Monday, July 14, 2008

Secret Sharers

The other night I went to close the the chicken house door , and saw a skunk in there eating sunflower seeds from the feeder.

At first he (or she) didn't pay any attention to me . Skunks don't have to fear much of anything not on wheels, and they can't see beyond a few feet anyway.
When I spoke to him about how he might possibly leave for the night, the skunk only hid behind the feeder, so I went back to the Ark, giving him a chance to disappear.
He didn't go far. He (or she) has been around since early Spring, and has had a few mild encounters with the dogs, so they don't bother him anymore.

The next morning when I was hosing back the roosters so the hens could get out and forage, our skunk walked through the flock like just another fancy-tail chicken. The dogs pretended not to see him.
I guess I can live with him here if the dogs and chickens can.
I wouldn't even know how to kill a skunk. Because If a chicken can run around with his head cut off (and he can because i have seen it) wouldn't a skunk still be able to shoot at me after I shot it?
We can spare the sunflower seeds. I'm not forgetting that skunks are a large member of the generally viscous weasel family, that they do have a taste for small birds, and that occasionally one will kill a larger bird and bite off its head to drink its blood. Those vampire skunks must be the exception. I think mostly skunks eat seeds and grubs, and you can't blame them for being opportunists when it comes to naked little, grub-like baby animals.

That was the day before yesterday.
Yesterday evening I went out a little late to shut the rooster's door, carrying a flash light and walking slowly in case of a skunk.
And a big skunk at the feeder jumped straight up into the air when the light came on him.
I backed off and went to the house to tell Davey I hadn't forgotten to close the door, but was just going to leave it open until the skunk was out of there.

It wasn't my idea for him to go down there with his camera. But he did.
He didn't get sprayed for his intrusion, but he got pictures of, not one big, but two little skunks which pottered about and then went into a hole right there in the rooster room which goes under the main quarters of the hens..
So that answers the question as to wether the big skunk was a male or a female. And she lives with her family, not just near by, but with the chicken's floor being her ceiling.
Davey tells me we might as well keep the skunks on as guard animals.
What can I say to that?
I guess that will have to be alright until a coyote applies for the job.

Friday, July 4, 2008

The Most Frequently Asked Question

So, who and or what were my biological parents?
Where and how did I live until the Warren's dog dragged me in? Was I a child of some unspeakable conjunction, kept in a root cellar until I howled, and was then put out in the woods to die or to be raised by wolves or dwarfs?
As I said here a while back, Daddy Ernie tried to trace me to my source before moving the family to Ithaca, but the original question was never settled, and to tell the truth, it matters more to other people than it does to me.
I might as well have been born the day I showed up in the Warren's garden.
I remember that day mostly from having been told about it so many times, and I have no memory at all from Pre Warren time.
And no, although I have lived with beavers, I can't even imagine that beavers raised me, because not only would beavers have no inclination to adopt a human child bigger than themselves, I would have starved on their diet of assorted wood products.
And it wasn't wolves like most of the feral children in the books Alan Pike brought me on that subject when I was living in the library attic. It's all pure folk lore if you ask me. Wolves anywhere are too smart and wary of getting involved with humans. It would be impossible in my case anyway, since during my youth, we had neither wolves, nor even coywolves in this part of the country.

Bears would be far more likely to try such a thing.
Bears often lose their wariness, because of gluttony due to nut crop failures in their normal range and their need to put on weight for the winter....... besides which they have a tendency toward sentimentality and inappropriate attachments a lot like you find in people, but not in wolves.
Now I'm not saying that I was raised by bears or that it is even likely, ..... but when I was twenty something.....a man in years, but still small as I happen to be, and living in the wild again, I was actually kidnapped by a bear.

At the time, I was still living in that first converted beaver lodge back on the Fort Drum reservation.
As I inherited it, the lodge stood there in the meadow which had been a pond bottom, and where Herb, Davey, and I had found the artillery dud some years before. The old entrance door was now in the open air. Beavers need the entrance underwater to keep out Fishers and Bobcats and Coons that would eat them or the kits, but I felt safe because those smaller predators would stay out when my human scent was in the place, and a bear wouldn't fit through the beaver- sized entrance. I didn't even bother to block it off, except in cold weather.

