Marian Wood, raccoons

One more from the incomparable, the impeccable Marian Wood. She writes:

Years ago, a colleague who lived in Westchester and had a lovely soft heart for animals told me she had a terrible problem: Raccoons had entered the crawl space in her home. Now I happen to love raccoons (more below) but the problem was much the same as with the squirrels (note from KJF: see earlier Marian Wood post). So I told her to wait until they left for the day, throw camphor into the crawl space, then cover the chimney entrance they were using. It worked—for a day. Then they were back inside. Turned out, she needed to use a really strong cover for the chimney entrance—as in, a huge boulder. This time it really worked. But as she was in her kitchen at the sink, she looked up to see the entire raccoon family on the roadside, staring at her through the window. Then they turned away and left. She was in tears.

Raccoons: When I was working in a summer camp for underprivileged kids, the local ranger would sometimes stop by. One night, he asked if a few of us wanted to watch the raccoons dance—it was a full moon. We piled into his car after midnight and rode to a hill. Then he cut the engine and coasted silently down. And there they were—dancing (DANCING! I kid you not) in the moonlight.

Me, monarch butterflies

October 31, the orange and black.

One day last week, two monarch butterflies flew through our yard and so we knew the monarchs had arrived.  My friend Joan is visiting us just now, all the way from Cardiff, and we migrated over to Natural Bridges State Park today to stand on the viewing stage, speaking with our quiet, butterfly voices, and watching the air fluttering with wings.  We made two trips, one in the morning when many of the butterflies were still dangling like grapes from the branches of trees and one, on the recommendation of the Natural Bridges docent, in the afternoon when she promised that the temperature would be up and the monarchs aloft.  It was actually colder in the afternoon and no more wing-filled than the morning, but still well worth the trip, to see all the butterflies in the air wherever there was sunshine and clustered in their hanging cities in the shade.

It seemed like a scene of abundance, more than last year or the year before, but still, I’m assured, many less than the old days, back before we broke the climate.  The peak should come around Thanksgiving.

This annual round trip from the Rockies takes four generations, with the lifespan very unevenly distributed throughout.  The butterflies that overwinter in Santa Cruz live for seven to eight months, much of that in a state of developmental dormancy known as diapause.  The next generation, hatched on the way back to the mountains, lasts less than two months, and spends their whole lives journeying to a place they won’t live to see.  Or so I understand from the park docent.  Nature is unkind and unfair.  I love her to pieces, but still it must be said.

The docent showed us a butterfly she’d picked up off the deck.  His head was gone – eaten by a rodent when he was still too cold to fly away, she speculated – but his body was still alive and moving, so that was disturbing.  Who was it who said that no one can think too long about the food chain without going mad?

I thought instead about the survival of the group and about the death of the individual and some of these thoughts were sad, but mostly it was very beautiful to stand on the viewing deck and look up into the trees where, in great and dripping bunches, it looked as if the leaves themselves were breathing.


Tegan Moore, Bunnies

I met Tegan Moore quite recently at a Clarion West One Day workshop and we got to talking about animals, fictional and otherwise. It became quickly obvious that she has given a lot of thought to this topic and is also involved in some fascinating work with the dog in her own house, so I pleaded for a blog entry from her. She has sent the following (thank you, Tegan!) with this observation: “It is the opposite of a cute story about teaching my dog to put her feet in a bucket.”

Check her out at

When I was eight my dog dug up a nest of rabbit kits and brought one, bloody and mangled, to me in our front yard. It was dead, obviously and fortunately, and so young that it hardly looked like a rabbit yet. When my mother took the kit away the dog trotted purposefully back into the woods and brought us another, this one still struggling.

It was the size of a small potato, its fur dark and matted with blood and saliva, ears flat against its head and eyes wild and glassy. It lay broken on its side in the yellow grass. It did not seem to be able to move, from fear or damage. The dog, a terrier, had probably shaken it with at least as much vigor as he applied to his tennis balls, so it was unlikely that its spine was intact. But it was breathing fast, hyperventilating, its ratty flank rising and falling three or four times a second. Faster than a heart could beat. It wasn’t going to live long.

After the dog was dragged into the house, my mother and I stood looking at the bunny. “I could kill it,” my mom said, “but he’s your dog.”

My eight-year-old self had fantasies about country living, and how suited I was for it. I felt it a horrible oversight that I’d been born into a dentist’s family and not a farmer’s; I wanted flocks and stalls to muck and mud boots that went up to my knees, not a three-car garage on a mown half-acre. My mother, the daughter of a farm girl though no farmer herself, tried to dissuade me. The life is hard and farm animals aren’t pets. You have to do things for and to them you wouldn’t be comfortable doing, was her implication, and I was determined to prove her wrong. I wasn’t a soft, girly animal-lover. I’d seen Old Yeller. I knew what you sometimes had to do.

I’d recently been given an eight-year-old-sized teal blue shovel, which I fetched from the garage. I’d never killed anything before; even the perch I caught from the dock were unhooked and thrown back. Still, I wasn’t afraid. I had a dog, and the dog killed things, and if he didn’t finish the job then it was my responsibility to end the suffering he’d made. It was only fair.

I raised the shovel over my head and swung it down hard as I could. There was a soft clunk and a scream, a horrible, enormous squeal of a scream. It was so loud. How, when the bunny was so small and so hurt? Where did all that sound come from?

I didn’t run and I didn’t cry, though both seemed like reasonable reactions. I set the shovel down on the grass.

“I can’t do it,” I told my mom. I meant physically—I wasn’t strong enough—but I couldn’t do it anyway, I couldn’t swing again at that poor mess and risk making it scream again. I went into the house and locked myself in the bathroom.

