By Beverly Hicks Burch
I am a suburbanite. I am a child of the burbs. So, what the heck is it with me and critters lately?! Mind you, I’m not talking about your run of the mill, mediocre, pedestrian house pets. Oh, no…
Don’t get me wrong. I dig animals…most of them at least. I wouldn’t give you a plug nickel for a snake. Nope, no way, no how. Never met one I liked. Nor a mouse or a rat either. Over the years as a child of the burbs, I’ve managed to avoid some ugly encounters with some undesirable critters.
This doesn’t make Bev a neophyte or a total animal innocent…no sir-ee… My paternal grandparents had a farm and as a result, I was familiar with the standard farm animals…cows, pigs, horses, chickens, etc. As a matter of fact, one year Papaw let my sister Pam and I help him tend one of his prized pigs. We helped feed him and would visit said porker with glee. We even named that pig, although his name escapes me now…probably from trauma.
You see, our favorite little piglet ended up on the Christmas dinner table that year. Pam and I boo hoo-ed our way all through dinner and refused to partake in the cannibalizing of our former buddy. Papaw vowed never to raise a pig again or name the livestock that would feed his family. He was a man of his word…my Papaw was a good man…and he loved us girls. I did develop a special fondness for horses from those years. I guess after dogs…or along with dogs, horses are my next favorite animal…they are noble animals.
I’ve done the zoo thing…many times over. When my son was young, I would take him every year on his birthday to the Birmingham Zoo…just Mom (me) and him…and then lunch and ice cream. Then one year we had the opportunity to go to the National Zoo in Washington D. C. and saw the famous pandas. It was literally a zoo around the panda exhibit…there was barely elbow room for a grasshopper. I hate crowds, especially when they ruin the view…
When my son was about three, I took him to the Bronx Zoo in New York. Boy, there was an experience. After the admission, you kept paying…and paying…and paying…and well, you get the idea.
Then, there were the moose, and the lobster in Maine. I’m probably one of the ten people on Planet Earth that dislikes lobster. The fact that I was unable to crack the shell and Gomez said he would do it and in the process that sucker went flying out of his hands, landed on the floor, rolled over to the next table and landed at the feet of the next dinners probably doesn’t help.
South Dakota brought the bison…also known as the American Buffalo. Let me tell you something…those ma-moos are gi-normous, and there are no chicken wings on those puppies. Back in 1987 on the way home from a field assignment in Duluth, MN I took a sight seeing diversion west through North Dakota, South Dakota, Montana, and Wyoming before turning south to Alabama. We were winding our way through a state or national park in South Dakota where buffalo are allowed to roam free…on a really big range.
Well, wouldn’t you know it…it was just my luck…we came upon one big ol’ bull and I mean it was obvious it was a bull. This big ol’ galoot was as big as my minivan. Faster than Bat Masterson on the draw, Gomez pulled up right next to that big ol’ bull…on my side, mind you…and told me to “take a picture”. What?!
I turned and looked and him and then turned and looked at the bison grazing and chewing his cud. Chewing Bull was about 18 inches away. I was wedged between a beast and an idiot. My seven year old son was sitting in the back seat of the van. What’s a mom to do?
I turned to (real name redacted to protect the stupid) Gomez and said, “Did you not read the sign back there that said ‘Do not approach bison or attempt to feed because they are dangerous and may CHARGE’? Don’t you think we’re a little close? I could literally reach out and touch this thing…we’re so close I can smell him! It’s revolting!” (Gagging sounds accompanied.)
He said, “Yeah, I saw it, but that doesn’t mean us…we’re in a van. That’s probably for people walking. Just take the pictures. Hurry up. We’ll be ok.”
“Gomez, this is disgusting. I can smell this thing. There are thousands of flies all over it. I can hear it chewing its cud. It has mats all over it…full of heaven knows what…and he keeps eyeballing me…”
Gomez had this unique ability…he could laugh like that cartoon dog on Deputy Dawg…you know the one with the sneaky laugh….our son pointed that out when he was very young. Anyway, the whole time I was sitting there, trying to take pictures, trying to keep from barfing and praying we didn’t get charged and rammed…Gomez is sitting in the driver’s seat laughing like the Deputy Dawg cartoon dog. Nice…
Then there were the iguanas. Back in 1998, Gomez was on another field assignment. This time in the US Virgin Islands. My Aunt LaRue and I went down for an extended stay. We were based out of St. Croix, but, we wanted to go one weekend over to St. Thomas.
