Copper and Sybbie are curled up in tight round seat cushion-like circles on a vintage wide-armed chair in the living room and smack in the middle of the ticking striped comforter on the bed in the downstairs guestroom, respectively. The wind continues its howling song across the metal standing seam roof. Patrick is napping upstairs, not curled into anything that resembles a seat cushion, and the furnace just kicked on. Rabbits are fed and watered, chickens same, and the birdfeeders wait for the brunch crowd. Even with one less hour to start the day, it’s heartening to list what one can accomplish out of sheer necessary responsibility.
I've got that semi-groggy, turn-the-clocks-ahead feeling as the second hand rounds the noon corner, and it seems as good a time as any to recall some of the relatives with whom we’ve shared space in this home and land since our suburban ship landed on these remote rural shores. Here’s the list, in as close a chronological order as my memory can dispatch.
Dead cat stuck to one of the furnace ducts in the crawl space-slash-basement upon arrival with our first truckload of belongings (we only noticed it when the furnace turned on. Ewww.). Removed by Patrick and brother Kevin forthwith before any further belongings were unloaded and arranged. I stood at the top of the basement steps, eyes squeezed tightly shut, holding open the trash bag. Drew the long straw on that one.
One starling who found her way into the attic off the master bedroom upstairs. Gently evicted through a series of door-openings, arm-flaps, and kind words in between said arm-flaps and the occasional well-placed profanity.
Three fuzzy black and yellow carpenter bees who landed with a startled “plop” on the stovetop as I was heating water for my morning tea. Scooped carefully into a blue plastic drinking cup, envelope from the propane bill slid carefully beneath the overturned cup to serve as a make-shift lid, and the whole handful turned right-side up as the three occupants buzzed frantically in circles around each other. Again, kind and reassuring words spoken as their freedom was restored approximately five yards from the front deck.
Week two — present:
A family of ambitious and creative mice who set up housekeeping in the storage shed out back (if you know mice, you know that this essentially consists of a matted and shaped nest of shredded paper, insulation, or other soft material, the primary purpose of which is to store their droppings). This particular family apparently wasn’t fussy about what they ate, as evidenced by the neon-colored rice-sized poop we found on every shelf of an old shallow cabinet, where the former homeowner had kept her paints. The droppings were a dazzling collection of sky blue, pink, green, and yellow, randomly scattered as if to make some sort of artistic point that we’re still trying to interpret.
One 34” black snake, coiled and sleeping beneath a repurposed hospital crash cart that Patrick gleefully claimed from a dumpster in a nearby town on his way home from work. The cart sat in the corner of the mud room by the back door, providing perfect cool cover for the snake, who waited hopefully for those Rembrandt mice to go on an adventure, crossing the short distance from the shed to the house with their colorful paint snack digesting merrily. We noticed in the weeks to come that the mouse population decreased exponentially, and wondered who was next on the food chain to deal with the snake.
Two rats who scampered above the drop ceiling tiles in the living room only when the house was quiet and still, making their travels even more pronounced and unsettling. Giving us our first rat experience, they performed all the appropriate rat theatrics (nibbling, making the ceiling tiles bounce in the metal frame sections during their rat fights) until we devised a plan to get them out of the ceiling and into a small metal lidded bucket. Said plan involved a broom, protective head gear, work gloves, and a flip of the coin to determine who would wield the broom and who would hold the bucket close enough to the ceiling to catch them as they dropped in. I lost the coin toss. I’ll let you decide which of those tasks was the less desirable. Rats caught and moved to an undisclosed non-house location.
One fully-grown and love-seeking male skunk who dug his way underneath the front deck and lived there during the winter-into-spring span of three weeks (aka mating season), making his presence known in episodic crop-dusting spurts, rendering safe front door passage impossible until Patrick pulled up the deck wood planks one night and used a length of 2” x 2” to disprove his theory that skunks are unable to spray with their tails in the “down” position. The skunk left his temporary hovel laughing, as Patrick, dazed, walked himself and the now-sprayed stick through the house, wondering where that odor was coming from and why it wasn’t going away. I moved quickly and efficiently from my napping spot on the couch to the Corolla outside, drove it to the end of the quarter-mile driveway and spent the rest of the night there, more or less stink-free.
Add to this list a series of egg layers (we started with seven, and through the years have had as many as 26), over 300 meat chickens, fifteen Bourbon Red heritage breed turkeys, 47 Boer goats, three flocks of pearl grey Guinea hens who, because of their resistance to roosting safely in the coop at night despite our vigilance and encouragement, disappeared into the hungry mouths of our meadow raccoons, precisely six stray dogs of various breeds and ages, a peacock named Sparky who cried out in loneliness every night his first summer with us until a female of his tribe picked her way down the gravel path, resulting in two offspring. We’ve also wrestled with wolf spiders as big as the palms of our hands, more carpenter bees, groundhogs who are too smart for live traps, and brilliant red cardinals (the birds, not the clerics). And lastly, Scout, our first beloved hand-raised kitten-into-cat, who owned us faithfully for seventeen years until cancer moved him to his permanent place beneath the hollowed out apple tree stump in the front yard.
It’s also important to mention the deer who have timidly left a line of hoofprints on the south side of Patrick’s workshop, and confidently blazed trails across the open fields and in the swampy woods, and the raccoon who wandered into the kitchen one afternoon (someone didn’t shut the mud room door all the way) and left clear evidence that a trash bag, carelessly left near the pantry, can offer up a snack or two. And how about the two bald eagles who made wide hunting circles over our heads, while we watched them until they were tiny specks against the bright white clouds in a robin’s egg-blue sky. And once, as I was pulling young grape vines from a corner on the east side of the house, a small brown and blue striped salamander who threaded through my fingers as I moved him over slightly to get to a particularly stubborn root.
I don’t think we expected that it would be just the two of us out here, and we had discussed the possibility of eating fresh eggs on Sunday mornings. But our suburban mindset wasn’t prepared for all of these fellow land residents. Patrick and I have no children of our own, yet we’ve mothered and fathered quite the menagerie over the past twenty years, and have had nothing less than sacred encounters with the other four-legged and winged relatives that call this place Home. For the price of a monthly mortgage, we have season tickets on nature’s 50-yard line.
Looking back, we wouldn’t change a thing. Looking forward, we wonder who we’ll meet next.