A few meaningful moments with the local wildlifeWritten by Quintin Ellison
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I heard a distinctive gobble gobble gobble one recent evening through the open windows and French doors of the cabin I call home. Down below the cabin is a large field. Peering through the trees that intervene I could just make out the unmistakable large round black shapes of a posse of turkeys. For a few minutes I thrilled to the sight and sound before returning to the mundane reality of sweeping the floor.
I see and hear a lot of wildlife here at the cabin. It is picturesquely situated in a stand of woods just outside of Sylva, down a ridgeline and neatly dovetailed into the side of a mountain. Not far from here is busy N.C. 107; there is a high school and an elementary school just down the road a mere hop, skip and a jump away. None of that human activity, however, prevents creatures of a wilder sort from living or from visiting for a time or simply passing by. It is a good reminder that there is more going on in this world than just my affairs. Seeing this wild menagerie jars me awake, for a short time at least, out of my human narcissism. Animals have their matters to attend to as well as we do; we momentarily share space in these moments that our lives intersect.
I’ve seen a fox on several occasions. The last time, a few weeks back, the sighting took place early one afternoon. The fox strolled past the cabin windows unfazed by my presence. I’m certain he was aware I was watching him by the furtive looks he threw in my direction.
At night I often hear coyotes raising hell with their distinctive high-pitched yipping. This sets all the dogs in the valleys far and wide to barking and baying, including the three who live here on the same mountain that I do. I acknowledge that I’m probably guilty of anthropomorphism, but I can’t help but suspect the coyotes of deliberate rabblerousing and delighting in taunting and calling out the neighborhood dogs. They yip until the dogs are absolutely hysterical in their anxiety. Then the coyotes slip away leaving the dogs to bark unhappily for several more hours while I lie there awake forced to listen.
Despite the presence of the fox and the coyotes there is a booming population of rabbits on the mountain. At night returning from work assignments or meetings I’ll freeze three or four in my car’s headlight beams at different points on my way up the long gravel drive. I am clearly interrupting important rabbit business and rabbit comings and goings with my driving by.
Most present in my life, however, is a colony of flying squirrels that co-habit the cabin. They are nocturnal creatures and their scrabbling in and out of some cranny above the roof distracts me at night as I read. Their entrance into the house’s siding is somewhere just a few feet from where my head rests on pillows. The sounds drive my cats to distraction and the two younger ones invariable rush to the window to try and see what is making such tantalizing scrabbling noises outside. This creates a traffic jam in the vicinity of my head and my book, prompting in response much cursing and fussing and pushing about of cats. I’ve used a flashlight before to try and see the squirrels, the cats quivering avidly by my side like two feline birddogs in point, but to no avail. I’ve yet to catch more than a glimpse of these resident flying squirrels.
I remember some years ago in another house and another life that bats decided to make a home behind the chimney. That was kind of neat except that, on occasion, one would slither somehow into the house through small cracks in the siding and paneling. That was cause for much alarm and panic. I learned the best way to handle bats was to scoop them up and carry them out of the house using a wide-mouthed canning jar, a tip I share with those of you currently co-residing with a bevy of bats.
In the same house my now geriatric 18-year-old or so cat, then a dapper young tom in his prime, would bring live prey inside via the cat door. Baby rabbits, birds, small snakes, all were hunted down by me and removed back outside on a regular basis. I was reminded of this recently when I returned home to find a foot-long snake inside the cabin. I’m rather impressed that one of the two younger cats brought in such a large specimen. They were frantic with chasing the poor creature around the small cabin by the time I got there, and I think everyone involved was relieved when I managed to scoot it back outdoors, not the least me.