Down in the Virgin Islands iguanas run free and are as common as our innocuous, sweet bunny rabbits. I’m sorry iguana lovers, but the two are not in the same league in my ball park. And the iguanas down there are not a few inches long…they are a few feet long.
Well, the year we went down it was extremely hot. You know that kind of hot…the kind of hot that makes you want to rip your clothes off and stand in front of the freezer…push the kids and dog out of the kiddie pool…inject crushed ice into your veins…anything to cool off. The pain of it is that down there central A/C isn’t that common and there isn’t a lot of abundant natural fresh water. They were also in the middle of a drought because tropical systems had not been coming through as they had in past seasons.
After a very busy, hot day sightseeing on St. Thomas and of course shopping, at one of the scenic pull-overs Aunt LaRue and I decided to sit in the car while Gomez got out and took some pictures. The area surrounding the pull-over was really grown up with tropical growth…things that just made me want to start itching all over. As we were sitting there enjoying the view from our air conditioned comfort I suddenly saw the tropical growth eerily start to move. I knew that just wasn’t right…there wasn’t a breeze to beg anywhere.
I kept an eye on the moving greenery when suddenly there emerged a Godzilla-sized iguana. That thing must have been feasting on a Lilliputian sized village in the undergrowth because he had not missed a meal! He was eyeballing Gomez’ naked shorts clad legs and headed right for him. I started pounding on the windshield and calling his name, but he couldn’t hear me. As a last resort, I sat down on the horn.
Gomez spun around kind of irritated. He saw me and my Aunt frantically gesturing at Godzilla. He glanced over and their eyes met. I’ve never seen anyone get chicken flesh so fast. The man was already pasty skinned, but he became an additional 15 shades of white. I thought he was going to plunge over the cliff and into the Atlantic at first, but he made a fast retreat into the car. That ended his picture taking venture that afternoon…poetic justice for the little bison incident don’t ya think?
Given all of that, I would have never guessed I would have experienced what I have the last couple of years since I moved back to the place I was born…East Tennessee.
Now mind you, I’m not living up on top of Mount LeConte or Clingmans Dome. Nope, I’m “citified”…not too far from downtown Knoxville itself. Closer in town than even I have lived anywhere. So, what I’m about to tell you absolutely blows my mind…
I was pleasantly surprised to discover shortly after arriving that I had a couple of bunnies living in my back yard. It reminded me of my house on the mountain in Alabama and the bunnies there. I usually could catch sight of one in the flash of my headlights hopping away from the upper driveway when I came home from work in the evenings.
An avid birdfeeder, Tall & Handsome and I have thoroughly enjoyed the variety of feathered friends at our feeders. I’ve even had dove take up residence in a potted plant on a porch or my deck, nest and then raise babies. They would usually come back every year to the same spot. But, what I wasn’t prepared for was living next door to a dang crowing chicken in the middle of the city!
Yes, Mr. Chicken Hung Phooey invaded my space one time too many…one crow too many…one dead chicken hanging on the fence impersonation too many. But, was that enough? NO!
I guess the neighbors gave up on the twine on the foot thing for the chickens. I discovered that early one morning when I got up to let Watson out. It was just at daybreak and I looked outside to make sure there wasn’t any birds or squirrels or bunnies for him to go chasing after before I opened the door. I promise…I really did. The coast was clear. I unlocked the door, uttered the magic Watson words “Go do you business” and he was off in a blur.
Of course, I was still half asleep…I am not a morning person…but, what happened next was surreal. Watson had taken off in a blur for a purpose. All of a sudden I saw this snowy white object, with wings rise about three or four feet off the ground…with Watson in hot pursuit.
