, chirping loudly to each other.  

There are big cats, as well.  Mountain lions call our wilderness home.  They are reclusive, their presence shown by paw prints more than sight.  Occasionally, one of our neighbors will see the tail of one disappearing into the brush while out on a ride.  I'd rather see a tail than a snarling face.  Tracks are even better.  Bobcats are also common.  They are the size of a fox and it takes a minute to differentiate between the two.  I most commonly see them streaking across the road in front of my car.  They throw a quick look over their shoulder at me and then disappear.  I go through the mental checklist: bushy tail = fox, no tail = bobcat.  Pointy ears = fox, round ears = bobcat.  Reddish fur = fox, monotone cheetah print = bobcat.

The critters that do the most damage are raccoons.  They steal eggs, kill chickens, eat the cat food if we forget to close the window into the feed room, and make a mess knocking buckets over and unscrewing containers.  Possums and skunks are around but not commonly seen.

And then there are the snakes.  We have big, orange-yellow diamondback rattlesnakes.  Their bodies are thick like rope and their heads shaped like an arrowhead.  The are nocturnal, hunting at night, and shy.  This is good as I am, myself, quite petrified of  nervous around rattlesnakes.  They eat gophers and ground squirrels for which I am grateful, but I would prefer that they do so outside the boundaries of our property.  Gopher snakes are bolder snakes, taking sun baths on the driveway in the middle of the day.  They are a greyish brown color, also thick as a rope and long.  Their heads are a bit arrow shaped as well so I always  to do a double take (and look for rattles) when I see one.

This morning, I walked out the front door and came upon a ribbon snake on the patio.  I jumped backward and squeeked, and then the snake gracefully slid his long, pencil thin, black with a white striped body into the garden.  We saw him in the same place about a week ago so he must be living in my flower bed and the lavender garden. He was beautiful and elegant, but I was relieved when he left the patio.

And lastly, we have all the flying creatures.  Bats, of course, who eat the scorpions and weird insects.  They are messy, but useful, and endlessly fascinating.  I'm not good with bird identification but we have a huge variety from small house wrens to blue birds and phoebes, tiny gnat catchers and huge black crows.  Swallows and sparrows.  Coopers hawks, red-tailed hawks, and turkey vultures.  Owls.  Hummingbirds and humming bees.  Hornets.

I wouldn't trade our wildlife for city life, or even suburbia life.  The close encounters keep my heart beating and my adrenaline rushing.  I feel alive.


  1. you get a lot of critters there that are not prevalent here (cougars, bobcats, fox, rattlesnakes) but we get plenty of coyotes, scorpions, moccassins and copperheads.

  2. Very cool wildlife.
    Did you ever hear back on the bats that were dying?

  3. Very cool to read about all the wild critters you have out there. Very different than the ones we have here.

  4. thank you for the description of the wildlife in your area.

    We have coyotes,foxes, and, rumour has it, cougars. In terms of snakes we have garter snakes, ringtail snakes, grass snakes and ribbon snakes but none are poisonous.

  5. Beautifully written! And it made me laugh- up in Northern California we have all the same critters and too many close encounters. One of my friends was almost attacked by a mountain lion while out hunting and he had to shoot it. That certainly created a hullabaloo.

    The other night I turned off the light and a moth attacked my face. I jumped out of bed to turn the light back on, no moth anymore, but right next to my bed a scorpion with his tail raised. My bare foot missed him by inches. That kind of adrenaline at midnight is a little sleep disabling! :)

  6. All that wildlife sounds very exciting until you mention scorpions and rattlesnakes. I could do without them on the property, even I appreciate what rattlesnakes do for pest control.

    We have timber rattlesnakes here, but I have never seen one in the wild. They are not interested in being near people.


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