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  • Pamela Beason

Crazy Times with Suburban Wildlife

When my washing machine died two minutes into the wash cycle this morning, I had to laugh (after I ran out of swear words). This is the latest in a series of unpleasant surprises during the Quarantine Era, when it takes five times as long as usual to rectify anything. I’ve experienced a water heater death accompanied by major water damage in my house, multiple car problems, and a feline psychotic break complete with attacks and bites. My elderly mother broke her arm just beneath the shoulder, and another elderly, nearly deaf friend suddenly needed surgery on both eyes, and I’m the only healthy person available to help, which involves a lot of driving to appointments, waiting for hours in parking lots, shopping for groceries, and hours on the phone trying to straighten out prescriptions and instructions. What’s next—the plague? Oh yeah … been there, still doing that.

Anyhow, it all got me thinking about surprises of all kinds in life, and especially about all the surprises I’ve had with wildlife over the years. So, I decided to share a few, at least about the surprises that make me smile. These are tales of wild creatures sometimes too close to home.

Did you know that frogs can scream? One afternoon in my yard, I heard shrieks for help. A garden snake had a frog in its mouth, one amphibian leg down its throat. The frog was understandably screeching. Although I realized I might be interfering with the natural course of events, I just couldn’t listen to the frog’s screams. Besides, this particular frog seemed much too big for this particular snake to swallow, so I reasoned that I might be doing the reptile a favor as well as the amphibian. So, I held onto the snake’s tail and I tapped its back until it spit out the leg, and then I scooped up the frog and transported it to a safe area. I then watched that pissed-off snake zigzag rapidly all over the property for hours, searching for its meal.

Another surprise involved another frog. One morning as I reached blearily for my first cup of coffee, a sandwich bag lying next to my kitchen sink moved. Inside was a tiny Pacific tree frog. My heart went into panic mode. What kind of sick joke was this? Had an intruder broken into my house and left me a bagged frog? I quickly checked all the doors and windows. Everything seemed secure. I don’t know how the tree frog got into the kitchen, but I surmised it had crawled into one of the sandwich bags I had washed out and hung to dry near the sink. I rescued the frog. My cats denied any knowledge of this incident, but I still suspect them. While they only murder a seemingly endless supply of teeny-tiny shrews (ShrewFest is a year-round festival at my house), they are serial kidnappers of other creatures. I found a baby opossum hiding under the couch one time. Surprise!

When I lived in an area inhabited by chipmunks, the little striped rodents were frequent kidnap victims. I could usually capture them in a shoe and then shake them out in the yard. When a chipmunk would not come out one day, I grabbed the end of its tail and pulled. The chipmunk dropped to the ground, leaving me with a writhing piece of tail in my hand. Surprise! Ugh. Who knew chipmunks have detachable tails? Yes, I maimed a chipmunk; I have to live with that ugly history. He regrew the tail, but it looked sorta funny after that.

I’ll finish this post with a story about the ever-popular suburban invaders—raccoons. I used to be naïve enough to think that raccoons could not climb to my second-floor deck. There are no stairs, and the supporting posts are not on the outside of the structure. So, I left the door open a few inches on a summer weekend when I went to the beach, and asked my neighbors to feed my cats.

When I returned, I saw that the cats’ water bowl was filled with dark gravy. I wondered just how my neighbors had been feeding my cats; maybe they thought they were supposed to mix the dry food with the water? Then I noticed faint little hand prints on the floor. Raccoons had climbed up to the deck (I’m still not sure how they accomplish this), come in, and washed my cats’ dry food in the water dish. That's probably what my cats had been telling me; despite my many years of lessons, I'm still not fluent in Catese. The next evening, the Masked Marauders were so angry at finding the deck door closed that they chewed up a spare pair of eyeglasses I’d left out there. And I still can’t leave the pump in my little pond running after dark, or the Evil Masked Ones party by pulling it apart and leaving bits and pieces strewn across my yard. They’ve pilfered cat toys, too. And, FYI—raccoons have no qualms about coming in through pet doors. Never trust a raccoon. Don’t let them fool you with that wide-eyed innocent look; they are the ultimate con artists. But they still make me smile. And we all need all the smiles we can get these days.

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