My next birthday I asked for a BB gun, just in case it happened again, but it never did. The dog lost interest in killing things, or kept it to the privacy of the woods.

Me, Monkey

I have, as I always do, let the weeds begin to grow on my blog. This is me, vowing to you to do better. I will keep that vow. At least for a little while.

I can think of very few occasions on which I have actually been frightened by a non-human animal. In fact, I can only bring only one to mind. Several years ago, my daughter and I took a trip to Sarawak and spent a night in a National Park near Kuching. Signs on the way into and around the park warned us – Beware Naughty Monkeys – which made me think the monkeys would be mischievous, possibly in delightful and photogenic ways. We had come, at least in part, to see the shy proboscis monkeys, and we did see several of those, though far away, hidden in the trees.
The other monkeys, the naughty monkeys, we saw from much closer up. As we were taking our luggage into the dorm, a troop descended from the trees and surrounded us. A large male moved toward me at some speed, screaming furiously. I have learned on this and many other occasions, that I am not a fast thinker or a fast actor. When surprised, I freeze, which is sometimes a good thing to do and sometimes not. Even as he was charging, I expected him to turn aside at the last minute. He did not. I saw that he was furiously erect, in both meanings of that word.
He grabbed for my arm, though it turned out to be my toilet kit that he wanted. Snatching it from me, he took it back up into the tree where he opened it, took out each item, bit it, and threw it angrily to the ground as it turned out to be, I’m guessing here, of course, less delicious than he’d hoped. The whole time he continued to scream and display. The rest of the troop kept a ring around us, silent, but menacing.
The alpha monkey came down from the tree and charged me again, but another tourist, a large man I didn’t know, moved between us with an admirable, though possibly misguided conviction. It worked. The monkeys moved on to other tourists and I was able to retrieve my personal items, all now with tooth marks, but mostly still useful. My daughter and I took a long hike, had a nice dinner, and laid our sleeping bags out on the bunk beds where, once the lights were out, we were immediately aware that we shared the room with Rodents of Unusual Size. But that’s another story.

Corinne Cox, dove

Corinne Cox is an NYC resident and a graduate student of the English Education program at Columbia. She also, in a former life, was a beloved student of mine the quarter I taught at UC Santa Cruz. She sends me the following sad and sober tale:

Kate had been one of my best friends since we met while writing for our middle school newspaper. Now that we were a couple years out of high school, we could no longer bond over photoshopping the vice principal’s neck out of his yearbook pictures or conspiring to turn delegates against their countries’ own policies at Model United Nations conferences. We were running out of common ground.
Kate still lived in her childhood bedroom, which was unchanged from when I had met her. She had recently found Jesus and, through him, moderate-conservative politics. I had moved to a seedy studio apartment in our hometown’s neighboring metropolis to attend community college, where I had found an abundance of vice. Kate saw me as someone who had left the flock, while I had come to regard her as someone who buried her head in the sand.
We sat silently in Kate’s car after a strained lunch in which we had slogged through our usual list of safe conversation topics. I pretended to be entranced by a text message while Kate half-sang along to a pop song on the radio that she didn’t know the words to. Then Kate pointed at something excitedly, and I followed her finger’s trajectory skyward.
A pristine white dove sailed above us against a backdrop of cloudless blue sky. Kate marveled at it, praising its rarity and beauty, proclaiming the dove to be a blessing and a sign of good things to come. Then came our simultaneous realization that the dove was gliding along an invisible hypotenuse on course to intersect with the speeding yellow Hummer in front of us.
The result of the impact between delicate bird and massive, velocious machine was an explosion of a thousand white feathers that filled the air, some falling gently upon Kate’s windshield. Kate was only able to squeak in horror at the indignity that had befallen her blessing; I erupted into a fit of unhinged laughter and only managed to compose myself when the intensity of Kate’s disgusted glare became too much to endure. Still shaking her head, Kate dropped me off at my parents’ house, never to speak to me again.
I am grateful to the dove that floated so elegantly into the path of a behemoth that brought it to a swift and violent end. The extinguishing of its own life euthanized a long-dying friendship, a necessary conclusion brought on by the hardships of birds.

SeaWorld, Tilikum

I have just begun to hear about Gabriela Cowperthwaite’s documentary Blackfish, which centers on the Orca, Tilikum, a performer at SeaWorld, but apparently has much to say about SeaWorld’s Orca programs in general. SeaWorld has responded pre-screening and the film-maker’s response to the response can be found here:

Sue Hall, dog

This week, my good friends, Sue and Emma, lost their beloved Lucy. I am cross-posting here what Sue said on her facebook page in honor of one of the world’s great dogs. Sue writes:

We said goodbye to Lucy this morning.

After giving into pressure from a persistent 6-year-old Emma, we adopted Lucy from Second Chance. She’d had a rough start in life but quickly fit into our household of cats, a snake, pet rats, and chickens. She was a loyal protector against door-to-door solicitors and bad cats who sometimes made life difficult for our indoor-outdoor cat, Maggie (she would hear a catfight in the middle of the night, beg to be let out, bark and chase away the mean cat, and then walk beside Maggie and escort her safely home). Lucy loved running with me on the Greenway, where she also chased Emma on her bicycle, then trotted happily behind her when she caught up.

Lucy loved her food, especially carrots (“orange bone”), and could be annoyingly underfoot when we were cutting them up for salads. She could hear us from the other end of the house when we would open the silverware drawer as quietly as possible to retrieve the carrot peeler. We would peel the carrot slowly and—we thought—silently, but we would turn around and see a smiling dog, waiting patiently for her treat.

She adored us completely, and we loved her equally. Life will never be the same without our good black dog, but we are glad that she is at peace.