The year after I dug the floor down for more headroom and sawed a small window with a saber saw, I made a larger hole in the very top of the lodge so I could have a fire inside without being choked by the smoke..
Cutting the holes was a hell of a job .
You might picture a beaver lodge as a hollow shell of sticks, but the lodge wall is thicker than the air space it contains. This is partly because beaver engineering is rough and approximate, but it is also appropriate for their needs. A lodge that is thin and elegant like a Fuller dome, would be vulnerable to anything that wanted to break in. As they are, so thick and interlaced, dynamite or chain saws are generally required.
Sometimes young fool bears will try to tear into beaver lodges, but they always give up and go find something less troublesome , like a bee tree, to raid. That is unless the bear is a big, berieved mother and the lodge has already been opened at the top like a coconut for a straw.
It was late Summer and I had only had an occasional cooking fire there. No fire at all that day.
All summer long, I had been sleeping there rolled up in a sheet of plastic , just as I do when out in the open, whatever the weather. A sheet of plastic is all I really need for a tent, and even in mild or dry weather, it serves to keep off the mosquitoes and black flies, which of course were coming into the lodge through the smoke hole. Bugs don't like me all that much, but I don't like the bugs much either.

I was woken up by a stink so awful it seemed to have come right through my plastic wrap. I heard a snuffling at entrance, and knew by the deep throatiness that it was a bear After a few minutes, the bear gave up at the beaver door and, then must have got my scent from the smoke hole. To tell you truth, I don't see how it could smell anything other than itself . Bears generally smell like their food, or like something they have been rolling in.... garbage bears smell like garbage, grass bears like clover. This bear had been rolling in something that made it smell like a dead bear. The funk poured down on me from the smoke hole.
And then, with a big thump , a puff of ash, and a blast of bad air , she landed in the fire pit.
I didn't have time to unroll from the plastic and scat out of there, but just lay like a bear burrito in my plastic wrap.
She stuck her head right in the end of the tube and snuffed up a big whiff of my air, and then she rolled me over a few times.
Like a hot dog on a grill, I thought.
After a few minutes of this, she sat back and coughed a few times, then pushed me to the exit and stuffed me halfway through the hole. I tried to wiggle the rest of the way out, but tubed up.....I couldn't get anywhere..
She went back up and out, came down and got a hold of the loose plastic with her teeth and pulled me the rest of the way through. I shrank back in the tube as far as i could. Through the two or three layers of plastic, and in the dark, I couldn't see much of anything as I was dragged across the meadow and up over a saddle , thinking as I slid along ....... bumping over rocks and lumps.......that a plastic tube like mine would be a good device for pulling a dead body out of the woods. Anyway, she seemed to be taking care, so as not to bruise the meal I thought, and it didn't t hurt me a lot more than it would hurt a dead person.
Bears don't usually take their food home, but just gorge on the kill and then lay around in the bush nearby until hunger returns, so I was thinking, as I bumped along, that maybe she was taking me home to feed to her cub or cubs.

After what seemed like an hour, but was probably ten minutes and maybe half a mile, she stopped a moment, then she gave me a couple extra tugs and it got darker, as she drew me into her lair......just a blow down brush pile, as I would see later. .
She lay there panting for a few minutes, and then went back out, I held my own breath and heard no other breathing in there with me. Though the scent was still stong.
So she had no cubs, or maybe she had one and lost it. Maybe it was the dead cub she had been rolling in. This was not an normal bear. This was a deranged bear. Maybe she had gone back out to hunt up some grubs for me. I imagined the years ahead of me as slave child.
As soon as she had been gone five minutes I wormed out of the plastic, rolled it up, and took off with it heading for the dawning light in the direction of Lake Bonaparte.

This brought me back to my lodge within a few minutes.
The bear would be able to find me there again even more easily than the first time, if she wanted to insist, and I thought she might not be so gentle the second time, so I picked up the few things I had at the lodge, then went to the Bonaparte shore and swam the channel to Round Island. I set up camp on the East point where . I figured I would wait there a couple of days to give her a chance to return to the lodge if she was going to, and not find me there.
In bear country I usually hang my food in a net hammock strung between trees I keep for that, but this time, Just in case she was a very determined bear, I wrapped my food , boots and the few clothes I wasn't wearing in the plastic on the ground , then strung the hammock high up the fork of a birch to sleep in.
And sure enough, she showed up again that night. And she was either more fooled than I had wanted her to be, or else she had a hankering for a pair of boots and some potatoes, because she dragged off the tube with my stuff in it.
Any how, the bear now had all my camp stuff, so I didn't see any choice but to hitch down to Ithaca for the winter, where I had my city legs and other stuff stowed in the mausoleum.

My next lodge would be out of the range of that bear, and on the side of the lake with a quicker access to roads out. I never will forget that mother bear though. Not just the smell. Actually, it makes me a little sad to think about her. I have never felt so wanted before or after.
But as for my actual upbringing, it was by the Warrens mostly, and I have nothing to complain about there, except for their eagerness at the beginning to get rid of me, and their general tendency to forget me.
So how so you forget your own child or brother, blood kin or not? That's the question I myself ask most frequently, even though I know the answer.