Now, given the dawn’s early light, the stupor of my stunned sleepy mind, my first thought was less than coherent. It was something like, “Watson, you are so in trouble if you don’t leave that angel alone!!” Then, I heard “cluck, cluck, cluck”. I realized it was that dang chicken from next door. So, for the next five minutes I watched Watson and Mr. Chicken Hung Phooey go back and forth…and back and forth…and back and forth in the back yard. It was like watching a shooting gallery. That’s how I found out the neighbors weren’t using twine to keep the chicken at home anymore…that and the fact he kept inviting himself to my garage sale…
Of course I’ll never forget the squirrel encounter and it’s a given Tall and Handsome won’t either. As a matter of fact, he probably revisits that squirrel in his nightmares…
It all started late last spring (2006). I noticed a distinctive odor wafting up from downstairs. I mentioned it to Tall & Handsome and he thought maybe the cat box was in need of a quick change. That done T & H felt sure the problem would be resolved. I wasn’t so sure. The scent had not seemed like “odor de cat” as much as I would have like to have pointed a finger at the resident feline. Nope, to me the scent ominously carried the scent of death.
I shared my hunch with T & H, but I could tell he thought I’d been farming funny mushrooms. It didn’t take too many days before he had to strongly agree with me. You just can’t mistake that smell. Well, he went off on a mission…to discover the origin of the offending order.
What he found would rival any CSI crime scene…it was a rotting corpse…with its own infestation of maggots! Once again thanks to our slum lord…um, landlady who is too cheap to put a cover over the dryer vent we had a bonafide mess on our hands.
A squirrel had crawled into the dryer vent…all the way from the outside wall of the house and had just about made into the basement and to the dryer via the vent and duct. Unfortunately he got stuck and couldn’t turn around and get back outside. As a result, he was entombed in the dryer vent. No telling how many loads of clothes helped the process along before we knew what we had in the vent!
Poor T & H, it was a disgusting mess to clean up…a real hazmat zone. It left us both mumbling and grumbling, “How can so much go wrong and be wrong with this place? And where in the name of heaven are these critters coming from?” We were beginning to wonder if we had the animal version of the Amityville horror house.
The best was yet to come…
The most baffling encounter has also turn into a costly encounter…one I’m a little familiar with from working claims in insurance.
Shortly after Tall and Handsome started working at his new job, I happened to look out the French doors one day. What I saw stopped me in my tracks. There was some critter making itself at home around MY stuff. He acted right at home on my deck…the only thing he needed was one of those drinks with the little umbrellas in them to look more at home. I expected him to get a broom and sweep up.
What stumped me though, I didn’t know what “he” was and that made me feel just downright…creepy. I was alone and my big He-man was out of state. All I had for protection was a cranky cat and a 15 pound wonderkin I sometimes call Sugar-cube…AKA Watson. I can see it now, “Sic him, Sugar-cube.” How scared would you be?
At first I thought my squatter was a cat that fell out of the ugly tree and hit every branch on the way down, but, the fur and the ears didn’t match to be a cat…unless he needed a serious conditioning job. Then I speculated on the possibility it might be a beaver with a bad case of tail envy. Why? Well, it had a nub of a tail instead of one of those nice big, wide flat, flappy tails. I decided he wasn’t big enough to be a beaver, but he was as big as the cat, Winfield, and would probably snap Watson’s neck. What the heck was he?
Well, I told T & H and we postulated and when he got to come in for a weekend he got to meet our squatter. Our postulating had been right. Guess what? It was Punxsutawney Phil or a relative thereof…yep, a groundhog. Come to find out, evidently that’s pretty common around these parts…now they tell me…what’s next a mongoose?
The proverbial icing on this cake was finding out that ye olde groundhog encounter had a price tag. Seems the industrious critter had been hanging out underneath my car…and stayed very busy. He had totally chewed and gnawed away the wiring harness of the electrical system of my car.
Cost of a wiring harness: $400
Cost of a disappearing ground hog: priceless
Cost of a dead squirrel in your dryer vent: stench and maggots
Cost of cleaning up a CSI squirrel scene: priceless
Cost of a sleepless early morning because of crowing chicken: agony
Cost of a fried chicken: priceless
Folks, I am way tired of these encounters…I think I’ll get a pet rock…
© 2007 Beverly Hicks Burch All Rights Burch.